In the public eye
Dr. Bernadette Dunham, the next director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and first woman to serve in that role, believes the times facing veterinary medicine are challenging, yet usher in great opportunity.
From predictions about 2008 to her goals for the agency that approves veterinary pharmaceuticals in the United States, Dunham spoke recently with DVM Newsmagazine.In January, Dunham was named CVM's director, while 13-year-FDA veteran Stephen Sundlof, DVM, PhD, moved over to lead FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Her first crisis hit less than two months into the job.
In the wake of the beef recall, at least two members of Congress have called for a new department that would consolidate duties split between FDA and USDA. Critics charge a tougher system needs to be in place to prevent sick or downer cattle from entering the food supply especially considering risks associated with an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
The latest incident preceded the anniversary of last year's blockbuster pet-food recall, ending in a series of indictments and long-range plans to build out laboratory networks to minimize the threat next time.
"Now more than ever we are going to be active in helping people embrace risk awareness, risk assessment and risk communication," she says.
"Ever since we had the melamine recall, it opened up the implications of what happens with ingredients that go into pet food. You saw how it extended out and actually went into animal feed. One more step and it potentially may have impacted human food."
Even after the crisis, critical issues and weaknesses within the animal-health framework were exposed.
Take for example, international trade with China. A tainted ingredient was imported into Canada, processed and exported to the United States, and then used in variety of pet foods from many manufacturers.
"We already have a Memorandum of Understanding with China, and that will take us further as we develop and reinforce where we are going to ensure food and the role CVM will play in this new era."
Pet-food labeling might be one example of reforms.
CVM wants to build collaboration with processing and ingredient standards and labeling for pet foods. The center is working on an early warning surveillance and notification system that will help in the event of another recall, large or small.
"It is going to bring together a lot of interaction with all the stakeholders. That is when you get the best of the best, and it will really help all of us," she adds.
"We will continue to interact with our partners – whether it is pharmaceutical companies, veterinary groups, public at large or owners of all of our food animals. CVM does not work in a vaccum."
The end result, she adds, will be a stronger system designed to help prevent future crisis.
"Yes. We were reactive at that time. We hope in the future to be preventive and be able to respond and intervene appropriately."
"In the face of all of it, we still managed to do the most important thing that FDA does, we had to get these products off the market as soon as possible," she says.