Center for Food Security and Public Health Established at Iowa State University

August 21st, 2002

AMES, Iowa — A $1 million federal grant to Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine has established a center to increase national preparedness for accidental or intentional introductions of disease agents that threaten public health or food production.

The Center for Food Security and Public Health (CFSPH) will integrate animal health activities with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ongoing veterinary medicine and zoonotic disease activities.

A zoonotic disease affects both animals and humans. A majority of the biological agents designated by CDC as potential bioterrorism agents infect both man and animals.

"Medical and public health professionals, veterinarians and others who own or work with animals need to be better informed about these zoonotic pathogens, their symptoms and methods for control," said Dr. Jim Roth, who will direct the center. Roth is a distinguished professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine and assistant dean for international programs.

The funding for the center was part of the FY2002 health appropriations bill passed earlier this year by Congress. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds labor, health and education programs, helped ensure funding for Iowa initiatives to combat bioterrorism.

"Since September 11, there's been an increase in the attention given to the biological agents that could threaten the safety and security of the nation's public health and food supply," Harkin said. "With some of the most talented and respected veterinary scientists in the world right here in Iowa, we are uniquely poised to lead efforts that address the growing need for information and better preparedness. That's why I'm so glad to have secured this funding."

The highest priority for CFSPH will be to organize a public health support team willing to be called upon to assist CDC in a public health emergency.

"It will be a kind of public health national guard. We will organize a group of former CDC and public health employees, catalog their specialties and skills, and train them to assist in public health emergencies," Roth said. "In the event of a public health emergency, CDC will have a pool of expert emergency responders to assist with all aspects of investigation, containment and control."

The center also will establish a train-the-trainer program to provide basic information about zoonotic diseases to veterinarians and animal workers and owners. Two veterinarians in each state—one specializing in small animal medicine and one specializing in large animal medicine—will be trained to give presentations on zoonotic diseases to veterinary associations and animal owners in their respective states.

"Typically, veterinarians and livestock producers are not familiar with these diseases because we haven't seen them in the U. S. We want to improve their basic awareness of symptoms and knowledge of the appropriate response to these potentially devastating diseases," Roth said.

The CFSPH will work with the American Veterinary Medical Association and state veterinary associations to train the trainers at a national conference in January.

In addition, the center will provide five graduate fellowships for veterinarians pursuing advanced degrees in public health and infectious diseases at Iowa State. "There's a need for more public health professionals nationwide and for more veterinarians who research zoonotic diseases," Roth said.

Roth said the center will also host two international scientific meetings to gather research information on current vaccines and vaccines under development for important foreign animal diseases and emerging zoonotic diseases. "U.S. federal agencies need to know what vaccines are available, safe and effective for diseases we aren't accustomed to dealing with," Roth said. The first meeting will be September 16-18 at Iowa State.

Under the guidance of Manjit Misra, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and director of Iowa State's Seed Science Center, the CFSPH will conduct a comprehensive study of the potential for plant diseases to impact public health. Roth said the bioweapons that target crop production could have an impact on human health by altering the safety of plant and animal foods.


Jim Roth, Veterinary Medicine, (515) 294-8459

Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778