Jennifer La Vigne, Germany, June 14 2012

After we had breakfast at the hotel, we drove to the Mobile Infectious Disease Center (MEC) in Barme to learn about animal disease control in Lower Saxony, Germany, from Dr. Josef Diekmann. The European Union sets animal health laws for its members regarding movement and import of animals and disease control, which takes priority over national regulations. In Germany, each federal state organizes its own food surveillance and monitoring. In the state of Lower Saxony, the Lower Saxony State Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (LAVES) is responsible for monitoring, surveillance, and laboratory analysis of food animal diseases. There are various departments in LAVES which set standards for food surveillance, sample taking, approval of feed and food business establishments, managing epidemics, and setting animal welfare guidelines.

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Devastating disease outbreaks of the past like the Foot and Mouth outbreak in the UK in 2001 and Avian Influenza in the Netherlands in 2003 resulted in enormous losses to the livestock industry. These have provided incentive for development of structured crisis management centers and training professionals how to handle future outbreaks. The mobile eradication center is a facility that’s easy to move in the event of a crisis. It provides veterinary materials and protective clothing and allows a response team to collect data from farms and restriction zones and decontaminate materials in order to prevent contamination from farm to farm. In the event of a crisis, the mobile eradication center can be called upon within 24 hours to travel to farms and perform an outbreak investigation and other veterinary services. It was fascinating seeing how well organized the mobile eradication center was and how specific the logistics were in order to rapidly address potential crises and prevent further contamination.

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We had sandwiches for lunch at the Mobile Infectious Disease Center and then traveled to the Institute for Milk Analysis in Verden/Aller. First, we learned about the animal tracking system in Lower Saxony. All cattle must receive a ‘passport’ and ear tags no later than one week after birth. Passports include the animal’s barcode, farm ID, name of farmer, date of birth, sex, breed, and Bovine Viral Diarrhea status. Producers are obligated to notify the control database of movement between farmers, dealers, and to slaughter. The local veterinary authority reports unregistered cattle. If an animal is not registered, the farmer loses privilege of owning the animal. Tracking of swine, goats, sheep, and horses is fairly similar.

Jörg Buermeyer gave us a presentation on quality management of the Lower Saxony dairy industry. At this facility, over 3.5 million samples are analyzed each year for levels of fat, protein, urea, somatic cell count, bacteria, and antimicrobials. In Germany, farms must provide milk samples to be tested for fat, protein, and somatic cell count 4 times each month and bacteria and antimicrobials two times a month, minimum. The standards for acceptable somatic cell count, bacteria, and no antimicrobial residues are the same in Germany as in the rest of the EU. The laboratory and technology used for testing was very impressive and we really enjoyed having a tour of the facility!

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Next, we went to visit the MARS pet food production plant in Verden and listened to a presentation given by Cornelia Evering about the company.  MARS also manufactures chocolate and drinks for human consumption, but 50% of their sales are pet care products. MARS has over 150 scientists working for them to develop wholesome, nutritious food for pets. There are many quality control points and safety parameters set in order to assure their food is produced safely without contamination by pathogens, toxins, or foreign material. Veterinary authorities visit the facility to check the procedures and take samples to evaluate each batch. The MARS facility houses cats and dogs for a food preference study to help with creating new pet food products that are appealing to pets. Health checks are performed on the animals and they are adopted to families after the study is over.

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After our MARS visit, we drove back to Hanover to eat a delicious Indian style dinner at Shalimar. We enjoyed our last night in Hanover by walking around the town, eating gelato, and watching the European football tournament.