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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU center contributes to state agricultural safety and defense

The New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is continuing to support agriculture around the state through a center focused on agricultural safety and defense.

Created a little more than a year ago, the Southwest Center for Animal Health, Food Safety and Bio-Security is a collaboration between NMSU, the Physical Science Laboratory and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA).

Through its three divisions of animal health, food safety and agricultural defense, the center's mission is to contribute to the safety of agriculture in the state and strengthen NMSU's ability to respond to agricultural threats. It also works to advance knowledge for practical application by the agriculture industry.

"The center serves as a focus of scholarly activity and intellectual creativity, with focal points for interaction with research sponsors, and also serves to amplify NMSU's competitiveness in obtaining research funding in designated areas," said Ronnie Byford, director of the center.

The bio-security division of the center focuses on research to more rapidly detect factors that have a relationship with animal health and food safety that may become bio-security concerns. It also works in cooperation with NMSU's Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center whenever possible.

The food safety division includes a microbiology lab and a chemistry lab. In these labs, foods are screened for toxins and poisons, and faster test methods are developed to detect food pathogens, such as salmonella and E. coli.
Robert Silver, the food safety director, says the screening process has a large affect on how swiftly foods can be transported.

"Making sure food can be tested accurately and quickly helps with getting food to markets quickly. It's important to the producer that the produce isn't tied up," Silver said.

The division is currently developing an import screening system for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called Predictive Risk-based Evaluation and Dynamic Import Compliance Tracking (PREDICT). It is a risk-based screening system created to help with the increasing number of FDA-regulated imports entering the U.S.

Training programs for those involved in the production-to-consumption process also are developed and delivered by this branch.

The animal health division pursues research that adds to the understanding of animal health issues, such as the induction of diseases, development and implementation of diagnostic methods for detecting diseased animals, products for disease treatment or prevention and management procedures for disease control. It also coordinates with the NMDA Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which provides case data to assist with research.

The center held the New Mexico Bovine Tuberculosis Research and Action Conference in February to address the issue of updating tuberculosis diagnostic tests, which have a huge impact on the state's cattle industry.

The two current diagnostic tests are not 100 percent effective and can yield false results, which is problematic when trying to eradicate or regulate the disease. The false results also can be costly for producers, since animals classified as infected are slaughtered; a procedure mandated by the USDA and in accord with the agency's attempt to eradicate the disease.

"Because the cost of detection is often born by the producer, we are trying to develop a test that will be more effective in detecting the disease and which would be more cost-effective to implement," said Gary Roemer, associate professor in the NMSU Department of Fish, Wildlife & Conservation Ecology.

Different agencies and universities came together for the conference, including Iowa State University and Los Alamos National Laboratories. The center may hold more conferences about this topic and others in the future. For more information contact Byford at (575) 646-2458.