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Veterinary Faculty Offer Albanians Aid
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Two faculty members from Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine witnessed first-hand the uphill struggle educators and agricultural trade associations face following decades of communism and in the aftermath of government instability in Albania.
Dr. Hart Bailey, assistant professor of food safety, and Dr. Fred Lehman, Extension veterinarian, centered their efforts on the Veterinary Research Institute in Tirana, Albania, which serves as a research and reference laboratory. They investigated ways to improve food safety and animal health. Their work was in cooperation with International Fertilizer Development Corp. and MSU's Office of International Programs.
"MSU is looking for ways we can support Albanian agricultural trade associations including fertilizer, horticulture, poultry, dairy, fish and other commodities," Bailey said. "Albania is a country of paradoxes. You have both the very knowledgeable people and those who don't have the resources to help themselves."
Bailey said the experience provided a better perspective on how fortunate people in the United States are, but it also drove home the importance of working to maintain the positive edge we have in the areas of public health and food safety.
"Despite the economic challenges, Albania has a high literacy rate (about 93 percent). There is an additional problem with a huge number of educated people leaving the country in hopes of a better life," Bailey said. "The average annual income in Albania is less than $900 and 75 percent is spent on food."
Bailey said food production and hygiene issues related to food safety are serious concerns.
"It's not unusual to see someone slaughtering an animal in the street to sell the meat to the public," Bailey said. "Other meat sold in cleaner establishments is much more expensive."
Lehman said the law establishing the inspection service of food sources was developed in 1993. Legislative efforts to link them with the rest of Europe are still underway.
"With the change from a central system to an open market, it has presented great difficulty for the veterinary inspectors since animal operations are now small and randomly distributed," Lehman said. "Their focus is on the surveillance and control of tuberculosis, brucellosis and anthrax."
One district Lehman and Bailey visited has about 30,000 cows, 20 of which had tested positive for tuberculosis. In 1999, there were 43 cases of TB in humans and five were from 4 to 12 years of age.
"Annual testing of all animals for brucellosis and tuberculosis is mandated by Albanian law, but only 10 to 15 percent are actually tested annually," Lehman said.
In 1997, rioters looted the agriculture and veterinary colleges. Everything was destroyed, including the windowpanes. The weak government, recovering from decades of communism, has not had the resources to provide for refurbishing.
Anxious to communicate the needs of their colleagues in Albania, Lehman and Bailey are seeking donations of books and equipment from veterinarians throughout Mississippi.
"You can imagine how humbled we were and how much we admired the Albanian veterinary community," said Lehman, who had the opportunity to lecture at the veterinary college during their visit.
MSU has a three year contract with the International Fertilizer Development Center to conduct technical assistance for agricultural development in Albania. In the last year, MSU's Office of International Programs has facilitated the travel of seven MSU faculty and staff who provided technical expertise in the areas of food processing and safety, veterinary medicine, agricultural marketing, financial analyses and agribusiness management.
While the IFDC/MSU project is scheduled to conclude at the end of 2001, plans are underway to persuade the U.S. Agency for International Development to renew this project for additional years.
Contact: Drs. Hart Bailey and Fred Leyman, (662)325-3432