of Veterinary Medicine
Today the group visited the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) which is located in Berlin, in an area that has a very long history (the church near the campus was built around the 13th century by the Crusade-era Templar knights).
Dr. Arnd Brauer gave us a tour of the surrounding grounds before having us settle into the presidents meeting room in the institutes White House. As we walked into the building, we noticed a prominent banner reading Hier arbeiten Mutter und Vater. which translates to the phrase Here mother and father work. which simply states how family friendly the BfR work environment is.
Throughout the rest of the morning, we listened to a series of presentations by various BfR employees including Dr. Karin Schlesier of Research Coordination, Dr. Matthias Greiner from Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Dr. Bernd-Alois Tenhagen of Epidemiology & Zoonoses. Dr. Schlesier gave an introduction about the BfR and how it has emerged throughout history. The BfR established independency in 2002 following the BSE crisis. The concept of this type of independent institution is to make a clear separation of risk assessment, risk communication and risk management. The main task of BfR is to provide a scientifically based opinion regarding food safety and consumer products while its sister bureau (BVL) carries out the risk management and application. This organization of institutions allows the risk assessment processes and communication to be free from political, industrial and social influences. The BfR campus currently consists of 10 hectares of crop for feed, 40 cattle, 60 sheep as well as pigs, goats, llamas, quails and chickens. The main food-borne pathogens the BfR studies include Salmonella, Campylobacter, EHEC and Yersinia. There are 14 national reference laboratories that work alongside BfR and other institutions to help carry out diagnostics and research. The headquarters of the European Union Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is located in Italy but the BfR acts as national EFSA focal point for Germany. Dr. Tenhagen discussed his role in zoonotic disease research and data collection, specifically in determining how prevalent Salmonella is in certain populations (e.g. breeding flocks, laying hens, broilers, etc.). He also discussed the food chain that consists of several critical steps: animal feed, animals (primary production), harvest (e.g. slaughter, milking), processing, retail, consumers. Sampling is done at three of these levels: primary production, harvest and retail. All research done at the BfR is simply based on consumer protection. Following the lectures, a PhD student named Dr. Dinse gave us a tour of the research farm which is located directly inside the courtyard in which the White House is located. In the center of the courtyard, we saw a herd of goats while in various barns we visited free range laying hens, goat kids as well as the farm’s dairy herd. We passed by a 14 year old cow (called Oma, the German word for grandma) that Dr. Dinse says is living the rest of her life on the farm since she cannot be slaughtered due to her participation in residue studies in previous years.
After lunch at the BfR canteen, we visited Dr, Niels Bandick at the Food Hygiene and Safety Concepts research slaughterhouse. It is a small room but serves as a slaughterhouse for various types of animals including cattle, swine, sheep and poultry. In recent studies, the research team feeds animals contaminated feed and then studies the carry over effects that can occur in the meat products. The department produces sausages, hams and other meat products like a normal consumer would buy in a retail store. After the slaughterhouse, we visited Dr. Schroeter at the National Reference Laboratory for Antibiotic Resistance. He discussed the various techniques they use to determine if certain pathogens (e.g. MRSA) are developing resistance to specific drugs. At the end of the afternoon, Dr. Johne discussed how viruses have become a new type of foodborne pathogen. Typically the risk for foodborne viral infections is associated with shellfish. He finished his section with a presentation about novel Hepatitis E-like virus which is a rare and fairly unknown disease in the developed world. In the past, the disease has been associated with contaminated drinking water in mostly underdeveloped countries but recently there has been an increase in cases in countries like Germany. Of the four genotypes, two of them are assumed to be zoonotic diseases. Previous research on Japanese infections in humans found a link to eating wild boar meat so surveillance studies were conducted on wild boar populations in Germany. The study found 14.9% of wild boars positive for the virus but other animal reservoirs are still possible. Visiting the BfR and discussing recent issues with researchers was a great experience. We learned how the BfR conducts its activities and how current research at the institute can eventually affect the safety of consumers throughout Germany and the rest of the world without being influenced by political, industrial or social pressures
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