Wills to contribute to global food efforts


Robert Wills

The demand for safe, affordable food products is increasing rapidly as the world's population is forecast to reach 9 billion in the next 40 years, and Mississippi State University is positioned to help find solutions for this growing issue.

International governments need veterinary expertise to improve the world's food supply and safety, as many countries depend heavily on animal agriculture. Dr. Robert Wills, an epidemiologist and associate professor with the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, has been appointed as a loaned expert to the Food and Agriculture Organization with the United Nations, or FAO, in Rome. Wills will share his knowledge on epidemiology and analytical methods to improve animal and food safety around the world.

Wills will be working with representatives from FAO, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the World Organisation for Animal Health, or OIE, and the Centers for Disease Control.

"This is a good opportunity for collaboration," Wills said. "Working with other veterinarians, food safety experts and public health officials opens the door for more research on issues that affect animal health and food availability domestically and internationally."

Wills will be developing risk analysis models to determine what the main drivers of animal disease are.

"We'll be taking a comprehensive look at what factors increase the risk for disease and disease outbreaks," Wills said. "For example, environmental influences can contribute to disease occurrence, and animals that are more stressed may be more susceptible to disease."

Specifically, Wills is going to develop targeted risk assessments for diseases such as avian influenza, swine influenza and foot and mouth disease.

"With the university's emphasis on agriculture and food safety, we have a lot to offer the FAO," said Dr. Kent Hoblet, dean of the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine. "This is a great opportunity for Dr. Wills, on behalf of the university, to facilitate new research relationships and to let the FAO, OIE and other international organizations understand the resources available here at Mississippi State."

Wills returns to MSU in November and plans on using the knowledge he gains in Rome to help pave the road for future research.

"I look forward to the interaction I'll have with others who have the same goals," he said. "In the end, we all want safer food to feed hungry people around the world."

Karen Templeton | College of Veterinary Medicine

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