AL HILLAH, Iraq -- An Army civil affairs veterinary team is working with Iraqis in finding ways to help safeguard the local livestock.
The 358th Civil Affairs Brigade, a Reserve unit based out of Norristown, Pa., is supporting the First Marine Expeditionary Force's humanitarian assistance programs in southern Iraq.
This civil affairs brigade's veterinary team members are traveling throughout the area gathering information on animal health, food safety and available veterinarian educational programs. Using information gathered through civil affairs assessments, Army Col. Irving McConnell, of Doylestown, N.J., a veterinary preventive officer, and his colleagues are exploring ways to improve policies regulating the health of farm animals, which are a major commodity for the Iraqi people.
Stakeholders agree that Iraq has the potential to be an agricultural giant. One thing keeping Iraq from cashing in on its particularly prized lambs is its lack of reporting animal diseases. Once established, Iraqi lamb may be as eagerly sought as Maine lobster.
During McConnell's travels, he has met with local herders and wholesalers and learned that Iraqi sheep are the preferred livestock throughout the Middle East.
Viewing photos taken by the assessment teams on his laptop computers, McConnell looks at photos of livestock grazing on plush, green farmland. To McConnell rich farmland means healthy livestock.
Assessment teams are now beginning to make frequent trips to meet with farmers and to collect information on farmland and animals. This data will give the Army veterinarians the information they will use to recommend a way for the Iraqi people to improve food production, explains McConnell.
"The process is now in its early stage," he said.
The reporting of health-related problems with livestock to the international community is a new and necessary concept for Iraq.
According to Army Capt. Mary Fornes, a veterinarian with the 358th, Iraq is the only country that doesn't report outbreaks of animal diseases to the Office of International Epizootics in France. A report issued by the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization revealed evidence of isolated cases of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Iraq.
This international organization is responsible for informing the world of such diseases, as Foot-and-Mouth and New Castle's disease, which have potential catastrophic effects on livestock and poultry.
"That reporting system affects an entire country's economy," said Fornes, a Buffalo, N.Y. resident. "No one is going to buy potentially diseased meat."
To ensure a safe food supply, the veterinarians are putting together plans that will convince other countries that Iraq will be a good place to buy livestock and meat.
"An intensive vaccination program begins as soon as possible," said McConnell. "If Iraq developed the necessary measures to export animals and animal products, their sheep could possibly serve as a great marketing product to the Middle East."
Not only is safeguarding livestock important for Iraq, but also for her neighbors.
"Their sheep go to other bordering countries," said McConnell. "Our hope would be to see a quarantine program (established)."
"This problem is always going to be here," Fornes said. "It is more a question of control than how to eradicate Foot-and-Mouth Disease."
McConnell draws from his years of experience as a veterinarian to give the Iraqis one more way of taking control of their lives, destiny and their country.