Eduard Torres: “The most positive aspect of veterinarians is to have improved food, health and food security for people”
Eduardo Torres: “The most positive aspect of veterinarians is to have improved food, health and food security for people”
In 1966, Dr. Eduard Torres graduated as a veterinarian of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Since then, and until 2012, has been dedicated to the veterinary world and more specifically, to animal production. Although his first steps as a professional he made in the animal feed industry, soon began his career as an Inspector of the National Veterinary Corps. After a professional period in the Armed Forces as a military veterinarian, he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and ended up in the Departament d’Agriculture, Ramaderia i Pesca de la Generalitat de Catalunya, when this department was formed in 1981.
In his various professional positions, Torres has carried out many different tasks in livestock production and has collaborated in numerous training courses and conferences. He has been fully dedicated to his profession, focusing especially on “food safety” as a fundamental theory of his work, since, as he admits “animal health and welfare are inseparable and indispensable for veterinarians.”
1. You have spent more than 50 years dedicated to the veterinary world and you have a huge experience in animal production. With all these acknowledgments you must gather infinite experiences and anecdotes. What difficulties have you found throughout your professional career?
Older people usually gather experiences and anecdotes and only remember those with happy ends. They are always more at the beginning of the professional activity, because of the lack of experience and the “scenic fear”. In addition, it is almost always a matter of unforeseen situations. I remember that, at the end of the 2nd Course (when I had difficulty learning the anatomy of the horse), I went on a vacation to the Caravaca field (My father’s village) and there, unexpectedly they showed me a “donkey” that had escaped and eat newly harvested grain; thanks to “my knowledge”, I thought would save the animal. I do not know if it was San Francisco or San Antón, but after treating the issue in “conference” we decided to give him a mixture of water, oil and bicarbonate, helping us with a bottle of cava and two people who held the animal. The case is that, soon afterwards the animal evacuated until the colostrum and the prestige of the professors of the Universidad Complutense raised its reputation.
As for difficulties, once I had completed university studies, I was able to verify that, as usual, reality was well ahead of training and that the real effort was not to pass, but to “permanently update” knowledge and, if possible, to advance to the continuous and necessary evolution of livestock production.
2. What positive aspects would you highlight from your career?
My entire career as a veterinarian has been, professionally and humanely, positive regardless of the successes or failures I have had. I have been and I am a vocational veterinarian since my childhood and I have practiced profession with illusion. In return, neither the veterinary nor the animals have let me down. If I have had any negative point it has been for some human beings wrong activity.
We, veterinarians, know that the only way that humans can obtain from animals the benefit they are looking for is to ensure first that animals receive appropriate treatment according to their physiological and ethological needs. Our most positive aspect is to have improved food, health and food security for people, and do not act against, improved food, food safety, hygiene and health of the animals.
3. With your experience, you should know perfectly the main problems affecting farms and animal production. Which are the most important ones as for today?
Among the other issues, the problems vary according to the zones of the Earth.
The “food security” for some is to have healthy, safe and quality food, for others it is simply to have food. In all territories, our mission is to ensure that people have the appropriate food of animal origin in adequate quantity and quality, but, logically, the problems will be different or, rather, they will have different approaches. We must use the most appropriate species and breeds of animals, provide them with food and accommodation that allow the maximum production compatible with a state of health and welfare and do it without hurting humans to use available resources and without affecting the environment.
As you can see, the challenges are not few or small.
In the EU, for example, genetics, food, health and livestock farms have an excellent level, but the demands on the use of certain products and raw materials, animal welfare or waste management are very high. In other countries, the problems affect in the aspects mentioned above.
4. Do you see significant differences between past and present problems? What do you think these changes are due to?
Obviously, as I have already pointed out, the methods of livestock production, the needs of the population and the growing demands of society on health, safety, quality, animal welfare and respect for the environment have brought about very profound changes in all the areas of livestock production.
There is no way to compare the problems of, for example, poultry production, in the 1950s, when it was a complementary activity, for domestic or local consumption, with which they are now, when it is a highly technical activity producing more than 86 million tons of meat per year. But we must keep in mind that in many areas of the world, domestic poultry farming remains a basic contribution to the diet of its population.
Besides, livestock production faces the great challenge of adopting new methods, which are more respectful to people, the environment and animals, and use new food that are not competitive with human activity, because of their own nature (industrial waste, or products not used in human food) or by the place and shape of the production. All this should allow the growth of population, necessary proteins of animal origin with sufficient quantity and quality and at reasonable price.
5. In addition to having experience in the animal feed industry, you have worked in various public administration positions as Military Veterinarian. What is the military veterinarian? Could describe us any experience in this job?
It seems that as for today, when equines have been replaced by mechanical elements, “animal doctors” have no place in the military. However, the role of the veterinarian in the field of Public Health is often overlooked with food inspection, control of food establishments and industries, control of zoonosis, D.D.D. (disinfection, disinsertion and rat removal- desratización) of factories, etc.
When I joined the Military Veterinary Corps, there were still a lot of cattle, from Arabian camel (Dromedary) to messenger pigeons that for various reasons has gradually disappeared. At the same time, veterinary posts have been reduced and many services are carried out by civilian veterinarians. However, together with other bodies, the veterinarian is entrusted with various functions in active and passive defense and in minimizing the consequences in the case of the use of chemical, bacteriological or radioactive weapons.
My most outstanding and positive personal experience has been to know the Armed Forces inside, as a member of them. Medically it is limited since, being intended in the Reserve Troops Association; our mission was to keep us operative for the action in an emergency situation. This fortunately did not happen.
6. You also worked in the Ministry of Agriculture and later in the “Department of Agriculture of the Generalitat de Catalunya”, where you have developed very diverse functions in terms of livestock production. I suppose that part of the work within these administrations is to ensure food security. What mechanisms are used to control this?
The concept of food safety, based on an idea closely related to hygiene and public health, has evolved in parallel with economic and social improvement, scientific knowledge and information.
The change in the century also implied a change in the way of focusing the safeguarding of food security. The “Libro Blanco” published in 2000 shows that change R (EC) 852/2004 on the hygiene of food products, establishes the basic rules, which must be complied by all EU citizens.
There is a “Conceptual Change”, but also “Basic Principles” on which the system is based: “The food chain is everything“, a chain in which each link (production transformation and marketing) has the part of responsibility that corresponds to the safety of the products that reach the consumer.
The approach of the food chain leads to the same final destination, the consumer, promoting training and the knowledge of the safe storage of the food, as well as its preparation and consumption.
To finalize a project, the Commission considered that the creation of an independent European Food Authority was the most appropriate need to ensure a high level of food safety. This body was entrusted with many key tasks, such as: management of early warning systems, communication and dialogue with consumers on health and food safety issues, and networking with agencies National and scientific bodies, with the aim of establishing appropriate official controls at national and European level.
The problem of food control is vital, if long ago, a danger could be limited within national borders, it is now spreading fast. There are no longer borders for health and chemical and biological contaminants. By various means they circulate in the world market, they go more and more far and they go faster than ever. We need action at the global level, just as we need to strengthen the whole process of the food chain.
The philosophy of sharing the responsibility for providing safe food involving in the nutrition and agriculture sectors, from producers and food processors, to retailers and consumers, is the basis of this new approach to the food chain. Developed countries should provide all together with the resources and experience to build the capacity to ensure the security of their food chains.
Eduardo Torres: “The ‘food security’ for some is to have healthy, safe and quality food, for others it is to have food”
7. And what are the protocols to follow when there are food security problems that come from animal production?
To establish these protocols and supervise their management, in 2002 the “European Food Safety Agency” was established, the Rapid Alert System, management of crisis and emergency situations were created by structuring a “network” to which are connected all EU countries. Through this network (the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, RASFF), they urgently need to communicate any problems detected affecting food, whatever its nature, destination and source is.
The authority of the country where the problem is occurred must carry out an exhaustive investigation, in addition to adopting the relevant control measures, in order to communicate to the rest of the countries all the circumstances that concern the case, especially if there is a possibility that part or affected product left the territory where it was detected. In this way the rest of countries will be able to adopt the most appropriate measures to avoid the diffusion of the problem.
8. Do you think there is enough research?
In a case like this, everything that is investigated will not be enough. In Europe besides EFSA, experts from all countries work together to assess the risk of potential biotic or abiotic contaminants that can be found in food. Therefore, although zero risk does not exist, we can say that today the European food chain is one of the safest in the world.
9. Where are the agricultural and livestock policies of the European Union today?
In the very near future, the CAP, without renouncing its role as a Common Policy, should better reflect the great diversity of the countries that make up the EU and must take into account the wide range of productive models that exist in its territory. The model adopted should be flexible enough to adapt to these different realities, in particular Mediterranean agriculture and that of the outermost regions, in line with the priorities of the European agenda, so that the CAP has an important role in the European construction project. In addition to compensating for what Brexit may entail for intra-community trade in agricultural and food products and to contemplate the need to fulfill international commitments in an increasingly globalized world.
In order for the CAP to be accepted by all EU citizens, it is necessary to ensure that the European citizen improves their perception of the CAP, while dignifying the image of farmers, valuing their role in food production and preservation of the environment. The CAP, as already stated by the Agrarian Organizations, must contribute to the maintenance of a rural environment, with an adequate level of employment, where special attention is given to vulnerable groups.
With regard to their practical application, a clear and stable legislative framework is needed to ensure that farmers and herders have the necessary legal certainty and, furthermore, there is a need to continue to simplify legislation and procedures.
10. What kind of challenges are there?
All countries, through their respective agricultural policies, including the CAP, will face new challenges, such as increasing world population and sustainability. To overcome them will be necessary to produce more with fewer resources and make a greater contribution to the preservation of the environment and fight against climate change.
11. You also worked actively in the recovery of certain races, especially the Catalan races. What have been the main achievements in this field?
Ethnology has always been one of my hobbies and my work in the Ministry of Agriculture, being with D. Antonio Sánchez Belda allowed me contact directly with producers of select livestock, both native and imported breeds. I was able to realize that the autochthonous breeds, properly selected, could be as productive, or more than imported and less demanding, with high quality productions. Unfortunately, they were left aside and despising their potential.
In the task of promoting and rescuing native breeds, the enthusiasm and dedication of all the participants is fundamental and the difficulty lies in deluding the Authorities or Entities that have to provide the technical and economic support. That is why the achievements must be awarded to the livestock farmers.
This made progress in improving the Catalan sheep breeds (Ripollesa, Xisqueta, Aranesa), the Albera cow and the Catalan donkey, always in close collaboration with the breeders and their associations and the Veterinary Faculty of the UAB. As for the rescue and improvement of the Catalan poultry breeds (Gallinas Prat, Empordanesa and Vilafranquina and Oca del Empordà), the support of the IRTA (Catalan Institute of Research and Technology for Food Technology) has been fundamental.
As there was no record in Catalonia, it was a great success for all (Faculty of Veterinary, cattle and Administration) to obtain recognition as a breed and the creation of the Genealogical Register of two groups located in the Catalan Pyrenees, the “Bruna dels Pirineus” and The “Cavall Pirinenc Català”, which, until then, did not enjoy official recognition.
Eduardo Torres: “Traceability is basic for the early detection of health problems”
12. As for today, besides a concern for food safety in products for human consumption, there is also concern for animal welfare, are you working on this?
I have already mentioned the fact that for the veterinarian animal health and welfare are inseparable and indispensable for success in livestock production.
In the EU, in Spain and in Catalonia we work in three main areas. First, we try to determine at what level and to what extent or circumstances affect animal welfare. Second, an attempting to establish effective methods based on easily valued signs, to determine the degree of affection of animal health. Finally, alternative methods of accommodation and management are studied and proposed, which are viable and economically bearable, and which guarantee the correct welfare of the animals.
13. Could you briefly summarize how has been changed the environment of animal production during last 50 years in the country?
I could highlight the progresses in food, genetics or health, but, as I said before, they are progresses that have been produced over the years and are evident. Instead, I would like to point out the progress which is given less importance, but in my opinion is fundamental for food security and animal health. This is traceability.
Traceability is a new concept, which has not appeared in dictionaries until a few years ago, with this definition: “The possibility of finding and following, through all stages of production, transformation and distribution of a food, a feed, an animal intended for the production of food or a substance intended to be incorporated in or likely to be incorporated into food or feed “.
Its application requires the identification at all levels, as the product itself and its breeder, its holder and its recipient. It requires the establishment of controls in all stages of production, transformation, transportation and marketing, detailed and real-time information between the various links in the chain. It includes such elementary things as the identification of animals, proper and complete documents, clear labeling and responsibility on everything.
Traceability is basic for the early detection of health problems and their control, to simplify business procedures and improve control, to trace back the origin of a problem and to prevent its diffusion forward. And if appropriate, “reward the good and punish the bad.” Even the perception of CAP aid is conditioned by the existence of correct traceability.
It seems that so much identification, documentation and controls are annoying and expensive. But, humorously, I usually say that consumer safety is based on the “Principle of Demosthenes: It is not enough to do things well, you have to prove it.” And this can only be done with continued traceability.
14. In the future how do you believe is better to work?
It is very easy, as always with responsibility. The farmer, the technician and the entrepreneur must be sufficiently trained. That means, knowing what he does, what he should do and how as well as what he should not do. Life is like a game. We must know the rules, even the tactics, with the goal of winning cleanly, but we are not allowed traps.
15. How would a veterinary training improve?
This is not easy to answer, because veterinary studies cannot be shorts or superficial. There are many and very wide areas in which the veterinarian has to develop his activity and big responsibilities that he contracts, being related to human and animal health, as well as to the economy and others.
In Veterinary medicine, we can talk about three major areas: Zootechnics, clinical and sanitary, also for animal production as well as for human and animal health, food safety or medical care for pets, well-informed knowledge in Anatomy, Physiology, Bacteriology and other subjects, which cannot be achieved on the basis of quarterly subjects, sometimes optional.
It seems that the world is inclined towards short degrees but, unless it is intended to dismember the veterinary career and create new degrees. In this case, the students would lack an adequate and fundamental knowledge. As the only viable and useful solution to give the society properly prepared professionals, I think it is possible with the option of a 5 years study. The “optional” subjects would be taken in the last year, with an adequate duration and giving them a broad and coordinated content to avoid that they become a simple sum of credits.
If deemed appropriate, the student could undertake an additional course, with a biannual duration, of specific specialized training.
In my opinion and it may be only a particular impression, in Spain there are too many faculties, too many programs and options, so that at the end of the studies, the VETERINARIES do not present a homogeneous formation in basic knowledge.
16. What do you think about the work of Teilhard de Chardin?
Both as a theologian and paleontologist it is under question, first, and partially rehabilitated, later. I suppose it you would like to know my opinion about the paleontologist, because, about the theologian I do not have an information to express my opinion.
As a paleontologist, there is a before and after of Teilhard. Few paleontologists will have traveled so much in the search for our ancestors. He was the first to consider human evolution in an integral and with a determined sense, the tendency towards the achievement of higher levels of complexity and, simultaneously, the achievement of higher levels of consciousness.
17. What do you think about the studies of Konrad Lorenz?
I cannot say that he was the father of Ethology, a discipline that I have dedicated a lot of time to, both aspects of dog behavior and its relationship with animal welfare in livestock farms. Also the “comparative method” I developed in comparative anatomy and physiology studies, he applied to behavioral patterns has been very useful to me in my professional life.
In his studies we can see that the knowledge of animals helped him to know man better and that he shared Teilhard’s idea of ”integral evolution”, as is evident in some of his phrases (“Historians must accept that Natural selection determined the evolution of cultures in the same way as it did with species “or” Most of the vices and capital sins condemned nowadays correspond to inclinations that were purely adaptive or at least harmless in primitive man”).
18. How did life start on earth?
You know! The only certain that, at some point, life appeared on earth. Evolution did the rest.
I know more than ten theories about the possible origin of life on Earth but, like philosophers, it seems that scientists are more interested in refuting the theories of others than in substantiating theirs.
Although it seems that they begin to agree on the When? (With a margin of many millions of years) there is much dissent in the Where? (Outer space, land surface, glacial depths, sea vents) and let’s not say how? But no one provides conclusive evidence to support his theory.
Possibly neither is totally true nor totally false and the beginning is a combination of coincident factors over time in a place where, under extreme conditions of radiation, pressure and temperature, simple organic molecules were formed that were grouped to form structures More complex, such as RNA, which is captured by a pre-existing coacervate. Inside, the RNA molecule would acquire the capacity to replicate itself and, in addition, the ability to catalyze simple chemical reactions, which allowed to modify the environment to increase the replication capacity of RNA monomers, which, would be grouped into more complex structures. Subsequent DNA synthesis would give rise to the first prokaryotic cells. From these primitive cells, the evolutionary processes would lead to the appearance of beings becoming more complex and with greater capacity of information.
I have no evidence to support it, but with this theory I answer your question.
1. Your favorite song?
There are many songs that I like. And many more that I do not like. I think every song has its moment but, to answer your question, I’ll say one: Only you, played by The Platers.
2. And your favorite book?
3. Your favorite place in Catalonia? and the world?
I consider myself, Catalan, Spanish, European and even “Citizen of the World”. Therefore, my favorite place is, and can be, anywhere, whenever I feel it, as E.T. said, “My home”
4. What would you take to a desert island?
It is a very common question and, as it does not specify if it is a person, animal or thing, I will tell you several. As a tool a survival machete, a book “The Bible”. As an animal, a dog, and as a person, my wife.
5. A leading philosopher?
I do not usually go into deeper philosophical theories because they disturb me. Philosophers, as they philosophize, are, or appear to be, disagreeing in everything, even in the very principles of philosophy. With what, or you believe only one or, in the end, you have more doubts than before.
To emphasize some, I incline to the ancient Greeks: Plato, Thales of Miletus, Aristotle. Its culture was, according to the time, encyclopedic and its postulates are still being studied.