A new type of science degree should boost the number of animal health-care professionals and food-safety experts in Alberta.
The new animal health degree at the University of Alberta is a sign of the growing need for veterinarians and animal health specialists, as well as food-safety expertise, said Dr. Craig Wilkinson, a veterinarian, instructor, and director of animal care in the faculty of agriculture, life, and environmental sciences.
“There are also a number of areas that we felt weren’t covered under existing programs in Alberta,” said Wilkinson.
“We have a number of majors in the program that really address those gaps so hopefully we can provide graduates to meet the needs of industries.”
The four-year program has already accepted its first batch of freshmen and eventually expects to graduate about 70 students per year.
The program offers three majors – Food Animals; Food Safety and Quality; and Companion and Performance Animal. None are aimed directly at the agriculture industry but are expected to attract many kids who grew up on farms.
Food Safety and Quality focuses on food microbiology and improving safety in food production systems.
“These people will be really useful and trained for on-farm food-safety programs, which are really growing,” said Wilkinson.
Government also needs people with laboratory skills in microbiology and immunology, he said. Public health, animal health, and food-safety divisions of Alberta Agriculture will need to expand in the future, creating new opportunities for people with these skills.
Despite its name, the Food Animals major isn’t primarily intended for livestock producers.
“It’s a bit similar to a traditional degree in animal science, but it focuses more on immunology and microbiology and adds some other production courses,” said Wilkinson. “It’s not aimed primarily at a person who wants to go back into farming (but) at someone who wants … a basic understanding of the food animal industry.”
Students who aren’t interested in food production may want to consider the Companion and Performance Animal major. This program reflects the growth of the pet-care industry, said Wilkinson.
“There wasn’t really a university- level program that provided people with the tools they needed to go and be involved in that industry,” said Wilkinson.
Students in this major will study animal psychology and behaviour, companion animal nutrition, the human-animal bond, equine nutrition and reproduction.
All three majors include basic business and economic courses. Many of the students plan to study veterinary medicine at either the University of Calgary or the University of Saskatchewan, said Wilkinson.
“This is a new program and it’s the first of its kind in Canada.”
UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA DIRECTOR OF ANIMAL CARE