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AVA – Guarding Food Hygiene And Public Health

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A vet’s role is more than treating sick ­animals; to Dr Neo He Sheng it is about p­ublic health.

I was elated and overjoyed when I was awarded the AVA Scholarship and couldn’t wait to share the good news with my family and friends.  That was in 2006 and it marked a new phase in my life.

I spent the next five years pursuing a degree in Veterinary Medicine at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), University of London, which was also the college of my choice.  Those years were especially meaningful and memorable due to the numerous opportunities to network with veterinary students from England and other parts of the world.  The exposure gained from being an RVC ambassador and the International Veterinary Students’ Association (IVSA) representative for the RVC gave me new perspectives and greater confidence in handling challenges.  These experiences would not have been possible without AVA’s financial and administrative support.  Despite being in a foreign land, I never felt estranged, knowing that AVA was always an email away.

AVA’s main responsibilities are to ensure a resilient supply of safe food, animal health and welfare, plant health and facilitate agri-trade.  I have always had an affinity towards animals and once I decided to become a veterinarian, it became clear to me that a veterinarian’s role was more than just treating sick animals in a clinic. There is so much to do in managing the role of animals in our society.  As my goals were largely in line with AVA’s, I applied for the AVA Scholarship.

I am currently part of the team that regulates local food establishments, including food factories, slaughterhouses, cold stores and warehouses.  Besides grading and inspecting food esta-blishments, we organise seminars and road shows to propagate good food hygiene practices in the industry.  Therefore, AVA officers are frequently out and about visiting food establishments and interacting with licensees.  Meaningful interaction requires quick wits, good communication skills, sound technical knowledge and a good understanding of the industry. It is certainly more challenging than it sounds!
AVA also provides exposure beyond the scope of my routine work.  Since I started work two years ago, I have had the opportunity to participate in specialised technical courses, seminars and leadership development programmes. In June this year, I attended the Executive Development Course as part of AVA’s structured leadership development programme.  On knowing that places for this course were limited, I was thankful for this opportunity to develop professionally and bond with officers from various government agencies.

I had opportunities to travel overseas for inspections, courses and meetings.  Recently, I attended the World Assembly of the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) held in Paris.  It was an eye-open-ing experience to witness first-hand the interaction amongst countries to promote agri-trade while safeguarding animal health and food safety on a global scale.  AVA’s participation ensures that Singapore’s interests are safeguarded.

I was also involved in projects and committees that gave me greater exposure to all facets of AVA’s work functions as part of capability building.  Three memorable examples come to mind, namely a project to enhance community engagement for animal management, an exercise to test AVA’s readiness to deal with a bird flu outbreak, and collaboration with MUIS (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) to facilitate the Korban last year.  All these experiences have allowed me to gain a more holistic perspective of AVA, and, at the same time, forge important networks with colleagues across departments, across agencies and with external stakeholders.

Food safety, animal health and agri-trade, although essential for food supply resilience and public health, are frequently taken for granted by the local community until a crisis arises. Together with emerging issues like bird flu, AVA requires professional expertise in multi-disciplinary fields to continue to deliver its mission.  Therefore AVA remains one of the few agencies that offer scholarships in specialised disciplines like Veterinary Science, Food Science, Aquaculture, Horticultural Science and Agribusiness and economics.

With the growing complexity of 21st century challenges, AVA scholars would need to be creative, resourceful and dedicated to meet these challenges effectively.  AVA firmly believes in nurturing and developing its employees.  Complemented by an open and nurturing work environment, a career at AVA promises ample opportunities and challenges to develop to your full potential with the satisfaction of serving Singapore.

DR NEO HE SHENG
AVA Scholarship
Age: 28
Attained: Bachelor of Veterinary- ­Medicine from the Royal Veterinary College, UK
Now: Veterinarian, Food Establishment Regulation Group, AVA
From: Victoria Junior College