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AVA – From Farm To Fork

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Kelvin Ho shares about the many challenges that come between overseas primary production and the plate of food on your table.

I  am drawn to veterinary medicine as I love to figure out the nuts and bolts of animal diseases to improve their health and welfare. It is also the diversity of animal species – farm, companion, equine and exotics – that drew me into the course, as it provides me with a good comparative knowledge of diseases across species. Back in high school, in order to reaffirm my career choice, I shadowed veterinarians at clinics and talk to those working in public health, to explore the different facets of veterinary work. I was eventually drawn to the AVA Scholarship, because I am interested in a career that combines my scientific interest and public service.

Before starting veterinary school, I had only a vague idea of how our food comes about and had very little knowledge of agriculture in general. I still remembered the time when I told my Irish classmates that I had never seen a live cow before coming here and that seemed ludicrous to many of them. Four years into the veterinary course, I have come to better understand farm ­animal husbandry through the various farm work placements. More significantly are the interaction with the farmers and different stakeholders in the food industry. Right from the moment a calf is born, a gamut of complex processes surround the animal and its ultimate fate as food. ­Interrelated issues, ranging from cold summers, decreasing beef prices to animal welfare, ­inevitably shape the many decisions animal health workers make on the farm. As much as it has intellectually enriched me, the ­veterinary course has therefore deepened my awareness of our food chain and that my next plate of chicken rice is a product of multiple farm-to-fork events and indeed does not come easy.

When I relate these experiences back to the Singaporean context, I realise the challenges our small city-state face in ­sourcing food. We import most of our food and there are many challenges ­between ­overseas ­primary production and the plate of food on the ­table. While food and ­animal health issues are under the auspices of ­agricultural ministries in many countries, they are mostly ­regulated by the statutory body, AVA, in Singapore. My short placement at the ­Veterinary ­Public Health ­Laboratory ­highlighted to me the ­laboratory ­capabilities that are required to safeguard food safety by the rigorous testing of imported food samples from around the globe. More importantly, it showed me how food safety and quality issues in ­distant parts of world could have an impact on Singapore in this global supply chain, as exemplified by the 2008 pork dioxin crisis and the more recent horsemeat scandal that happened in Europe.

The veterinary course is an extremely demanding course, and the support that AVA has given me makes it a less stressful and more pleasant experience. Beyond the veterinary course, my experience was enriched by the friendliness of the Irish people, their exquisite humour and taste for good music, and also the beautiful Irish landscape. Being strategically located in Europe, I also had the chance to travel ­economically to other European countries and this has definitely broadened my world-view.

I was inspired to become a veterinarian by James Herriot, the veterinarian from Yorkshire and his stories. Indeed, donned in my coveralls and wellies, I managed to relive many of his misadventures, while embarking on my clinical placements in the unfamiliar Irish rural terrains. I was ­fascinated by James Herriot’s human touch to his many whimsical clients and animal patients. Through the veterinary course, I’ve grown to be better able to empathise and communicate effectively, whether it is with the farmer fretting over the next lost lamb or the owner taking care of her terminally ill feline companion.

While I would not be working as a clinical veterinarian upon graduation, I know that this intangible skill will nevertheless come in useful in engaging the different stakeholders (including the public) in the greater schemes of things ­involving food safety, veterinary public health and ­animal welfare. The AVA Scholarship would be an excellent choice for you if you share this connection for food, ­farming, plants and animals, have a genuine interest in people and hope to ­utilise your knowledge and passion in contributing to the public good.

Kelvin Ho Koun Tai
AVA Scholarship
Age: 24
Now: Doing Veterinary Science in University College Dublin, Ireland
From: Raffles Junior College