Inside a little known lab tucked away in Ewing in Mercer County, is one of the state’s most important facilities for protecting public health — the Animal Health Diagnostic Lab. Its main purpose is disease detection, namely in livestock, pets and wildlife. It does so through diagnostic testing, among other services, and it just got world recognition in the form of accreditation from the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation.
“This is incredibly important,” remarked New Jersey’s Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher, “it obviously raises our profile in testing.”
The division falls under the Department of Agriculture and NJTV News got one of the first ever looks inside. Fisher says the certification makes this one of only 18 such labs in the U.S. and the only one in New Jersey.
“It means that there’s quicker turnaround for testing results. It means that we can test for things we didn’t normally have the capacity to do, like animal feed. And lastly and most importantly for the agriculture community, some of the tests they do they will get quicker turnaround so that they can manage their livestock and operations within,” Fisher said.
“This accreditation put us on the level that there is no question about your lab result,” added state veterinarian Dr. Manoel Tamassia, “No one will question if you followed the protocol, it certifies we follow the acceptable procedures.”
Expanding the tests, like on animal feed for pet food and farm animals, means the state will be able to respond to threats faster because they won’t have to wait for the results to become official.
As the director of the Animal Health Diagnostic Lab, Dr. Amar Patil, explained, “As you know, the animals are, you know, really are sentinels of diseases in communities. So before a disease might be introduced to human population there are signs, or it can be detected in the animal population. Some example of that include West Nile, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Rabies.”
Patil took NJTV News inside the necropsy lab, think autopsy but for animals. Remember Hodari? An 11-year-old giraffe that died from dental complications while at the Turtle Back Zoo? He came here. Their job is to identify problems in the animal community and prevent them from entering the human population.
Lab coats must be put on immediately before entering the necropsy lab to not compromise testing or personal health. In order for the state to enforce standards and regulations, agencies like the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection rely on testing done in this lab.
“We rely heavily on the tests in this lab to allow commerce,” said Dr. Tamassia, “An example being avian influenza, which two years ago had a billion dollars worth of USDA response to control an outbreak. We test that here many times a week for poultry going to markets, coming in state or going out of state. This allows interstate commerce to go on.”
The accreditation makes the lab eligible to receive more federal funding. They’ll use it for the latest equipment and testing procedures, which they hope to have by early 2019.