Dozens of local, state and federal agencies and private companies have responsibilities for animal health. A new authority is needed to encourage communication and cooperation between these groups, according to the council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
Diseases in animals can critically affect the worldwide food supply, the study said. In recent years several illnesses originating in animals have spread, including causing deadly infections in humans:
The nation's animal health system lacks ways to analyze risks and plan for outbreaks, the report said.
In addition to establishing a central system to coordinate animal health activities, the report called on the departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security to support rapid development of new technology to detect, diagnose and prevent the spread of animal diseases.
A second Research Council report, also released Monday, called for stronger efforts to recruit more veterinarians and other scientists into veterinary research.
The reports were presented during a joint meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the World Veterinary Congress in Minneapolis.
Both reports said it is becoming more difficult to handle the increasing problems in animal health because of a growing shortage of veterinary pathologists, lab animal scientists and other veterinary researchers, especially those involved in public health.
The council also called for stronger links between public and private labs that test for and diagnose animal diseases.
It said the Agriculture Department made a good start by forming the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, but it added that network lacks the capacity to deal with multiple outbreaks and is only prepared to detect a narrow list of diseases.
In addition, that network needs better connections to the public health systems that detect and diagnose human disease, the report said.