WOOSTER, Ohio -- Jeff LeJeune knows the value of collaboration.
The newly appointed director of Ohio State University's Food Animal Health Research Program (FAHRP) has teamed up on research and other projects with faculty from across the university since his arrival in Wooster in 2001.
FAHRP is housed on the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, the research arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. LeJeune took the reins as director on Feb. 1. Like his predecessor, Mo Saif, LeJeune is now also assistant dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Trained as a veterinarian and a microbiologist, LeJeune is now leading a team of about 75 faculty, staff and students focused on the health of food-producing animals.
"So many people still have the idea that all veterinarians do is care for cats and dogs," LeJeune said. "But vets play major roles in food safety, food production and animal welfare.”
LeJeune feels lucky to assume leadership of FAHRP now. In late 2011, the university announced three broad areas of focus, or "Discovery Themes," of health and wellness, food production and security, and energy and environment.
"In a sense, FAHRP has been working in these areas to one degree or another for a long time," he said. "We can play a critical leadership role in these areas."
Similarly, FAHRP is a key ingredient in the national "One Health Initiative," spearheaded at Ohio State by Veterinary Medicine. One Health addresses the overlap between animal health, human health and the environment.
"Seventy percent of new and emerging diseases spill over from animals to humans," LeJeune said. "And there's always the potential for environmental contamination. It's our job to see those links and balance all those things together."
One way to see those links is to partner with scientists from other disciplines, he said.
"When I came on board, I was the only food safety person on the Wooster campus, and I was really worried that I would be working in isolation," LeJeune said.
"Because of that, I pushed myself to find people who work in other disciplines who weren't doing exactly the same things as I was, but close. Vegetable production is a good example." LeJeune and colleagues formed a Fruit and Vegetable Safety Program (http://producesafety.osu.edu/) that helps Ohio's growers of fresh produce develop best practices to keep their products safe for consumers.
"I think I've probably collaborated with faculty from every single department in the college," he said, as well as with faculty from other colleges, including Veterinary Medicine, the College of Public Health, and the College of Education and Human Ecology.
"That isolation I feared at the beginning turned out to be a strength rather than a weakness.
"I decided to take this job because of the great people who are here. If I can stay out of their way, I'll be doing the job right."