Steering the Beef Industry in the Right Direction
From Australia to the United States, Guy Loneragan continues his pursuit for global food safety improvement.
by Meredith Holdsworth
Veterinary medicine has long been the focus of Guy Loneragan’s life. From the time he was old enough to stand on a stool, Loneragan helped his veterinarian father work with cattle. There, he learned valuable skills and gained insight into the practice of veterinary medicine. But it took time and traveling thousands of miles before he finally found his passion.
Loneragan, a professor of epidemiology and animal health in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, first realized that he wanted to pursue a career in veterinary medicine around his junior and senior year of high school in his native Mudgee, Australia.
“I don’t know what took me so long to realize that, but I had always enjoyed working with cattle and working with my father and what he was doing,” Loneragan said. “Then it sort of solidified or became more granulated that if I enjoy it so much, why don’t I go to university to become a veterinarian?”
Not only was his father a vet in the late ’70s, he pioneered embryo transplant in cattle in Australia.
“Growing up, our family was always fairly entrepreneurial and would not, or did not, like settling for the norm, or the mundane, if you will,” Loneragan said. “So the decision to leave Australia to pursue something new and different was embraced by my family.”
A Journey Across Oceans
Loneragan received his veterinary degree from the University of Sydney. With encouragement from his professors to continue his education, Loneragan contacted researchers at Colorado State University. Luckily, Loneragan said, a position was available, so he packed his bags and headed to the U.S.
After coming to the United States, Loneragan said he realized that he didn’t enjoy individual animal medicine, and his interest turned to understanding how diseases spread or could be controlled in populations.
“It really intrigued me that cattle could harbor a hidden pathogen that could be quite deadly to humans but completely harmless to the cattle,” Loneragan said, “and that got me really interested in food safety, public health from a population perspective and trying to understand how we can do things in livestock that have meaningfully beneficial impacts on humans.
Addressing Global Issues
Guy Loneragan was chosen as a 2012 Integrated Scholar by the Office of the Provost. Read More.
Loneragan’s research focuses on understanding the ecology of antibody resistance, and looking at pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli O157 to understand their ecology within livestock populations.
Loneragan’s experiences have fueled some of the passion he has for improving food safety.
“A professor at Colorado State, where I was doing a Ph.D. and a master’s, his son developed E. coli O157 disease, a quite severe disease,” Loneragan said. “At the low point of his son’s illness, when he was in ICU, the professor talked about his experience, and that really was a transformative moment. To hear the raw pain that he was feeling was tangible, and to experience that and think that the E. coli could have come from cattle was something that got me thinking.”
Coming from another country himself, Loneragan said he feels passionate about helping other countries with the same food safety issues as the U.S.
“If you look globally, we share a lot of problems,” Loneragan said. “We all have common desires, we all want safe food.”
Loneragan has worked with a number of countries, including France, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Chile and Argentina.
“They not only have common desires but sometimes they have common causes,” said Loneragan. “My interaction globally primarily is to share ideas, and see how their approach to a problem might parallel what we have done, but it also may differ from what we have done.”
Making a Difference
Contributing to and participating in different professional and industry associations is something Loneragan particularly enjoys about his job. He is an active member of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, Academy of Veterinary Consultants’ board of directors, International Symposium of Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics, the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases, Association of Veterinary Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and International Association of Food Protection.
Working on committees within the different associations, he said, does a number of good things, and he finds the endeavors very rewarding.
“First it helps you get an idea of what problems are percolating to the top of the importance pile,” he said. “Everyone has problems, but sometimes you find that some continually percolate to the top. The other one is that funding is about the idea and how you put it together, but it’s also about the connections and how you build a trusting relationship in that you might have the best idea in the world, but if they don’t know you, or you don’t have a proven track record, or you haven’t participated and worked with them, sometimes that’s an intangible way to limit your ability to get funding. Third and probably one of the most important is that I get a lot of benefit from interaction with these groups, and it’s nice to be able to give back to these groups by serving on committees. You are helping them solve one of those problems that you’ve seen percolate to the top, and now you can give back solutions.”
One of his favorite associations–the National Cattleman’s Beef Association–has given him the opportunity to present about food safety and how to raise livestock to some of the staffers on Capitol Hill. He said he enjoyed presenting because government staff are very open-minded to opportunities for improving livestock, food safety and the regulatory side.
Loneragan said he knows that his research is for others, not for himself. His efforts have been directed at improving the lives of the public and to try to make the world a healthier place.
“One thing that interests me greatly is how you make changes within complex systems,” Loneragan said. “For instance, the beef industry, from producers all the way to consumers, is very complex. While we might be able to understand bacteria, what’s more difficult to understand is actually how you change something. So if you wanted to make meaningful improvement in public health, and we want to do something at the producer level, how do we actually make that happen? You try to understand the whole system as well as the components within the system and the relationships between the components and how they interact with each other to form the whole system. And if you can start to do that, you can start to understand where the leverage points are in that very complex system to make the changes.”
Loneragan attributes his successes to the research team that he is a part of both inside and outside of the lab.
“Sometimes I get to lead the team, sometimes I get to be in a supportive role on the team, and it really is the team environment that makes it successful,” Loneragan said. “Within the team you have to have a shared passion for what you’re doing. And I’m very lucky to be a part of a wonderful research team here at Texas Tech.”
The Department of Animal and Food Sciences
The Department of Animal & Food Sciences is part of the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources at Texas Tech. The department consists of faculty members who are leading researchers in their respective fields, including food science, food safety, muscle biology, nutrition, animal well-being, breeding and genetics, physiology, and with specialties in cattle, horse, sheep and goats, and poultry and swine.
Students in the department consist of those who plan to continue their education in graduate, veterinary, medical, dental or pharmacy school, as well as those interested in animal research, animal agricultural business, education and food safety, among other areas.
Meredith Holdsworth is a Student Assistant for Research and Academic Communications in the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Photos courtesy Neal Hinkle.