Swine veterinarians tend to be problem solvers by training and by nature. Given a set of facts, they want to diagnose and get to the cause, arriving at a treatment plan quickly and efficiently. They assess the efficacy of their solution and adjust as needed. Success is often evident by measures of mortality and morbidity. This approach has served the profession, our patients, and our clients well for many years. However, future circumstances may hold challenges that we have not seen before. There may be some hard questions asked of veterinarians by farmers, state and federal animal-health officials, and even the public (both the consuming public and the non-consuming activists).
Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) has certainly posed severe health challenges to herds throughout the United States. At the time of writing this article, we are waiting to see how the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) intends to implement the mandatory reporting of PEDV on farms and the tracking of movements (pigs, vehicles, and equipment). The details of the plan have not yet been released, but many concerns have arisen nonetheless. Concerns include confidentiality of the data, how data will be used, and possible regulatory action that restricts the movements of pigs. The fear is that reporting and tracking will disadvantage producers but have no real impact on controlling the disease. Veterinarians are going to be asked hard questions by their clients, colleagues, and the USDA about testing protocols, PEDV diagnosis, herd management plans, pig movements, and biosecurity.
Another issue looming in the near future is the increased role of veterinarians in the use of antimicrobials on the farm. This role will be accompanied by an increase in the accountability of the veterinarian at both state and federal levels. Many states have clarified or even increased the requirements for the writing of prescriptions, including those for extra-label drugs, as well as defining the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. The licensing of veterinarians and the regulations governing the practice of veterinary medicine occur at the state level, thus so does the enforcement. On the federal level, there are new regulations coming for the increased use of Veterinary Feed Directives, creating a new realm of paperwork and record keeping. There is no doubt that veterinarians play a vital role in the decision making on antimicrobial use in pigs. The hard questions will come in the form of documenting that role in record keeping and meeting the requirements set forth in regulations.
Good animal welfare is integrally woven into the day-to-day care and keeping of pigs. Increasingly this care and keeping is being challenged, sometimes by the public, the media, animal-rights activists, veterinarians, and even grocery retailers and restaurants. The latter two categories are major customers of the packers who purvey the pork produced from the raising of pigs. The pressure is mounting on the packing industry to assure that pigs are raised and treated humanely on the farm. As time goes on, welfare audits are becoming more common on farms. This trend is not likely to abate. In conjunction with welfare audits, there are also actions being considered to ban certain production practices, such as blunt trauma euthanasia and gestation stalls. Swine veterinarians are being asked hard questions about the humaneness of these practices.
All three of these areas share a common theme centered on the role of the veterinarian on farms and with pigs. The hard questions are asked of veterinarians because we are the health professionals with the education, the experience, and the on-farm presence to effectively advocate for the health and welfare of pigs. Although it may be hard at times, we must continue to answer these questions to the best of our ability, relying on the science and art of veterinary practice to inform our answers.
All three of these areas also lead to an increasing accountability for swine veterinarians. The actions taken and the advice given by veterinarians will be open to scrutiny from several viewpoints. Increased regulatory diligence will be required for record keeping and the use of scientific data to support uses and withdrawal times of antimicrobials and other drugs. Prescriptions, Veterinary Feed Directives, and extra-label drug use will elevate the role and importance of the veterinarian working on the farm.
Over the last year and beyond, the AASV has been actively engaged in these areas. Our activity includes extensive communications with the USDA and Federal Drug Administration, as well as the National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, and other stakeholders. Our role in increasing knowledge among our members is our primary mission. Please consider how we can best assist in answering the hard questions that will be asked in the future.