The swine veterinary profession lost two devoted colleagues this spring. While the profession will not be the same without them, we all know the profession is already different thanks to them. Drs James McKean and Scott Hurd both left their indelible marks on the swine industry, and we all benefit from their contributions.
In his president’s message in the May-June 1990 issue of the AASP Newsletter, Dr McKean wrote about the unveiling of the Level III Quality Assurance Program at the World Pork Expo that year, as well as challenges the swine industry was facing with animal-rights activists. As I read his message written almost exactly 24 years ago, I am amazed by how much things have changed, and yet how much they have stayed the same.
In 1990, and again in 2014, a more comprehensive and robust version of the swine industry’s quality assurance program was unveiled at the World Pork Expo. The 2014 program is intended to serve as a common industry standard and audit platform for swine producers. It will provide a more efficient, uniform process by which the industry can consolidate efforts to assure appropriate animal-welfare and food-safety standards are prevalent on farm.
Dr McKean noted in his message that one of the key differences between the Level II and Level III programs was that Level III required on-farm residue hazards to be assessed and reviewed by a third party. I am somewhat surprised to realize we were incorporating third-party assessments nearly a quarter of a century ago, and yet the issue of third-party audits is still a “hot topic.” That being said, audits are far more comprehensive today than they were in Level III, which merely required that a veterinarian assess the residue hazards on-farm.
In reference to challenges by animal-rights activists, Dr McKean wrote, “Swine practitioners can play a vital role in this battle by promoting continued humane treatment of swine, reducing the potential for disease through management modifications, reviewing medication needs, and encouraging residue-avoidance procedures.” Jim certainly did his part in these four areas throughout his career. He was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the swine industry quality assurance programs, setting standards for both animal welfare and residue avoidance. He was also heavily involved in surveillance and management programs geared toward disease risk mitigation and pathogen elimination, which ultimately result in reduced medication usage.
Similarly, throughout his career, Dr Hurd exemplified the role of the veterinarian in his devotion to the humane treatment of swine, disease risk mitigation, judicious use of antimicrobials, and residue avoidance. Dr Hurd served in several important roles in the United States Department of Agriculture, safeguarding the health of the nation’s livestock herds and the safety of the domestic food supply.
Not only did Scott work to optimize food safety through the reduction of tissue residues, he took it one step further with his risk assessments for antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. Dr Hurd was adamant that scientific information be incorporated into the risk-reward equation, that fear alone did not guide the principles of residue avoidance. In keeping with the principles of animal welfare, he helped others to understand the benefits of judicious use of antimicrobials, the risks of associated residues, and the relative risk of human illness due to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.
One of the keys to their success was that neither Jim nor Scott was ever satisfied with the status quo – for themselves, for their profession, or for the industries they served. Both holders of advanced degrees beyond their DVMs, these men had a thirst for knowledge and a devotion to continuous improvement. They were also committed teachers throughout their entire careers, sharing their knowledge not only with their students, but also with their colleagues, swine producers, and the general public.
Drs McKean and Hurd were both strong in their convictions. They had the education and experience that afford credibility and they were not afraid to stand up and voice their opinions (which were often facts, albeit unpopular facts). Neither was a man to shirk responsibility or take the path of least resistance. They were proud to be veterinarians, they practiced by their oath, and the world is a better place because of them.
It is clear that these men have left a huge void in the veterinary profession and the swine industry. We must continue to build on the contributions they made to animal welfare, food safety, and education. They were excellent role models. We owe it to them to continue their legacies.
Michelle Sprague, DVM
Photos of Drs. McKean and Hurd Courtesy of Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine