The 2017 AASV Annual Meeting has now come and gone. A great crowd was gathered in Denver for the full value of educational, social, collegial, and professional benefits gained from interacting with swine veterinarians from around the world. Kudos go to Dr Alex Ramirez and his committee for an outstanding program. For me, the annual meeting is a great time to catch up with a large number of friends and colleagues. It is also time to catch a glimpse at the issues confronting our members.
Certainly “antibiotics” is top-of-mind as veterinarians adjust to the new regulations on Veterinary Feed Directives (VFDs) and prescriptions for water-based antibiotics. It seems that this transition has gone as well as it possibly could go. Swine veterinarians and pork producers spent valuable time in 2016 getting prepared for the changes. I did hear comments about the volume of VFDs being written, as well as some frustration with the need for more definitive answers to questions being posed to the US Food and Drug Administration. It is important to remember that this is a work in progress and that all involved will get better at it with time (including the regulators). The important things to remember are still the science and documentation of the right diagnosis, drug, dosage, route of administration, duration, and withdrawal.
Another aspect of antibiotic use is not using antibiotics. The seminar entitled “Antibiotic-free pork production” was very well attended. This demonstrated the interest of our members in this production niche and the pigs involved. There are also a number of commercial companies bringing products and technologies into the market. The jury is still out on where consumer demand will ultimately take this niche, but it is vital for veterinarians to be involved in the decisions that affect the pigs’ health and welfare. A demonstration of this involvement is the progress made by several veterinarians in decreasing the need for antibiotics in the finishing phase of production.
One constant of every AASV Annual Meeting that I have attended has been the “drugs & bugs” portions of the educational sessions. Our best-attended sessions are those covering disease diagnosis, treatment, control, prevention, and elimination. After all these years, swine veterinarians are still intimately involved in the day-to-day health concerns on the farm. As problem-solvers by nature, we sometimes find ourselves lacking the right solutions to morbidity and mortality. Mother Nature still has a way of humbling us.
One of the best examples of a humbling disease is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). It continues to be a major subject at the annual meeting and a major source of frustration for practitioners and researchers alike. The old adage of “one step forward and two steps back” seems appropriate in describing field experiences with PRRS virus (PRRSV). While we do know more about PRRSV than we did at its first discovery, it seems that we still have a long way to go to solve this challenging disease. Since 2011, the AASV has taken the position that elimination of the PRRS virus from the North American swine industry is the long-term goal. Unfortunately, the barriers to elimination are still in place.
In recognition of the historic and ongoing challenges associated with PRRS, the AASV PRRS Task Force is embarking on a new dialogue. It is an effort to better understand the gaps in knowledge of PRRS and to examine the successes as well as the failures in PRRS control and elimination. I hope it can be an opportunity for a thoughtful approach that includes thinking in the box, beside the box, and outside the box. I suspect that it will be an intense discussion, perhaps even contentious at times. The keys to a successful dialogue will be the participants’ abilities to remain respectful of differing opinions while keeping an open and objective approach to new possibilities. Setting aside our differences, biases, preconceived ideas, and proprietary interests will enable an effort resulting in action towards the shared goal of beating PRRS.
One last topic from the hallways of the meeting in Denver is the upcoming 50th anniversary of the AASV Annual Meeting, which takes place in 2019. In visiting with some members, it became clear that honoring our beginnings as an association is more than a maudlin display of sentimentalism. It is an appreciation and understanding of how we have survived and thrived through the decades by remaining true to our values and our mission of increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians. I welcome the participation of our members in preparing for the 50th anniversary. All ideas are welcome, whether from a long-time member or a recent graduate. The key is honoring our past with an eye to a successful and sustainable future.
Tom Burkgren, DVM