President's message

Lisa Tokach

Sandbox politics

By now you should know that in a near-unanimous vote, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) House of Delegates (HOD) approved Resolution 3, Pregnant Sow Housing, at the annual AVMA meeting in Nashville. This resolution was AASV's way of ensuring that our veterinary profession was on our side. As food animal veterinarians, we are rapidly becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall veterinary population. This resolution was prepared by the AASV Pig Welfare Committee and submitted to the AVMA HOD under the guidance and direction of our past-president, Dr Dave Madsen.

Animal welfare, and specifically sow housing, has been a hot topic during my tenure on AASV's Executive Board. I have been involved in many multi-profession animal welfare committees as a representative of AASV. I had the chance to meet with Wendy's Inc's Quality Assurance group last year and am currently serving on a committee of animal scientists to set forth guidelines for measuring animal welfare. Our mission as mouthpieces for AASV during these meetings has always been to promote the idea that good stockmanship is key to having good animal health and welfare on the farm. We, too, are concerned about how sows are cared for and have interest in furthering scientific research to help improve our methods.

When news of the AVMA resolution came out, I forwarded the information to the other committees we are currently collaborating with, to keep them abreast of any news regarding animal welfare coming from AASV. I guess I was surprised to get a very negative response from a few non-veterinarian committee members. I was told it was very unfortunate that the AVMA and the AASV did not mention the negative impacts of gestation stall housing on animal welfare. I was told the resolution was narrow and ignored giving the sow the opportunity to perform normal behaviors and the importance of sows engaging in social behaviors. Finally, I was told that given the obvious relationship between the AASV and swine producers (80 to 90% of whom use gestation stalls), the construction of the resolution and vote cannot be viewed as unbiased or free from a conflict of interest, since most swine veterinarians are employed by swine producers.

As you might imagine, this got my good Irish blood boiling! Although I can understand the perspective of these non-veterinarian committee members, why is it that right wing groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) can propose any type of restriction or change they wish, and it appears that they have only the best interests of the animal at heart? Yet, when we (the AASV) propose guidelines to maintain some sanity and have data to back up the proposed changes before jumping from the frying pan into the fire, we are told we have a "conflict of interest." What about PETA's conflict of interest? Do you really think their concern lies in whether sows are kept in stalls or pens? No, their concern lies in whether or not sows can be released back into the wild and we can all live on fruits and nuts we scavenge from the ground. Do you think their concern lies in whether or not McDonald's purchases eggs from suppliers with 68 in2 per cage or 72 in2 per cage? No, they ultimately want McDonald's to become McSalad and never serve another animal product. How is this not a "conflict of interest"? When PETA takes their stance, they escalate the issue by name calling (eg, "McMurder" and "Murder King,") or by using pictures (eg, the Wendy's girl with fangs and blood coming out of her mouth). We didn't call any names, we didn't permeate the room with the smell of bacon frying to sicken the vegetarians, we simply proposed our resolution in a calm, professional manner.

As in the case of my last editorial1 in the Journal of Swine Health and Production, "The symbiosis or parasitism of accepting corporate sponsorship" it all depends on your perspective and to what degree you are sensitized to either side of an issue. Some took my last editorial to be a slam against corporate sponsorship, while others saw it as bringing attention to the need to nurture the delicate balance between corporate sponsors, veterinarians, and producers. The same is true of AASV's Resolution 3 regarding sow housing. Some took it to be a narrow-minded approach to maintain status quo for the financial benefit of our producer clients, while others saw it as a pro-active move designed to keep other radical groups (who likely have never seen the inside of a swine production facility) from proposing sow housing guidelines based on their idea of public perception rather than reality. As with all "hot button" issues, we first need to confront our own sensitivities. We do not appreciate the insinuation that swine veterinarians are economically driven and serve only the producer and not the animal. We may vehemently deny it, but we must also ask ourselves why it could be viewed that way in the first place. If the mere insinuation that we are money-grubbing animal torturers touches a raw nerve with you as it does with me, you will agree we need to continue the fight, but we also need to look around and ask how we can make it better. Defending the status quo is not going to cut it. I realize that sometimes it seems like you just can't win.

Even so, we press forward because we care, and we realize that ignoring the issue is not going to make it go away. We understand the needs of the sows and the producers as few others can. This means we need to be involved, like it or not.

Reference - non refereed

1. Tokach L. President's message. J Swine Health Prod. 2002;5:195.

--Lisa Tokach