From the Executive Director

Headlines not seen in 2004

Tom BurkgrenI realize that you will be reading this in March, and the New Year is well past. But for me, the onset of a new year always sparks a desire to review the past year and its events. Rather than dwell on what happened, I decided to reflect on what did not happen. To do this, I compiled my top 10 list of headlines that we did not see in 2004. I repeat: these are headlines we did NOT see in 2004. Depending on your point of view, each headline may evoke a different response. Some may seem good and some may seem bad. This is a mixed bag of headlines, so take them with an open mind and a grain of salt.

10. Economists are speechless over pork market

We came close to this headline because of the 2004 "demand" market, but there were still a few comments coming forth from our learned colleagues, the agricultural economists. I guess nature truly does abhor a vacuum!

9. Herd size of 60 sows is optimal

Regardless of how much we would like to return to the days of small family farms, the hard facts of economies of scale, enterprise sustainability, and market access are driving consolidation and scale of farms. Niche production and marketing will prove successful for some producers. Regardless of size and type of production, veterinarians must continue to adapt and prepare if we are to remain a viable part of agriculture.

8. Pork Checkoff is affirmed by US Supreme Court

By the time you read this in March of 2005, the ruling may already have been handed down from the court. The National Pork Board is the single greatest resource in the swine industry today. It would be a shame to lose this resource due to an abolition of the checkoff. Without the checkoff to support it, the NPB will be hard-pressed to continue to accomplish its much needed mission. The AASV and its members would greatly miss the cooperative and collaborative relationships built with the producers and staff of the NPB.

7. American Veterinary Medical Association condemns gestation stalls

The membership of the AVMA is increasingly focused on companion animal veterinary medicine, and the organization is governed accordingly. Use of gestation stalls is but one of the challenging issues confronting the AVMA. The distressing fact is that the AVMA is currently taking action to decrease food animal representation within the organization. The AASV is continuing to press the AVMA to maintain a meaningful commitment to food animal veterinary medicine. There may come a time, however, when we will disagree with the AVMA on any number of critical issues.

6. AASV severs ties with AVMA

See Headline #7.

5. Fast-food restaurants tell producers how to raise pigs

We are on the brink of seeing this headline come to fruition. A number of packers are being pressured by restaurant chains and retailers to buy pork only from producers who raise pigs according to a prescribed set of guidelines. I wish these restaurants would pay more attention to training employees on customer service, proper food preparation, and basic hygiene (like washing hands after visiting the bathroom) and less on some misguided and unwanted marketing attempt to gain the appearance of social responsibility so they can sell a million more hamburgers.

4. Cure for PRRS discovered

If this did happen, then what would we have to talk about at our meetings? Oh, I think we would find something! Given the remarkable ability of bacteria and viruses to adapt, thrive, and wreak havoc, there are probably a number of emerging pathogens just waiting to come to the forefront of swine diseases.

3. Animal rights lawyers cry "Uncle!"

Don't ever expect to see this headline. There are a number of ominous signs that animal rights activists will be pushing their agenda onto the farm through any and all possible means, including legal challenges.

2. US Food and Drug Administration bans antibiotic growth promotants

This headline has been incubating since the late 1960s. Recent changes in the way that feed antibiotics are approved may be the beginning of the end for antibiotic growth promoters. The ban will not be an outright one, but rather will be a ban through attrition. The results of any ban will probably fall somewhere in the middle, regardless of whatever side with which you may agree. That means growth promoters will be missed more than predicted by their opponents and not as much as expected by their proponents.

1. AASV reorganizes as a social club

This headline will never be seen on my watch as your executive director, despite the dire predictions of needing only a handful of swine veterinarians in the future. As I have said before, the power of the AASV is in its purpose. Our mission to increase the knowledge of swine veterinarians is unwavering. It is just as important today as it was when our organization was founded. Besides, I have been told that swine veterinarians are too intense and business-minded to really socialize!

If any of these headlines seem too farfetched, then pardon my editorial license. If any of these headlines worry you, then consider what we can do to prevent them or at least prepare for them. If any of them appeal to you, then take action to bring them to fruition. If you simply don't like my list of headlines, then make up your own. It's amazing how retrospection can help us to focus in on the future.

--Tom Burkgren