Original research

Sold out or fully invested?

One of our members recently told me of a comment made by a practitioner who is not a member of the AASV. The comment came after the AASV was brought up during a conversation. Paraphrased, it went something like this: “Everybody knows that AASV has sold out to big corporate hog production!” I try to have a thick skin, but comments like that still sting, especially when they come from a colleague and not some anti-agriculture activist on the other side of a controversial issue.

It would be easy for me to dismiss the comment and label the commenting practitioner as a crackpot with a personal vendetta against the AASV. That would allow me to return to my daily duties feeling comforted (perhaps even smug) in the assumption that AASV has done all that is required. There is danger in ignoring that comment and in making that assumption. The AASV will be better served if we acknowledge the comment and take time for a bit of introspection.

Whether we have sold out to any special interest is not the correct question to ask of ourselves. That question is loaded with negative connotations. It seriously limits our ability to meet new challenges and opportunities. The question we must ask is whether we are fully invested in all viable facets of the pork industry. The “sold out” comment reveals that there is a perception (for at least one veterinarian) that AASV may not be adequately serving certain facets of the industry.

There may be a number of reasons for this type of perception. It may be connected to the types of positions we take on industry issues. Such issues as antibiotic availability or gestation stalls can be polarizing. Despite our goal of remaining science based in our approaches, we must realize that there can be diverse opinions and viewpoints among swine veterinarians. On some issues, the AASV position may be a majority opinion, but not a unanimous one. A diversity of opinions is not a bad thing. In fact, it can lead to synergistic and creative solutions that build consensus rather than dissension.

It may be due to the type of education we provide via our annual meeting. Perhaps we are not basic enough in our topics or are too directed at the intensive rearing of pigs. While confinement is the main type of production, it is certainly not the only type of production being successfully employed today. It is rare that we address topics on extensive rearing or other pork niches such as organic or antibiotic-free production.

This type of perception may even arise from our close working relationships with the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council. We are closely aligned with both of these organizations on a number of issues and efforts. We have enjoyed significant mutual benefits from these alliances. However, we must recognize that not all producers and veterinarians see these groups as representing the industry.

Lastly, the perceptions of AASV may have evolved from our interactions within the profession. For many years, the AASV has asserted its clear and unwavering advocacy for food animal production. At times in our relationship with the American Veterinary Medical Association, we have been viewed as very vocal and even confrontational. We often take a broader view than just veterinary medicine as we combine aspects of production with animal health and welfare. This may be difficult for some veterinarians to understand and accept.

These are all facets for the AASV to consider as we move forward. Serious consideration needs to be given to meeting the needs of our members. As the pork industry continues to change, we must be actively evaluating new opportunities in which to invest our resources. Can we or do we even want to be all things to all swine veterinarians? Are there swine veterinarians out there who are not members, but could be served by AASV? Who do you know that should be a member but is not? Are we as fully invested in the pork industry as we should be?

The AASV mission has always been “Increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians.” It is plain and simple, with no reference to or qualification of size or type of production. It is a mission that has stood the test of more than 37 years, despite significant changes in the pork industry and our profession. It still stands today as our reason for being. When it comes to increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians, I would much rather be thought of as being fully invested than sold out.

--Tom Burkgren