Original research
Hard times

It can be tough thinking of enough new and original material to write six of these messages every year, year in and year out. This particular message has been especially difficult due to the hulking economic depression we are facing in the pork industry. Striking the right tone is important so I don’t come off as too upbeat or too pessimistic. The current situation cannot be ignored, but neither can it become an object of a downward-spiraling obsession. Nevertheless, what can one say when hard times permeate every consideration and decision made by pork producers.

There is no doubt that the current economic condition affects swine veterinarians, some quite deeply. The loss of clients and pigs from a practice takes a toll, both financial and emotional. For those veterinarians who own pigs, the economic hit can be even worse. Having been in practice during the 1980s and its farm crisis, I know first-hand the experience of having clients lose their farms and their livelihoods. It was a sobering and humbling experience, but one that led me to a better appreciation for the clients who survive downturns through hard work, planning, determination, and maybe even some luck.

I believe that the pork industry will be different when it emerges from this downturn. I also firmly believe that it will indeed emerge! There will still be pigs to be raised and veterinary care to be provided. Pork will still be consumed domestically and eventually the export markets will re-open. The same principles of producing safe, nutritious pork will be needed. Swine veterinarians can play a major role in helping clients to recover and thrive again. Maybe we will learn from our history and not repeat its mistakes.

When lacking inspiration for my writing, I usually return to the driving force of our organization, which has always been increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians. That is our mission in good times and in bad. Regardless of how much a pig is worth financially, producers and veterinarians demonstrate their care and concern by providing for the pigs’ health and well-being. The veterinarian’s oath says nothing of economics or financial gain. The oath does include this statement: “I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.”

Education cannot be considered as something reserved only for the good times. The AASV will continue to devote resources to the annual meeting, the Journal of Swine Health and Production, the AASV Web site, the e-Letter, and the Swine Disease Manual, as well as all the rest of the publications, position statements, guidelines, and educational materials. Beyond education, AASV must continue to advocate for the best interests of swine veterinarians. Hard times should not be allowed to stifle those efforts either. The AASV will continue to answer the call when asked for our positions on contentious issues. We will not back away from the challenges posed by those who wish harm to the veterinary profession and the pork industry.

As veterinarians, we enjoy the respect of the consuming public. The public continues to see the veterinarian as a key part of ensuring health and well-being for food animals. Our dedication to the pigs in our care is admired, even by our opponents. If it were not so, our opponents would ignore us rather than continue to demonize us and our profession. How we maintain and nurture our image is up to us. If we do not tell our story, then no one else will. The need to tell our story may be in the check-out line at the grocery store, in the bleachers at a sporting event, or in front of a Kiwanis meeting. Wherever it is, we each need to be prepared to deliver the message that we care for and about pigs on a daily basis.

As an association, we need to continue to move forward and act in a progressive and forward-thinking manner. While we cannot throw caution to the wind, we can look beyond the current situation. Hard times cannot be used as an excuse for failing to seek out and act upon new opportunities to increase knowledge or advocate for swine veterinarians. What we do or do not do now, in the short run, will set the course for the long run.

I am not going to pretend that I can predict the future or tell you when the hard times will end. Nor will I try and tell you the best ways to help your clients, businesses, and practices survive. What I will promise you is that AASV is committed to swine veterinarians and the mission of increasing your knowledge. It has been that way since the beginning and we will not waver now.

--Tom Burkgren, DVM