Our experiences carry enormous weight in shaping our views – it’s called bias. Yet because people also have the ability to learn from the experiences of others, the knowledge created across generations and cultures delivers opportunity and expectation for great progress. I first heard the truth “ignorance is no excuse for the law” from my high school driver’s education instructor – later borne out when I received my first speeding ticket after missing the 40 mph sign! It occurs to me that ignorance is also no excuse for swine veterinarians as we pursue the practice of food-animal medicine. Today the information resources number more than ever – public and private research, refereed journals and proceedings, mentors and peer groups, practice teams and business partnerships. The Internet makes literature searches possible for nearly everyone living anywhere. But lack of ignorance doesn’t equal wisdom, and the speed of information won’t ensure its quality. Practicing effective veterinary medicine remains no easy task!
If you want to appreciate hard struggles, read “We Die Alone”1 by David Howarth. A story of World War II, it is unlike other war novels in that only a few men are killed in action and it is rooted in a failed mission. The story follows an incredible journey of escape and endurance by one man in Nazi-occupied Norway. Jan Baalsrud survives injury and starvation, loneliness and self-amputation. This survival epic is quite simply unbelievable and horrific. In fact, after my father read the book, he actually threw it away – he couldn’t take it anymore! No one should possibly survive this soldier’s ordeal – and yet he did. Why? Because at those moments when the enemy was closing in, when fatigue or hunger or hopelessness descended, some villager and stranger came to Jan’s aid, risking his own life in the process. The soldier would live.
Like that man who discovered that living requires help, I, too, need encouragement, guidance, a sharp swat of the 2 × 4, and debate that comes with life in the midst of a professional work team and, by extension, with membership in AASV. We are captive to our biases when we don’t place sufficient emphasis on continuing education and the thoughtful insights of others. The AASV annual meeting can be a blur of long days. Committees, workshops, business dinners, breakfast meetings, student presentations, and industry sponsors fill our time. All this before we’ve even started the Monday general session! But nothing charges my batteries like those few days at our meeting that we spend together as colleagues and friends, competitors and mentors.
One of the high priorities before our association remains the villain we call PRRS. An AASV member recently shared his observation that we swine veterinarians are anything but single-minded in approach to controlling PRRS virus. His client receives weaned pigs from a Midwest sow farm that recently broke with a novel PRRS virus. Advice from an assortment of veterinarians included herd closure, depop-repop, live-virus inoculation, vaccine (several options), air filtration, sow feed medication, and do nothing! It was enlightening not only for the range of practices, but for the strength of conviction expressed by the veterinarians. My friend commented, “Is the need to be right superseding what’s best for the pig and the producer?” So while momentum and support continue in the fight to eliminate PRRS from sites, herds, and neighborhoods, we’ve got a long road ahead as we travel divergent paths. To aid progress, the AASV PRRS Task Force committee is encouraging research to fill the PRRS knowledge gaps, fostering communication among elimination-project leaders, and exploring the possibility for creating and funding a staff position to focus on education, tools, and resources for swine-health programs. Contact a member of the committee, your district director, or one of the officers to provide us with your input.
In 2010, we made it a priority to support media training for AASV leadership and continued the NPPC partnership in the Swine Veterinarian Public Policy Advocacy Program. The AASV board approved “Operation Main Street” to educate veterinary students and companion-animal veterinarians about food-animal medicine issues. Our association stands up for science in practice, responding to the FDA’s Draft Guidance #209 regarding antimicrobial drug use in food animals. We continue to push for more federal research dollars to attack the disease concerns before the pig industry. We are a voice that works to promote the health and well-being of the pig and the assurance of food safety. It is our responsibility to demonstrate how knowledge-based veterinary medicine translates into best animal care and safe food practices on the farm; we share our stories.
In the National Treasure movies, the lead character discovers the existence of a “Book of Secrets” – kept by the president of the United States and passed down through the years. Little did I know that we have our own AASV President’s Book of Secrets! Hidden away to protect our bacon, it contains answers to many great mysteries of swine health and production including “How to read and utilize PRRS virus dendrograms, cures for cotton rope addiction in pigs, and breaking the PADRAP code – wind talkers of the AASV.” By the time you read this, those secrets and more will have passed from my safekeeping to Dr Jones. One truth I must share is how proud and humbled I am to have served as your AASV president. This has been a shared commitment with my family and my partners and teammates at the Fairmont Veterinary Clinic; I am grateful for their understanding and help. Thank you to AASV staff, officers, board, and membership for your support and encouragement. I challenge us all to continue the mentorship, commitment to science-based medicine, and philosophy of shared ideas that keeps our organization strong and effective in its mission of “increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians.”
1. Howarth D. We Die Alone. Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press; 1999 (original copyright, New York, New York: The Macmillan Company; 1955).