Letter to the Editor
Relevance of AVMA to swine veterinarians

Dr Tom Burkgren’s message1 in the January-February issue of the Journal of Swine Health and Production really caught my attention, as he talks about the relevance of both the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

As Dr Burkgren points out, all organizations strive for relevance, and, in the current climate, that has never been more true for professional associations like ours. I do take exception, however, with Dr Burkgren as to the AVMA’s current relevance to our swine veterinarians and how we will maintain that relevance in the future. For the AVMA, being relevant to a diverse population of 85,000 members clearly creates unique challenges. Our members span four generations and many disciplines within our profession – and each has somewhat differing ideas about the products and services their national “umbrella” association should provide.

Although we are an organization built around individual members, it has never been as simple as taking a member vote to decide on a position. Instead, the AVMA has relied on science and the expertise within our membership to ensure our positions on issues are science-based and take into account all relevant perspectives.

The AASV, as well as similar organizations ranging from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, has an equal opportunity to voice its perspective in our House of Delegates – and will continue to have that voice under proposed governance changes.

The AVMA advisory councils that are part of the proposed new governance structure, as well as the task forces that these advisory councils will rely upon to deliberate on proposed policies relative to veterinary medicine, will allow the AASV and other allied groups to maintain a strong voice on issues of relevance to them. I personally believe that swine veterinarians and the AASV could have a greater voice under the proposed AVMA governance structure than you do under our current structure, and rightly so. In the meantime, if you haven’t volunteered for AVMA councils, committees, and task forces, I encourage you to do so. If you have an interest or an opinion on any of our existing policies, I invite you to submit your comments to us. It’s easy to do, and access to the policies is available to you through our Web site, www.avma.org/policy.

Let me also add that the AASV and the AABP have been afforded an elevated level of input through attendance at AVMA Executive Board meetings. Longstanding invitations to our board meetings have allowed both the AASV and the AABP to regularly interact with our board members and staff and to share in the dialogue. I appreciate that similar invitations are extended to the AVMA by both the AASV and the AABP boards.

A discussion on relevance of the AVMA to the AASV would be incomplete without pointing out that our Governmental Relations Division staff advocates on a daily basis for issues that are predominantly food-animal related, such as antimicrobial resistance and veterinary oversight of antimicrobials, veterinary issues in the Farm Bill, National Animal Health Laboratory Network authorization and funding, funding for animal-health research, transporting controlled substances (Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service funding, and many more. When we tell Congress that we represent 85,000 veterinarians engaged in all aspects of the profession, it carries a lot of weight for matters of importance to you.

All in all, it is safe to say that we dedicate a far larger proportion of AVMA resources to food-animal issues than membership numbers alone would justify. And with good reason. While we need to provide products, services, and programs that provide tangible benefits to all of our individual members, the AVMA also serves a “greater good” role for the profession and society at large. Helping you ensure that we continue to have the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply in the world is part of that greater good. It is part of what we have always done and will continue to do. Doing this, along with providing those tangible products and services, is how we will remain relevant to all of our members.

The AVMA and AASV won’t always agree on all issues or how to best meet the challenges and opportunities we face as a profession. We have had a couple of recent examples, including differing positions on the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments. But let’s not let those rare instances cause us to forget the overwhelming number of issues and situations where we agree and have worked together to support not only swine veterinarians, but the profession as a whole. Even when we have differing perspectives, there is always room for discussion and opportunity to find mutually acceptable positions. I am committed to ensuring that these discussions continue to happen.

This dialogue makes a compelling case for AASV members to continue to be involved in AVMA. Relevance doesn’t just happen; AASV must continue involvement in AVMA through active participation of your members on our committees, councils, and leadership positions. Engagement of AASV members in AVMA not only provides a critically important perspective, it will also help to ensure AVMA’s relevance to you in the future.

-- W. Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA CEO, American Veterinary Medical Association


1. Burkgren T. Relevancy. Executive Director’s message. J Swine Health Prod. 2014;22:7.

Dr Burkgren’s response to Dr DeHaven’s letter

I thank Dr DeHaven for penning a response to my message. In his letter to the JSHAP editor, I find areas where we have agreement. I also find justifications for my concern over the relevancy of our respective organizations to one another.

Dr DeHaven states that positions are not decided upon with anything as simple as a popular vote. However, under the proposed governance plan, the popular vote will elect two key governance entities: the AVMA Board of Directors (BOD) and the Volunteer Resources Committee (VRC). This may prove to be very troubling for an association like AASV that represents only 1% of the AVMA members eligible for the popular vote. The concentration of power into these two entities, both of which are elected by popular vote, raises the odds that the AASV’s representation will be reduced within the AVMA.

I applaud Dr DeHaven’s statement that the AVMA will “ensure our positions on issues are science-based.” However, he goes on to state that AVMA will “take into account all relevant perspectives.” AVMA leadership and staff are the arbiter of whose perspective is relevant, thus elevating my concerns for the future. At a recent Veterinary Issues Forum on animal welfare, the concept of a “social filter” was presented and promoted. This so-called filter would be based on public opinion and social ethics, neither of which takes into account science or what is best for the animals. If on-farm production practices are to pass through this filter before the AVMA can pronounce them to be acceptable, then there is the real chance of science being subordinated by uninformed opinion, or worse, by political agendas against animal agriculture.

I am very thankful that the AVMA Governmental Relations Division is actively and fully involved with food-animal issues. Their involvement and effectiveness is important to animal agriculture. This observation goes to the heart of my concern over AVMA. The vast majority of AVMA members have little interest and nothing at risk when it comes to making decisions that affect food animals and their veterinarians. At any time, the AVMA leadership or membership or both may decide that the expended resources are excessive and the “greater good” role is no longer relevant to their professional, personal, or financial interests and should be ceased. This would be a tremendous loss for swine veterinarians and would leave us with less of a voice in Washington, DC.

The current purpose of the AVMA, found in its bylaws, states “the objective of the Association shall be to advance the science and art of veterinary medicine, including its relationship to public health, biological science, and agriculture.” A recent resolution put forth in the AVMA House of Delegates and endorsed by the AVMA Executive Board removes the word “agriculture” but retained “public health” and “biological science.” I would hate to think that this deletion of agriculture could prove symbolic of the intended direction of the AVMA.

Dr DeHaven and I concur that our respective organizations will not agree on all issues, challenges, and opportunities. What is important is how our organizations take positions on issues of importance when we disagree. I will restate a basic premise from my original message: If staff and leadership of an organization are lacking experience and knowledge in an area of veterinary medicine, then they must recognize the shortcoming. The solution to this shortcoming is asking for and following the advice of those who do have the expertise and knowledge. No single organization holds all the answers. When advice is neither sought nor accepted, then once again I worry about the relevance of the AVMA and the AASV to one another. I, too, am committed to discussions, but I believe that actions speak much louder than mere words.

-- Tom Burkgren, DVM Executive Director, American Association of Swine Veterinarians