Advocacy in action
Scientific reality in a political world

It’s a fast-paced world out there. Going to the library took too long, so Al Gore invented the internet. Snail mail was too slow, so we moved to e-mail. People could drone on incessantly on e-mail, so we started texting and limited people to 160 characters. And now we’re way too busy to read a text, so I’ll just send you photo with a caption that disintegrates 10 seconds after you view it. I guess it’s not surprising that this desire for brevity has crept into our decision-making process as well. Science is slow. We all know the world is flat, right? Why bother to prove it? When you’re trying to make a point, why worry about a denominator or the benefit side of a risk assessment?

It’s concerning enough when I see marketing campaigns built around half-truths and misleading tag lines, but it stops being funny when our government agencies start doing it. The answer to controlling the spread of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) doesn’t lie in mandatory reporting and regulatory movement controls. The end to antimicrobial resistance won’t come by removing growth-promotion uses of drugs or imposing additional antimicrobial-use restrictions based on the precautionary principle. Those are poorly disguised political responses to squeaky wheels.

The adverse consequences of such decisions can be significantly harmful. While mandatory reporting of emerging diseases is probably a good thing, poorly considered government regulation can lead to increased distrust and concerns over confidentiality of information provided to the government under threat of unnecessary restrictions on a farmer’s or veterinarian’s livelihood. At the time I’m writing this article, Secretary Vilsack and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continue to consider how they will carry out the secretary’s charge for mandatory reporting of PEDV cases. It is my hope that they will move forward in a thoughtful manner, engaging all impacted stakeholders to arrive at a judicious, well-considered plan that supports the needs of the pork industry and doesn’t just fill a database with useless information and minds with distrust. The industry has proposed suggestions to promote disease reporting and sharing of necessary data. The USDA needs to continue to work with industry in a cooperative manner to arrive at a solution that supports the industry while providing the agency with the information it needs to do its job.

We’d been told PEDV was a severe disease and high risk for introduction into the US swine herd. Many of us had learned about porcine epidemic diarrhea for ourselves while visiting or working in China or interacting with Chinese veterinarians and producers. We chose to ignore the warnings. We should have exercised the scenario defining who plays what roles in the event of introduction of a non-regulatory severe production disease. We need to find a way to share data with state and federal officials that protects business interests and allows us to utilize the tools USDA has to offer. Also, maybe least cost isn’t always best practice.

On the antimicrobial front, we need to ensure that we are following the regulations regarding antimicrobial use, extra-label drug use, and compounding, whether we agree with them or not. We have to police ourselves first. We cannot tolerate injudicious or illegal product use, particularly given that our clients are producing food for human consumption. Part of my job is answering the hard questions from legislators, regulators, media, our colleagues, and others regarding how we use antimicrobials in swine. We have to be able to stand up and confirm that additional veterinary oversight of antimicrobial use will ensure judicious use.

So yes, it’s a fast-paced world out there. But should we allow that desire for speed and brevity to justify a move away from the diligence afforded us by adherence to the scientific principle and allow politics to rule the day? To paraphrase that “so-last-century” TV game show “Name That Tune,” “I can answer that question in one note.” “No.” Let’s not forget to take the time to include both sides of the equation. It’s the denominator that provides the perspective imperative to any judicious decision.