From the Executive Director
Like any other profession, veterinary medicine brings its own rewards and responsibilities. The rewards are both tangible and intangible. Monetary rewards are critical to the business side of the equation and the survival of a practice. However, equally important for most is the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from solving a difficult problem for a client. Motivating factors are unique to each veterinarian. While motivation can be a fascinating topic, that is not the subject on which I wish to concentrate.
A great deal of the time I spend on advocacy for our profession is focused on the responsibilities of swine practitioners. Organized veterinary medicine is often challenged to advance and defend the concept that veterinarians are acting in a responsible manner in protecting animal and human health. This notion that we can have an effect on human health is not new to veterinarians.
Nonetheless, animal agriculture has been increasingly in the public's eye because of several highly publicized outbreaks of food-borne illness. Central to this issue is the development of antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic bacteria, specifically Salmonella and Campylobacter. The fingers of many activist groups are pointed directly at veterinarians and the alleged misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in food-producing animals. This is a good example of an area where advocacy is essential.
When accused, it is easy for the profession to react with vehement denials. To most veterinarians, it seems ridiculous that any scientist could indict animal production for antimicrobial resistance on the basis of the scientific data presented thus far. Clearly, science is not the only agenda at play. The politics of activism are often driven by the need for funds. Controversy grabs headlines and raises the public awareness. Awareness creates opportunities to raise funds. The controversy is not likely to fade away as long as consumers are sensitized to the issue of safe food.
Advocacy is often an exercise in educating and informing activists, regulatory officials, and legislative bodies. It is a matter of describing the ways in which veterinarians in food animal production are acting responsibly on a daily basis. This requires a clear and accurate message that can be delivered in concise "sound bites." The advocates must be confident that veterinarians are indeed acting responsibly in their practice of swine medicine.
Individual veterinarians can best serve the profession by thoughtfully reviewing what they do in their practices. As we question the science of the activists on the other side of the issue, we also need to question our own science, or lack thereof.
- Are our therapeutic regimens based on science?
- Are we letting tradition dictate regimens?
- Are veterinarians making the decisions on choice of medications?
I believe that most swine veterinarians are acting in a manner that is science-based and in the best interests of their patients and clients. There is, however, always room for improvement.
Specific areas in need of ongoing consideration include extra-label use and compounding of antimicrobials. The veterinarian's obligation to use science in the avoidance of meat residues is not strictly philosophical. It is mandated by federal law and related regulations. A lack of scientific data should preclude the use of extra-label or compounded antimicrobials. The economics of production is not a consideration in the decision to use a drug in an extra-label manner or to use a compounded drug.
It is the responsibility of veterinarians to make appropriate therapeutic recommendations as they inform and educate their clients. Intense pressure may be brought to bear on veterinarians by clients requesting a particular medication. When a desired medication is inappropriate, it is up to the veterinarian to abide by the pertinent science and the regulations. It is indefensible for veterinarians to shed their responsibilities because of their clients' lack of understanding of appropriate therapy.
Everything we do as food animal veterinarians may be held up to scrutiny. Ideally, the profession will review and correct areas that need improvement before public attention is drawn to them. Once public attention is attracted, it becomes difficult to influence perceptions unless we have our "house in order." No amount of advocacy can ever fully recover consumer confidence once it is lost. The AASP can facilitate the review process, but, ultimately, it is the responsibility of individual veterinarians to use the best available science in their practice of swine medicine.