From the Executive Director

How important are antimicrobials to your practice? What would happen if no new antimicrobials were introduced? What would happen if no antimicrobials could be delivered in the feed? What would happenif all antimicrobials had to be administered individually - no feed or water delivery?

These are questions that arise from the ongoingdebate over the use of antimicrobials in food animals. The growing perception is that such use is detrimental to humanhealth. There is a range of suggestions of how to alleviate this threat. Some of the most vocal opponents to animal agriculturehave the simplest solution: antimicrobialswhich are used in humans should not be used in food animals. This is the end of story as far as they are concerned, but not as far as veterinarians or producers are concerned.

The groups which are advocating for the end of the "antimicrobial era" for animal agriculture envision a pastoral return to the "good old days" of pig production. They put forth the notion that all we have to do is be better managers and then we will not have to use antimicrobials. They want production to be "holistic" and extensive rather than intensive. Outdoor rearing of pigs is a common theme with many of these groups.

Of course these groups have no experience in production settings. They rely on emotions and anthropomorphic sentiments to drive their arguments. Science is a tool that is only useful when it can be "spun" and twisted to support their conclusions. Headlines and media coverage are the keys to drive an agenda of fear-mongering.

Unfortunately, there are clear signs that key governmental agencies are being influenced. In fact, it appears that individuals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are acting in collaboration with the agenda against antimicrobial use in animal agriculture. You might scoff at the scenario of few, if any, antimicrobials for use in swine, but the momentum is building towards that end. The question is how far and how fast that agenda be will carried forth.

So what has AASV done on this issue? AASV has been active for many years in providing the following for its members:

  • advocacy for the appropriate use of science as a policy-making tool
  • representation at every key meeting on antimicrobial resistance and (or) pharmaceutical availability
  • continuing education of swine veterinarians in the areas of health and production
  • development of judicious use guidelines for antimicrobials in swine
  • ongoing dialogue with producers on issues related to antimicrobial resistance, pharmaceutical availability, quality assurance, biosecurity, and pig welfare
  • strategic alliances with other industry stakeholders

Concern for the future is justified. Opponents of animal agriculture are well-funded, well-staffed, and certainly well-organized. They are experienced in moving public sentiment to their viewpoint. They are also forming key alliances with like-minded groups and formulating joint agendas.These agendas not only overlap across production issues like manure handling and animal welfare, but also across all of agriculture, including crop biotechnology, pesticides, and herbicides.

What can AASV do in the future? Certainly, we need to maintain our core missionof increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians. This will be essential as the challenges arise from using fewer antimicrobials in swine production. It will requirean ongoing willingness to share information and knowledge about alternatives to antimicrobials, management techniques in various production settings, and strategic use of serology and vaccinology.

There will be a continued need for research in the areas of disease control and prevention. This research will require resources of money and people. A key question is, how can AASV assure that adequate resources will be available for swine research? Also, how can we maintain access to data and information arising from the research?

The future will require ongoing advocacy for science-based approaches to the issues of antimicrobial resistance and pharmaceutical availability. Without such advocacy, there will be no counterbalance to the extremeviews of the opposition to animal agriculture. As a small association, we will continue to look for alliances with other organizations to advance the interests of our members.

Finally, AASV needs to be able to communicate with its members in a timely manner. Part of the AASV "web initiative" is to develop an electronic newsletter that will serve this function. Up-to-date reports on research and scientific developments are to be included, as well as industry news briefs. Member input will drive the contents of this newsletter. In the very near future, members will be given opportunities to provide their opinions on the newsletter concept. Please take advantage of these opportunities.

No one knows the definitive answers to the questions posed at the beginning of this column. It is certain, however, that the answerswill not be to our liking if we sit back and allow policy-makers to regulate without input from the swine industry. Any impact we might have by advocating science and common sense is greater than the one we can expect if we are silent on the issues.

-- Tom Burkgren