AASV Members' Forum

Members respond...

The last two columns that have appeared in this space introduced this column as a forum for thoughts about AASV - what we are, what we should become, and how we can be more effective in attracting, retaining, and serving members. As well, it is to be a forum for concerns regarding AASV public relations issues. This column is an effort by the AASV Membership and Public Relations Committee to provide members with a way to communicate their thoughts about current issues that face our association, our members, and the industries that we serve.

The world is changing and AASV continues to adapt to meet the challenges of progress. Some changes in AASV have been revolutionary - some are more subtle and evolutionary. Replacing the name "American Association of Swine Practitioners" with "American Association of Swine Veterinarians" is merely a reflection of these changes.

Dr. James Bradford responds

In response to the last two columns, fellow member Dr. James Bradford had this to say:

"First, let me say that I think you made a great point in the last column about how this organization has helped shape the industry. The primary reasons I belonged to AASV while in private practice were the open sharing of information by leaders in swine practice and academia and the annual recharging of my batteries as to how I could serve my clients better. The CE provided by this organization has been unmatched by any other veterinary organization to which I belong. That part, we must maintain.

I am concerned, however, that it is no longer enough to be on the leading edge scientifically. On Friday, June 29, John Stossel (ABC News, I think) had a report on the adoption of technology by agriculture. He is the first media person I have heard express a positive attitude toward agricultural technology. He openly challenged the doomsayers, concerning their assumptions of risks involved, to show evidence of harm. He also reported the moral outrage of people who are starving to death while well-fed people protest the use of technology that may be useful in the fight against world hunger. That report refueled my interest in proactively presenting the case for adaptation of technology to improve production and reduce pollution. The problem is that as individuals, many of us have not been trained or given the tools to begin that process. I know we have had some training in our organization in the past, but we need more. Our organization and the pork industry in general have taken a 'keep low and avoid confrontation' attitude toward public relations. Large production companies have taken more proactive stances toward environ- mental and production-related issues. Our organization should be on the leading edge of these issues as well.

Some examples of where we might have had (or could still have) an impact: Burger King, under constant pressure from certain factions, capitulated, and issued a statement saying that the USDA inspectors were not doing their jobs with respect to the handling of down and injured slaughter animals. The USDA refutes that statement, but the damage is done, as some consumers' confidence is destroyed. How might our organization have been involved in discussions with Burger King? Floridians may have a ballot initiative regarding crating of sows. Is there science to show that crating gestating animals has a detrimental effect? If so, why does the industry persist? If not, is it possible that the effect is beneficial? What do we recommend? What can we do proactively if we support this production practice? Kroger endorsed the Food Marketing Institute's new animal welfare program. Do we know what is in that program? Do we know what impact it will have on our clients? On the public? Have we communicated this to our members? Necessary euthanasia of terminally ill or injured animals is another area where we need to make a stand and get the message to our members and the public. These are just a few ideas that merit discussion in a members' forum."

Anonymous response

Another member who wished to remain anonymous said this:

"We are an organization 'in transition' by the nature of our membership. Look at me personally -- DVM graduate to private practice, to swine company veterinarian, to corporate technical services veterinarian. And I might not be done yet. Others have similar histories. We are an organization 'in transition' by the nature of the livestock industry we serve.

The AASV is struggling to find its mission. I am not certain that we know what it is or should be. I believe that the AASV must continue to be rooted in swine disease diagnosis, treatment, prevention (including biosecurity), and client education. We need to be the premier organization to address the disease aspects of swine production. I believe that swine veterinarians should have a basic knowledge (or more advanced if interests allow) of some adjunct areas that relate to animal health: animal welfare, production parameters (eg, population statistics, variation, throughput, ADG, F:G), nutrition, animal behavior, pork quality, on-farm management, housing systems, labor requirements, production equipment, etc. I go to the AASV meetings to learn about animal diseases. I depend on this organization to give me the most advanced information available in that area.

I am not disappointed in the AASV. In fact, I am impressed that it has survived as well as it has to this point. I appreciate the international flavor of the meetings and the information that can be shared through and from our foreign brothers and sisters.

I believe the biggest demands on our organization are yet to be realized. I think that the 'consumer will be king' and will dictate what those demands will be. To be effective as an organization, we first need to learn what consumers are thinking, educate them concerning any misinformation about us, and develop our future direction with some input from them. They are ultimately paying our fees. They must be satisfied with the job that we are doing.

I believe in the very near future we, as swine veterinarians, will need to clean up our act. Food safety is a key evolving issue. We are perceived as the keepers and directors of the use of antibacterials and biologicals in swine production. Drugs and drug use are being scrutinized by the consumer. As professionals, we must address this concern in considerable depth in the days ahead. There won't be a simple solution, but we need to be integrally involved in initiating this action.

Vehicles for our public relations should start with proper sensitization and training of ourselves. While we are at work, are we telling our story in a positive manner? No one can do it better than we can ourselves. Do we believe it is necessary? What public reactions are each of us evoking in our daily work?

Success in this industry will be hard to gauge. To simply survive and continue to be involved with the industry should be our first goal. The pork chain concept and the various alignments that continue to develop cause concern for those that are not connected. Niche markets are an alternative, but as they are not mainstream, longevity and growth may be a concern for this model.

The focus for our future should come from our oath--we must work toward minimizing animal suffering in all aspects of swine production."

What do you think?

Do you agree with some of these thoughts? Do you disagree? Do you have additional or different thoughts? As an organization, how will we meet the challenges ahead and continue in our roles as leaders in the swine industry? How do we decide which challenges are for the AASV to take on? And how will we marshal our forces for the challenges we do decide to face? Again, what role do you believe that the AASV should play in the future?

So again, I urge you to please share your thoughts. We need to know what you are thinking and how the AASV Membership and Public Relations Committee can better address the demands of today. Please e-mail your thoughts to me at prcomm@aasv.org. We will definitely use all of the thoughts and share some of them with the membership in future columns.

-- contributed by Bruce McClain, DVM