With various welfare groups stirring up trouble for the swine industry, Congress trying to limit antimicrobial use in animals, and the constant looming threat of a foreign animal disease outbreak, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians has a lot on its plate. Discussing these issues as well as others revolving around current disease research, progressive production management, and audit implementation, the AASV gathered in Kansas City, Mo., for its 33rd annual meeting, March 2-5.
This year's theme was exceeding expectations, and incoming president, Dr. Lisa Tokach, asked members to think outside the box and stretch their imagination. "We do not live in a textbook, black-and-white world and the only thing inevitable is change itself," reminds Dr. Tokach, who said the next year would be a busy one.
Bread and butter
The majority of talks at the conference revolved around what Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of AASV, calls the bread and butter of swine veterinarians—bugs and drugs. Seminars ran the gamut of swine enemies, from staphylococcal dermatitis and circovirus, to erysipelas and clostridial enteritis.
Dr. Tim Blackwell gives Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture.
One disease that received particular attention was porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, the subject of more than 10 presentations. The number one economic impact disease affecting the swine industry, PRRSV has plagued farmers since 1975. Researchers have been baffled by the pig's immune response to the infection as well as by the virus's transmission, but progress is being made.
Dr. Scott Dee, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, presented results from a study showing that PRRSV-contaminated snow can get wedged near a truck's wheel and be transported to another farm, where it can be the source of infection for a new herd. This unusual snowball could be the reason that PRRSV thrives in the winter.
A presentation by Dr. Satoshi Otake, also a researcher at the University of Minnesota, reported that the virus can be transmitted to naïve pigs through contact with contaminated coveralls or boots, contaminated needles, and mosquitoes, but that aerosol transmission over long distances is not likely.
While some sessions focused on diseases that practitioners deal with on a regular basis, other sessions focused on foreign animal diseases. "We wanted to put our members on notice that there are things going on to prepare for an outbreak but that a lot more needs to be done," Dr. Burkgren said.
Experts said that if an FAD were confirmed, the industry must be ready for the actions of appraisal, slaughter disposal, cleaning, and disinfection of all affected and exposed premises. A depopulation zone of one mile and a quarantine surveillance area of another five miles around infected premises should be expected.
When conference attendees asked Dr. Phillip Erwin, a section veterinary medical officer at the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, when he thought an FAD would enter the United States he replied, "I am surprised it is not already here."
In another presentation, Dr. Steve Dritz, an assistant professor at Kansas State University, spoke about exceeding expectations in interpreting research data. "It is important to observe that when any data are collected, there is some degree of uncertainty attached to the data," he said. "This uncertainty is the result of variability that can be the result of many factors, such as measurement or biologic variation." Dr. Dritz discussed several factors that can skew data interpretation, including hidden ones that influence retrospective data.
Are pigs meant to stroll?
Another issue on swine veterinarians' minds is animal welfare, which incoming president, Dr. Lisa Tokach, says is a priority. Veterinarians argued for the need to be more proactive, including gaining seats on advisory boards that influence animal welfare decisions.
Dr. Timothy Blackwell of Fergus, Ontario, spent a substantial amount of time on welfare issues when he delivered the Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture. The well-being of livestock producers vs. the well-being of the livestock is a professional balancing act in veterinary practice, he said. "We must balance our responsibility to our clients with our responsibility to their livestock."
Whereas individual animal welfare and individual animal productivity are closely correlated, he continued, individual animal welfare and whole farm profitability are not. If veterinarians fail to address casualty pigs on swine farms, then they are ignoring "the only true cruelty issue that exists in swine production," Dr. Blackwell said.
AASV President-elect Rick Sibbel visits with Dr. Robert Hertzog, AVMA Executive Board.
The Canadian veterinarian recognized that developing euthanasia and analgesia protocols is simple compared with sorting through the wide-ranging discussions concerning animal welfare. He says that to get a full grasp of the situation, one must recognize that four separate ethics are involved—the traditional, popular, religious, and legal ethics.
Currently, Dr. Blackwell said, the popular ethic runs along the lines of "pigs were meant to stroll," probably caused by the fact that only two percent of the human population is ever exposed to agriculture. This popular ethic is bad news for industry because in a democracy, the popular ethic usually becomes the legal ethic, he said. Changing public opinion is no easy matter.
"Educating the public about animal agriculture is like trying to teach a pig to sing," Dr. Blackwell said. "It isn't going to work and it is going to annoy the pig." He says that the conflict between modern agriculture and the popular ethic will be resolved the way it has always been resolved, by independent owner operators of swine farms generating innovative ideas.
One example, he said, is a new idea that is counterintuitive to what most individuals have traditionally thought—the more sows per pen, the less fighting. Currently, because serious injuries occur when sows are housed in small groups of two or eight, most producers individually house their sows. This approach has worked well, but has come into conflict with the popular ethic.
A new approach that has been gaining in popularity, Dr. Blackwell said, has been to increase the group size to from 12 to 100 sows or more per pen. Feed is dumped on the floor in front of 100 sows, and if a couple sows decide to fight, they find there is no food left when they are finished dueling. Sows learn quickly that fighting is not in their best interest.
Currently, the association recognizes housing sows in larger numbers as just one possible option. "We are supportive of both gestation stalls and pen housing for sows because there are advantages and disadvantages to both," Dr. Tokach said. In another presentation on animal welfare, Jeffrey Armstrong, PhD, dean of the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, reminded veterinarians that they are in charge of their own destiny. Science-based changes in pig welfare will be developed and implemented only if veterinarians continue to occupy key leadership positions, he said. Veterinarians need to work with other scientists to ensure that pork production remains sustainable from economic, environmental, and social perspectives.
Exceeding communication expectations
Several talks at the AASV meeting focused on how to improve communication with staff, colleagues, and clients.
Another main focus of Dr. Blackwell's Howard Dunne lecture was advocating for increased small group learning amongst peers. Hotel hallway conversations that currently take place at scientific meetings, for example, offer opportunities for veterinarians to exchange information about diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease as well as effective business management. These informal discussions offer a wealth of information, for who is more qualified than colleagues to help one succeed?
To exceed expectations, Dr. Blackwell said, veterinarians should increase the frequency of small group meetings or discussions. One way to structure this is as clinical rounds with a format similar to the one used in veterinary teaching hospitals. Another possibility is small group meetings on farms that are experiencing unusual health problems. Veterinarians could review the farm history, interpret laboratory reports, inspect the facilities, and discuss various approaches to solving the problem. Further discussion, regarding issues such as the effectiveness of a new vaccine or new approaches for billing for professional services, could take place over a meal.
Several items discussed at the board of directors meeting are of note. The board approved the redesign of the Web site and continued development of the AASV e-LETTER, a weekly newsletter with a circulation of 1,200. Boar stud guidelines were discussed at length and have been referred back to the ad hoc committee for refinement.
Dr. Howard Hill is roped in by consortium of AASV women veterinarians in the live auction.
The newly formed Veterinary Medical Education Task Force announced it is gathering information and interacting with various colleges of veterinary medicine in North America. This group is tasked with assessing the opportunities and challenges of attracting veterinary students into the study of swine medicine and production, and ultimately into careers in the pork industry. Also, the AASV economic survey being conducted by the Membership/Public Relations Committee had an excellent response rate, and results will soon be published in the Journal of Swine Health and Production and on the AASV Web site.
At the March 4 luncheon, Dr. Robert Hertzog, AVMA Executive Board member, announced that he will be the AVMA liaison to the AASV during the next four years. Dr. Hank Harris, president of the International Pig Veterinary Society, invited attendees to the IPVS 2002 Congress, June 2-5, in Ames, Iowa.
Live and silent fund-raising auctions during the meeting raised a total of $14,031 to support AASV Foundation programs. An array of pig accessories brought in $1,576 through the silent auction, but the real entertainment came from the live auction, which generated $12,455. The live auction featured hunting and fishing trips as well as the opportunity to bid on a day of labor from AASV members Dr. Howard Hill and Dr. Larry Rueff. Dr. Hill's services were purchased by a consortium of women AASV members for a price of $2,100, while Dr. Larry Rueff brought in $3,600.
The 2002 AASV conference was attended by 886 practitioners, including 68 students. Next year, the association will meet March 8-11 in Orlando, Florida.