Humane Society VMA and AVMA: FAQ

On January 14, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced a 'corporate combination' with the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) to form the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA). The following are answers to some questions the AVMA has been asked regarding this new association.

Q:  What does this mean for the AVMA?

A:  The formation of the HSVMA will not affect the services and representation offered for the veterinary profession by the AVMA. As the recognized voice of the profession, the AVMA will continue its focus on compassion, scientific validity, and practicality in its answers to questions raised in the course of caring for animals. And, as always, the AVMA's answers to those questions, and any related policies and recommendations, will represent the expert input and diverse practice experiences of our members. AVMA members are veterinarians who have dedicated their lives to ensuring and improving animal health and welfare, regardless of whether the animals they care for are companion animals; horses; animals used for food, fiber, or research; wild animals; or aquatic species.

Q:  If someone is a member of HSVMA, will they still be eligible for membership in the AVMA?

A:  Of course they will. We value the diversity of opinions and perspectives within our profession and membership. All veterinarians are our colleagues and we welcome and encourage them to participate actively in their professional Association.

The AVMA and its members contribute daily to advancing the science and art of veterinary medicine, including its relationship to public health, biological science, and agriculture. The AVMA's 76,000+ members, representing more than 85% of the veterinary workforce in the United States, work in all disciplines of veterinary medicine. Likewise, their views on various issues encompass a wide range of perspectives.

AVMA members have multiple ways they can and do share their ideas and concerns with AVMA leadership. By actively encouraging the participation of its members, the Association continues to evolve, as we have for almost 145 years, to meet the changing needs and expectations of the profession and the animals and people it serves.


Q:  How is AVAR related to the AVMA? How will this be affected by HSUS' corporate combination with AVAR?

A:   The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, or AVAR, is not a principal or constituent allied veterinary organization of the AVMA House of Delegates. A number of AVMA members, however, are also AVAR members. As members of the AVMA, these veterinarians are entitled to all the privileges of membership—including opportunities to serve in leadership positions on various AVMA entities (e.g., Councils, Committees, Task Forces, House of Delegates, and Executive Board), to present topics for study and evaluation by the Association, and to introduce resolutions to the AVMA House of Delegates.

If the AVAR no longer exists as a distinct organization and the HSVMA replaces the AVAR, HSVMA members who are also AVMA members will continue to receive their full AVMA membership privileges.

Q:  On what basis does the AVMA make decisions about animal welfare issues?

A:  The AVMA has developed eight principles that guide the development and evaluation of animal welfare policies, resolutions, and actions. These principles are as follows:

  • The responsible use of animals for human purposes, such as companionship, food, fiber, recreation, work, education, exhibition, and research conducted for the benefit of both humans and animals, is consistent with the Veterinarian's Oath.
  • Decisions regarding animal care, use, and welfare shall be made by balancing scientific knowledge and professional judgment with consideration of ethical and societal values.
  • Animals must be provided water, food, proper handling, health care, and an environment appropriate to their care and use, with thoughtful consideration for their species-typical biology and behavior.
  • Animals should be cared for in ways that minimize fear, pain, stress, and suffering.
  • Procedures related to animal housing, management, care, and use should be continuously evaluated, and when indicated, refined or replaced.
  • Conservation and management of animal populations should be humane, socially responsible, and scientifically prudent.
  • Animals shall be treated with respect and dignity throughout their lives and, when necessary, provided a humane death.
  • The veterinary profession shall continually strive to improve animal health and welfare through scientific research, education, collaboration, advocacy, and the development of legislation and regulations.

Q:  The HSUS and other groups have accused the AVMA of being "in the pockets of industry" when it comes to animal welfare issues. What is your response to that accusation?

A:  That accusation is simply not true.

The AVMA believes effective answers to animal welfare questions and concerns are science-based and practical. Our evaluation of animal welfare issues includes looking at the entire system of animal care, not just one or two pieces of it. Often, changing one aspect of a system (e.g., removing hens from cages and putting them on range) may seem to be an easy way to improve the animals' welfare; however, changing one aspect of a system without consideration for how that aspect interacts with other features of that system (e.g., ability to control disease and predators) can result in poorer, rather than better, animal welfare. Have you heard the phrase "losing the forest for the trees"? This means that someone is paying so much attention to a small detail that he or she is missing the big picture. When evaluating the animal welfare issues involved in a system of animal production, we have to see the forest and the trees to ensure we are making the right decision. If we really care about the welfare of the animal, we can't afford to ignore the big picture!

When science clearly supports a policy or action by the AVMA, that policy or action is developed based on that science. Although all inputs and opinions are considered, the scientific data form the backbone of our recommendations. A recent example of this is a comment sent by the AVMA to the USDA regarding proposed changes to the rules regulating the transport of horses to slaughter in double-decked trailers. Although some members of the industry are opposed to the rule change, science available to date indicates that transporting horses in double-decked trailers is not in the best interest of these animals. Therefore, the AVMA responded to USDA's request for comments and recommended that the proposed changes be implemented.

While we value our independence in decision-making, we also recognize that stakeholder input and involvement is critical to the identification and implementation of effective solutions to animal welfare problems. In that regard, the AVMA regularly communicates with a broad range of stakeholders, including individuals and organizations associated with the animal protection community, the animal industries, and governmental agencies.

Q:  Do you support the use of explosive baits to kill wildlife?

A:   Statements alleging that the AVMA supports this method of animal control are a blatant misrepresentation of the facts. At this time, the AVMA has not established policy regarding the use of M44 sodium cyanide capsules and sodium fluoroacetate baits because the AVMA has not thoroughly researched their use. The AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia were cited as a reference in a USDA white paper on the issue, but that reference was in regard to what criteria might be used to identify pain and suffering and does not constitute a statement of AVMA support for the use of explosive baits. On January 10, 2008, the AVMA sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting a 90-day extension of the comment period for the Petition Requesting EPA to Issue a Notice of Intent to Cancel the Registration of M44 Sodium Cyanide Capsules and Sodium Fluoroacetate [Docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2007-0944; FRL-8156-3]. The AVMA did this so that the relevant AVMA Councils and Committees would have sufficient time to evaluate the applicable scientific data and draft an appropriate and thoughtful response. Again, our actions should not be interpreted to indicate support of the use of explosive baits; it simply means that the AVMA will evaluate the available science and associated welfare issues and generate the appropriate response to the EPA.

Q:  How can I find the AVMA's policies and resources on animal welfare issues?

A:  The AVMA's Animal Welfare reference guide includes links to the AVMA Animal Welfare Principles and our animal welfare policies. We also have literature reviews describing the science behind various animal welfare issues. Currently available backgrounders include castration of cattle; dehorning and disbudding of cattle; dogs traveling in truck beds; elephant training; foie gras production; and tail docking of cattle.

Source: Animal Welfare Division and the Communications Division
Contact: rdehavenatavma [dot] org (Dr. W. Ron DeHaven), Executive Vice President, 847-285-6601

This information has been prepared as a service by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Redistribution is acceptable, but the document's original content and format must be maintained, and its source must be prominently identified.