AASV guiding members around black holes, in new directions - April 15, 2001

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The American Association of Swine Veterinarians imparted knowledge of scientific discoveries, technologic innovations, and progressive production management during its 32nd annual meeting, Feb 24-27 in Nashville.

Yet, this year, in inviting veterinarians to attend, the AASV tipped them off that they would be asked to do something unusual: think inside the box and take a step back.

Program chairman and incoming president, Dr. David Madsen chose the meeting theme: "Science and Technology 2001: Clear Goals or Black Holes?" During the introduction to the keynote Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture, also devoted to that theme, Dr. Madsen said, "Clear goals and black holes is my characterization of the possibility that we have to misapply the volumes of science that we have available to us."

Dr. Max Rodibaugh (left) finds his Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture has stimulated dialogue with Drs.
Doug King (center), Ashland, Mo, and Dr. Richard Schlueter, Adel, Iowa.

Dr. Madsen elaborated, during an interview with JAVMA. "Our segment of the profession is in a very progressive learning mode. New skills, new tools, new technologies, new applications—we're actually being bombarded with so much science, and we're once again creating the opportunity to misapply it.

"So I wanted to ask our membership to take a step back and make sure that what they learn is truly what applies, and that it benefits the clients."

To convey the message, Dr. Madsen invited Dr. Max Rodibaugh of Swine Health Services, Frankfort, Ind, to present the Dunne lecture.

Dr. Rodibaugh said, "Because of the excitement that can be generated by new technology, at least in my mind, it could be more difficult to determine the 'black holes' of technology." For this purpose he defined black holes as "the unknown."

"But they are most certainly there, and it is all too easy for some to be drawn into the abyss—maximal technology, marginal medicine!"

Quoting from Jack Trout's book "The New Positioning," Dr. Rodibaugh said the information age in which we live is really an explosion of noninformation, of data. Those data are often unfiltered, unedited, and in some cases, useless, he added.

"We consider ourselves scientists or at least applying science 'in the field,' he said. "With that label comes an obligation to our profession and to the swine industry."

As far back as the fourth century, Aristotle insisted on the preeminence of hands-on research, he noted. Scientists must differentiate between real causal effects and those resulting from other variables. The public, however, has a poor understanding of coincidences and other factors, so clients sometimes misjudge that cures have been achieved. Scientific vocabulary can be another barrier to their understanding.

Science can't provide all the answers on a timely basis, so Dr. Rodibaugh acknowledged the need to blend science and art in practice. But he underscored the obligation to help clients differentiate between scientific fact and opinion.

"A significant impact of technology on swine veterinarians will be in the 'hands- and minds-on' processes in which we are daily engaged," Dr. Rodibaugh said. The prospects for improving the science of swine veterinary medicine are exciting, he said, reciting a litany of examples. Also, veterinarians should be aware of the new frontier of nanotechnology—working at the molecular level, atom by atom.

Dr. Rodibaugh ended with this thought. "Our goal must be to keep our minds open, our critical thinking skills sharp, and our learning intense.

Two potential black holes
According to Dr. Madsen, the AMDUCA regulations for extralabel drug use and the autogenous bacterin preparation regulations are two areas that are vague and subject to misapplication. Several convention sessions addressed these topics, the result of a joint initiative of three AASV committees to ensure that principles are being applied properly.

The concern is that AASV members should not be allowed to gain a financial advantage, Dr. Madsen said, because neither regulatory paper says that cost has any impact in the decision-making process. "These sessions were an attempt at self-policing that we have not had from our podium before."

Some AASV members believe misuse exists, he explained, and as fewer veterinarians work with larger numbers of hogs, competitiveness increases and so does the opportunity to take financial advantage of someone else's misfortune. The association wants to help members facing daily pressure from producers for least-cost inputs to be able to attest to their co-workers that these regulations represent real constraints.

AASV leaders: Dr. David Madsen (second left), after receiving the president's gavel from Dr. Robert B. Morrison (left), with Dr. Lisa Tokach, president-elect, and Dr. Ric

The AMDUCA events included an extralabel drug use workshop led by Dr. Paul Sundberg of the National Pork Producers Council and a general session presentation. Workshop speakers and participants discussed the importance of judicious use and gauging it in practice. Dr. Sundberg said, "As the economic climate has evolved to call for bigger opportunities to meet the same kind of income for the producer, one decision has the potential for affecting more and more pigs. There was concern among all those at the workshop that we do everything as an industry to ensure we are correctly using the products for the benefit of practitioners, producers, and consumers."

At the general session, Dr. John Waddell, Sutton, Neb, took a practical look at AMDUCA and its adverse risks for swine veterinarians who do not observe it. Understanding AMDUCA and applying its principles in practice are no longer simple or practical, he said. "The standard of practice for swine practitioners, as it relates to [extralabel] drug use, is the AVMA algorithm," he said, with the other requirements outlined in the AVMA's AMDUCA guidance brochure. Dr. Waddell also reviewed the Veterinary Antimicrobial Decision System being developed by Dr. Mike Apley and encouraged veterinarians to leave any suggestions at www.vads.org.

Dr. Randy Bush, a practitioner in Flora, Ind, said the USDA-APHIS Center for Veterinary Biologics will soon be coming out with guidelines for use of autogenous biologics. "It's made it to their radar screen." The agency regulates the manufacture and sale of commercial and autogenous biologics. Three questions he said should be asked from a practice standpoint: Do I have a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship? Are diagnostics in place? Is monitoring possible? "Autogenous vaccines are a powerful tool veterinarians can bring to health programs," Dr. Bush said. "Regulations allow their use in specific circumstances and mandate professional responsibility. It is our duty to clients and fellow veterinarians to assume accountability for their use."

One of the new directions
Fewer than half of AASV members are in daily swine practice. Their realms also encompass research, diagnostics, technical service, and disease eradication. To reflect this diversity the association changed its name last year. This was its first meeting as the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

Dr. Madsen explained the change was initiated partially because some employers of members who work for integrated pork production systems viewed them as health professionals, not practicing veterinarians, and questioned the veterinarians' need to be involved with the association.

Ironically, the association's second president was an industry technical service veterinarian. There had been vocal opposition to him because of some members' concern that a nonpractitioner would lead the organization down the wrong path.

Swine veterinarians' functions continue to evolve and expand in response to industry needs. Discussion of a promising new area of forthcoming involvement was set in motion at the Nashville meeting.

Dr. Robert B. Morrison, AASV outgoing president, alluded to it at the annual business meeting. He said one of the many new opportunities coming along is veterinarian involvement in auditing and certifying or verifying farms. Association leaders are working to develop a pathway.

At the general session, Dr. James D. McKean, speaking on behalf of the AASV Pork Safety Committee, presented guidelines on good production practices for pork safety and quality along with audit forms the committee had designed. The intent is to provide swine practitioners and pork producers with experience in implementing such schemes and prepare for the eventuality of on-farm process controls and reporting.

Audits to evaluate pork production practices include physical evaluations of conditions and documentation review. Dr. McKean said such activities are foreseeable, given the continued emphasis on production unit food safety and expansion of HACCP from the abattoir to the production site. The guidelines could eventually be used to develop a US certification program similar to those ones in the UK and the Netherlands.

A panel session on this topic gave the perspectives of packers, veterinarians, and government.

The AASV's paramount issue
This coming year, Dr. Madsen's primary emphasis as president will be animal welfare. The AASV executive committee is committed to moving these issues to the forefront, and the AASV and NPPC have dedicated committees. The association does not want to see swine veterinarians and pork producers omitted from consulting roles in industry as has happened in other sectors. It is also working to ameliorate certain animal welfare concerns to avert a European-type crisis. Dr. Madsen said, "Our goals will be to set forth parameters that are palatable to everyone and don't cause the economic demise of the producer, at the same time allowing us to retain our market share."

Humane handling and euthanasia were two areas addressed in Nashville. As Dr. Madsen said, "We don't want housing issues, humane handling issues, or euthanasia issues to destroy that for which the producer has worked so hard."

In his presentation on good production practices, Dr. McKean incorporated the animal welfare element. In the recent past, responsibility was not fully accepted at the farm gate, he said. "If they could load them and move them, they must have been all right. 'Buyer beware' was the code word. With pork quality assurance introduction, producers became more concerned about quality and safety. They began to accept responsibility, and I think the mantra for the past 12 years has been 'we understand, trust us, we're good people.' With the introduction of HACCP in 1996 and its implementation now by the year 2000 in all of the plants, perhaps we now have a chain that's concerned about safety and quality. As Ronald Reagan said about the 'evil empire': 'trust, but verify.'" This substantial change on the part of industry has been largely consumer-driven.

Timeliness was the focus of Dr. W. E. Morgan Morrow's presentation on the importance of veterinarians taking the leadership role in euthanasia. Areas of animal welfare monitoring should include capture and restraint, movement to the euthanasia site, restraint, and the method of euthanasia. Dr. Morrow referred the audience to the AVMA euthanasia panel guidelines (JAVMA, March 1, page 669). His take-home message for swine practitioners: use the AASV/NPPC booklet to develop an on-farm euthanasia plan, and help producers carefully choose the farm employee who will administer euthanasia and train that person thoroughly.

"Not ready" for foreign disease
Foreign animal disease surveillance is another area where good science can disappear down a black hole if surveillance programs are inadequate, Dr. Madsen said. The United States has eradicated such diseases as foot-and-mouth disease and classic swine fever, which have plagued Europe and Taiwan, but there is ongoing concern over those and other diseases.

Dr. Harry Snelson, Burgaw, NC, presented a disquieting general session talk, "Foreign animal disease—we're not ready." US agriculture is at greater risk than ever before for introduction of these diseases, he said. APHIS has the responsibility for prevention at the federal level, and accredited veterinarians are considered the first line of defense. But, he added, "I think it's crucially important that all veterinarians know what these diseases mean and what their introduction would mean." Dr. Snelson presented a list of the exotic swine diseases the Office International des Epizooties considers to have substantial socioeconomic importance to the United States. "Rapid recognition is the key to improving our readiness," he said.

Dr. W. E. Morgan Morrow (left) answers questions generated by his presentation on timely euthanasia.

"Where we're uncomfortable," Dr. Madsen noted, "is in the increased movement of people between countries, as Dr. Snelson pointed out." Dr. Madsen is particularly concerned over the practice of some foreign-born workers to return from a visit to their native land with meat products such as sausages, in which viruses can live for extended periods. "Many of us work with operations that employ people who go back home to visit family." It's quite possible that scraps from these products could contaminate the feral hog population or a domestic hog operation.

A domestic menace
But the number one economic impact disease affecting the swine industry is a domestic one: porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus. Taking the general session podium to talk about the intractable virus, which has plagued swine since 1975, was Dr. Steven Henry, Abilene, Kan. Swine veterinarians and the pork industry have advanced beyond managing PRRS infections to eliminating the virus from herds, he said. Dr. Henry provided an update from the field and recent research reports that affect elimination efforts.

Dr. Madsen said, "The virus tends to mutate very rapidly, and there is not cross-protection with the vaccines that we have. So we're developing control strategies without the use of vaccines. That's kind of a novel thing in the veterinary profession."

Trends affecting swine veterinarians
The AASV's domestic membership numbers are shrinking because of the contraction of the pork industry, with the result that fewer veterinarians are working with a larger number of hogs. This trend is borne out by the USDA's year-end 2000 quarterly Hogs & Pigs Report, which noted a dramatic drop over the past year in the number of hog operations: 77,260 in business in 2000 compared with 90,390 in 1999. The number of operations with 100 to 499 head and those with 500 to 999 head also declined sharply.

On the bright side, as Dr. Morrison reported at the business meeting, because of the addition of foreign members the AASV is "relatively stable, despite predictions of our demise." The South American, Central American, Mexican, and Pacific Rim membership, in particular have grown—not by leaps and bounds, but steadily. "As we become more international in our product," Dr. Morrison said, "we become more international in our membership." As of Feb 14, the AASV was 1,688 members strong: 1,065 US, 299 outside North America, 148 Canadian, 50 Mexican, and 126 students."

Favorable news for the swine industry is the poultry industry's calculation that the demand growth for pork last year was 3.5 percent compared with a demand growth of only around 1 percent for chicken.

Also in pork's favor are the absence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 that affects beef and the Salmonella and Listeria problems that affect poultry. There is an E coli strain that affects pigs, but it poses a minimal food hazard to people.

The pork industry reaped a windfall from the Jack-in-the-Box hamburger E coli O157 scare in Seattle several years ago. According to Dr. Madsen, many consumers now overcook their hamburgers and, to replace lost flavor, add bacon or cheese or both. This, he said, has resulted in increased value for the hog belly and cheese markets.

Two food safety areas the industry is heeding, however, are broken needles and a Salmonella species variation that does affect pigs. When workers inject a pig and it jumps and the needle breaks, if the worker doesn't retrieve the needle from the pig, the needle winds up in the food chain. This is a serious problem, Dr. Madsen said. Two fully integrated packers—they own the pig from conception to consumption—are going to introduce a new needle designed from a detectable metal that will be found when it moves across the scale at the packing plant.

The existence of Salmonella agona in pigs may be overstated at this time but cannot be dismissed, he said. The industry plans to spend time eliminating it.

Al Tank, CEO of the NPPC, gave a remote-transmitted talk on the state of the swine industry. He called pork the meat of the millennium—something different, nutritious, and affordable. He believes American agriculture is moving from a nonregulated to a regulated sector, a direction that cannot be reversed. Pork demand has not been a challenge over the past four to five years, he said, but slaughter capacity is a huge issue. Consumers spent more in 2000 for meat in general, but it may not continue, given high heating bills and gasoline prices. He predicted this would affect beef consumption more than pork or chicken.

Organizational matters
Dr. Madsen said the AASV is much more comfortable in its relationship with the AVMA than it was when the Megastudy was released. He credits the willingness of AVMA president, Dr. James Nave to listen to what they have to say. Dr. Nave was an invited speaker during the special luncheon.

Dr. Madsen advocates the AASV aligning itself with AVMA in areas of common interest within the profession, "as long as we stick to the science and don't do any emotional squeeze-step to get our agenda done." Examples are environmental issues at the legislative level, and animal welfare issues in the legislative or public relations arena.

Serving in office with Dr. Madsen will be Dr. Lisa Tokach, Abilene, Kan, who assumed the office of president-elect, and Dr. Rick Sibbel, Ankeny, Iowa, who was announced as the newly elected vice president.

At the annual business meeting, Dr. Morrison announced that the association's new committee structure provides for a third of each committee's members to turn over every year, creating more opportunities for involvement.

He reported on convention attendance, which totaled 825, including 71 students. Nearly a quarter of the attendees were from outside the United States.

And he announced that $15,868 was raised for the AASV Foundation during silent and live auctions held in Nashville.

The foundation awarded scholarships to six students with an interest in swine medicine. Through Alpharma Animal Health, $5,000 was awarded during the evening banquet to Sarah Probst, University of Illinois, for her paper surveying the changing relationship between Midwest food animal veterinarians and producers. Her paper was part of a student seminar sponsored by Alpharma that featured 15 presentations. Also at the banquet, the Eli Lilly & Company Foundation on behalf of Elanco Animal Health recognized five student presenters with $2,000 scholarships: Jason Kelly, Purdue University; Jan Kelly and Beth Young, University of Guelph; and J. David Schneider and Cameron Schmitt, Iowa State University. The AASV Veterinary Graduate Student Scholarship went to Dr. Satoshi Otake, University of Minnesota, for his research topics paper on PRRS virus.

Items before the AASV board of directors included a report from the Web Initiative Committee on progress toward two online goals. First, the AASV will enhance its site, www.aasv.org, to make it the portal of entry to the Web for swine veterinarians. Users will notice enhancements, such as new resources and topical information, beginning in April. Second, sometime this summer, AASV members will have access to an electronic newsletter or e-mail hot sheet featuring topical issues, some research-based information, and pork industry news.

Health requirements for boar studs are not defined as they are for bull studs. After hearing a report from its ad hoc Boar Stud Committee, the board took under advisement two proposals. One is a structure for guidelines and programming designed to "qualify" boar studs in the areas of health, sanitation, and hygiene. The programming would be managed by member veterinarians as a vehicle to provide minimal standards. The other proposal involves financial support from the AASV for this program.

Toronto was chosen as the 2005 annual meeting site.

In 2002 the AASV will meet March 2-5 in Kansas City, Mo; in 2003, in Orlando, Fla; and in 2004, Des Moines, Iowa.