Swine veterinarians return to their core in the heartland

'The mecca for pigs' a fitting site for swine CE
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Where better than the nation's heartland for swine veterinarians to meet and revisit the fundamentals of swine disease.

It was in Des Moines, Iowa, where 30 veterinarians assembled in 1969 to form the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. This year, 800 attendees came back for the 35th AASV annual meeting, March 6-9.

Dr. John Waddell, the program chair and incoming president, chose to go back to the basics because returning to "the mecca for pigs in the United States" should, he said, bring swine veterinarians back to their roots and what they do best—diagnose and treat diseases. In contrast, last year's program in Orlando, Fla., was oriented toward food safety and other cutting-edge issues.

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome is persistent, serious, and of commanding interest to swine veterinarians. Accordingly, the AASV devoted an entire afternoon to PRRS, scheduling it as a general session (see page 1408).

Concurrent sessions provided continuing education on emerging technologies, research topics, production issues, and diarrheal diseases in growing pigs. Twelve preconference seminars were offered on such topics as reproduction, facility design, swine welfare, and emerging diseases.

Of the AASV's 1,350 members, 537 attended the meeting. Seventy-five students were among the 807 total registrants, as were 123 foreign attendees from 18 countries. The AASV membership encompasses the United States and 44 other nations.

The AASV has seen a gradual increase in members who are exclusively swine practitioners and a decrease among those in mixed practice. According to Dr. Rick Sibbel, 2003-2004 AASV president, there are 5,000 veterinarians engaged in food supply veterinary medicine, yet fewer than 2,000 are members of their species veterinary organizations.

Howard Dunne lecture
Dr. Robert Desrosiers, St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, led off the morning general session with the Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture. Dr. Desrosiers, a veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim, gave a functional review of the epidemiology, diagnosis, and control of swine diseases.

From an epidemiologic standpoint, Dr. Desrosiers said the profession has overemphasized the role of direct pig contacts in the transmission of swine pathogens, and underestimated the importance of farm location, pig density, and means of indirect transmission. By direct pig contacts, he is referring to new infections originating outside the existing herd, rather than endemic infections. Recognizing those tendencies will lead to allocation of resources to determine the causes of herd infection with every significant pathogen, he said, and their relative importance.

In some cases, the profession does not agree on means of transmission, he said, and potential aerosol transmission between farms is a perfect example. Dr. Desrosiers discussed the potential for seven swine pathogens to be transmitted by aerosol, citing various studies. In his opinion, ample evidence exists to suggest aerosol transmission of certain swine pathogens.

Dr. Desrosiers noted there is insufficient knowledge on some even more pertinent questions, such as which swine pathogens can clearly and definitely be transmitted by aerosol? How often does that occur? Under what conditions? Over what distances?

If asked where the main efforts in swine veterinary research should be focused over the next five to 10 years, Dr. Desrosiers said he would be tempted to answer epidemiology, eg, to find out how entire herds can remain uninfected with various pathogens.

Swine veterinarians have become more involved in fields such as nutrition, genetics, building design, economics, statistics, and management, he noted, yet there is still much to learn about swine health. "Other professionals in the fields where we are becoming more involved can replace us," Dr. Desrosiers said. "But there is one area (where they can't)—animal health and diseases."

Founders message
Charter member Dr. Ralph Vinson, Oneida, Ill., gave the founders message: "Things I Thought Were Important 35 Years Ago." A 1957 graduate of the University of Illinois, Dr. Vinson retired from swine practice in 1998. He described the challenges of being a swine practitioner in 1969, when the industry "underwent a revolutionary metamorphosis" because of such events as the eradication of hog cholera, invention of farrowing crates, and market highs.

In those days, his first priority was learning how to get paid for swine practice at a time when vaccines and medications were available less expensively through lay channels. Ultimately, he and his colleagues developed a plan to get paid for knowledge and ideas instead of administering vaccines.

Of the things that really turned out to be important 35 years ago, Dr. Vinson said "most of them involved other people"—a progressive and educated clientele, the swine extension service, AASV and National Pork Producers Council, colleagues, and mentors.

Marketwise, the past 10 years have been the worst in terms of margin per pig, Dr. Vinson said. He advised swine veterinarians to latch onto operations that are proving they can handle capital efficiently in the hog business. Research veterinarians should gear their research toward solving the problems of successful producers, he said.

"Find your own niche. Figure out what you're good at. Become an expert at some aspect of the pork industry. Cultivate knowledgeable colleagues. Be optimistic. Most important—everybody's got to be a teacher. Respect and help the little people—all those people are so important," Dr. Vinson said.

"We need to be getting the 'good new days'."

Other general session speakers
The global pork market has been growing about 6 percent annually, said Dr. Peter R. Davies, University of Minnesota. "Zoonoses and trade are a volatile interface." He talked about the overlapping elements of biology, government regulation, commerce, and consumer behavior. The emergence of foodborne or directly transmitted zoonoses is the wild card that threatens that market, he said, and there are many pig-related zoonoses.

Denmark has been the top exporter of pork in the world for the past 10 years. Most of the country's 11,000 farms are family-run and have 200 to 250 sows. Dr. Paul Baekbo of the Danish Bacon & Meat Council described his country's national strategies for biosecurity, control, and eradication of swine diseases.

Ethics was a theme that permeated the meeting. Dr. David E. Reeves, University of Georgia, challenged the profession to engage in dialogue over matters of ethics. He presented a framework for discussing matters of ethics, techniques for resolving ethical dilemmas, and examples of current ethical dilemmas.

AASV cultivating student members
The number of AASV student members has been rising each year and is currently at 141, driven by an association strongly committed to them.

In Des Moines, several students were presented scholarships. Michael Pierdon, a third-year veterinary student at the University of Pennsylvania, received a $5,000 scholarship for best student presentation. It was titled "Growth dynamics of two common bacterial contaminants found in extended porcine semen." Alpharma Animal Health funded the award.

Seven other veterinary students received $2,000 scholarships for their presentations: Amy Carroll, Purdue University; Christa Helmka, University of Guelph; Keith Kinsley, University of Minnesota; Brad Leuwerke, Iowa State University; Kimberley MacDonald, University of Prince Edward Island; Brian Payne, University of Illinois; and Erin Strait, Iowa State University. Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, on behalf of Elanco Animal Health, provided financial support for the awards.

Fifteen students were selected to give their presentations during the annual meeting from a pool of 27 who submitted abstracts for consideration. Each of those selected received a $500 travel stipend from Alpharma to attend the meeting.

Board actions
The AASV board of directors approved a $40,000 contribution toward a $300,000 research project being undertaken by the profession to quantify the supply and demand for food supply professionals. When sufficient funding is secured, a Kansas State University business administration team will conduct the study (see page 1401).

The board voted to hold the 2008 AASV annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, and the 2009 meeting in Charlotte, N.C. Next year, the AASV will meet March 5-8 in Toronto. Other upcoming sites are Kansas City, Mo., in 2006 and Orlando, Fla., in 2007.

Business meeting
Dr. John Waddell, Sutton, Neb., was installed as president (see profile, page 1410) during the annual business meeting, March 9. He succeeds Dr. Rick Sibbel, Ankeny, Iowa. Dr. Tom Gillespie, Rensselaer, Ind., ascended to president-elect, and Dr. Scott Dee, Alexandria, Minn., is the new vice president.

Newly elected to the AASV board of directors are Drs. Tom Fangman, Boonville, Mo., District 3; Pat Halbur, Ames, Iowa, District 6; and Ron Brodersen, Hartington, Neb., District 8.

Dr. Bonnie Beaver, AVMA president-elect, told AASV members about national issues the AVMA is working on, and noted that the AVMA has created a task force on gestation housing for sows. "In many ways, the AASV has been the bellwether for the changes that go on in our profession. We expect that will probably continue, and we look forward to the leadership input from this association," she said.

At the awards reception, the AASV presented honors to three of its members (see page 1414), and AASV Executive Director Thomas Burkgren and Dr. Jon Witt, Osage, Iowa, presided over a spirited live auction that raked in $5,720 for the foundation. A silent auction hiked that to nearly $7,000.

At the business meeting, Dr. Sibbel reported that the AASV Foundation has more than $300,000 in reserves, and for the first time, the AASV balance sheet shows seven figures.