Gillespie to lead AASV as president

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Animal welfare, biosecurity, and antimicrobial usage are priorities

As Dr. Tom Gillespie takes the reins as president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, he says the biggest challenge facing the swine industry is animal welfare.

"I think the biggest challenge is going to be along the lines of welfare and using science-based research to educate all of us, and then, from that point, to implement that science and do the right thing for the animal as well as for the producers," said Dr. Gillespie, who owns Rensselaer Swine Services and Jasper Swine Pharm., in Rensselaer, Ind.

Dr. Gillespie was installed as AASV president during the association's annual meeting in Toronto. The meeting, which was held March 5-8, had a total attendance of 882 individuals, including 104 veterinary students and 334 attendees from 23 countries.

The issue of whether it is humane to house pregnant sows in gestation stalls that are too small for the animal to turn around in has become one of the most contentious issues facing the swine industry. It's not, however, the only animal welfare issue. "It's beyond just the gestation crate," Dr. Gillespie says. "Welfare is not just the housing issue. It involves all aspects, antibiotic usage, handling of the boar, and many daily activities provided by the caretakers."

Dr. Gillespie points out that the swine industry should be able to come up with a system that is welfare-friendly as well as profitable for producers. "I think those two aspects can happen and will happen," he said.

The AASV must also educate the public about science-based research. "We have to do what is right for the animal, so that we can be viewed by consumers as watching over the welfare of the animal," Dr. Gillespie said. "We are being challenged by the animal rights movement, which is influencing major food markets. There needs to be education on all fronts."

Along these lines, the AASV board of directors will hold its fall meeting in Washington, D.C., so it can have an opportunity to interact with congressional staff. Board members will also attend a legislative workshop. Dr. Gillespie says there is even talk that a future AASV annual meeting will be held in Washington. "We have never done this before ... go to Washington, D.C., and meet the congressmen and try to continue our communication with key legislators," he said.

Dr. Gillespie brings a wealth of experiences to the AASV presidency and has already served the association in many leadership positions. These include chair of the Membership Committee, secretary of the association's foundation, and a member of the board of directors, the Pseudorabies Committee, and the Pharmaceutical Issues Committee. He has also served on several committees of the Indiana VMA, on the National Board Examination Committee, and on the Indiana Board of Animal Health.

The AASV should benefit from Dr. Gillespie's talents as an international lecturer and as an adviser to global animal health companies. He received his DVM degree from Purdue University in 1979 and is board-certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, with a specialization in Swine Health Management.

"AASV has been an influence on my life, starting when I was still in veterinary school," says Dr. Gillespie, who adds that he wants to continue to guide and develop the AASV mission for its members.

He believes two other big challenges facing the swine industry are applying science-based research to biosecurity and antimicrobial usage. "We are going to need to look at each pathogen and develop, again using science, biosecurity programs on how to keep each unit as healthy as possible," he said. "The other issue that is looming on the horizon is how we handle external biosecurity issues." Avian influenza outbreaks in Southeast Asia are just one example of how diseases threaten animal industries on a global level.

Dr. Gillespie is pleased with the progress made so far on the antimicrobial front. "Veterinarians, with the help of AASV, have been gradually reducing the amount of (antimicrobials) used in the units, and that's good," he said. "We are more prudent with the use by changing from a growth enhancer to a more therapeutic approach of using antimicrobials."

Still, much more needs to be done. "Welfare, the (antimicrobial) issue, and biosecurity—I see these as the primary issues," Dr. Gillespie said. "If we are not careful, we could lose consumers' confidence."

Joining Dr. Gillespie in his mission are president-elect, Dr. Scott Dee, Alexandria, Minn.; vice president, Dr. Daryl Olsen, Audubon, Iowa; immediate past president, Dr. John Waddell, Sutton, Neb.; and executive director, Dr. Tom Burkgren, Perry, Iowa.

Next year, the AASV will meet March 4-7 in Kansas City, Mo.