Animal welfare, state advocacy initiatives approved

Published on May 01, 2005
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Arriving at an approach to animal welfare that balances philosophic vision and emerging science with practical application was a challenge the AVMA Executive Board met head-on at its April 7-9 meeting in Schaumburg, Ill. Dr. Roger K. Mahr, District VI, chaired the meeting.

Last November's board decision to sunset the Animal Welfare Committee and establish an Animal Welfare Advisory Committee in its place has drawn criticism from some allied organizations. Receptive to their concerns, the board took action in April by voting on several new recommendations involving the two committees. An educational presentation on animal welfare basics and two proposed positions on foie gras production were also considered.

The urgency of several issues caused the board to look beyond its normal reluctance to create new AVMA entities to handle issues that might be assumed by existing entities. The board authorized four new task forces and a committee, although it disapproved creation of one other committee.

The board discharged a full agenda in April. Among the other recommendations were proposals to hold another state public policy symposium for AVMA constituent organizations, revisions to positions involving the legal status of animals, and funding for the Veterinary Leadership Experience.

In total, the board authorized $72,560 from the contingency funds and $42,180 from the reserve fund for the proposals it approved in April. Certain other items will be included in the 2006 and/or 2007 budget.  

Drs. Beaver and HertzogRevisiting the committee question

Carrying forward with the changes it set in motion last fall when it approved a series of recommendations from AVMA President Bonnie V. Beaver to elevate the AVMA's commitment and dedication of resources to animal welfare, the board turned back to the pivotal questions of committee composition and focus. 

The president's successful proposals in November included creating an AVMA Animal Welfare Division to monitor the science of animal welfare and assist the Association in proactively developing effective responses to animal welfare concerns, and replacing the Animal Welfare Committee with a new Animal Welfare Advisory Committee this year. The AWC had been reconfigured in 2000 to provide representation from various segments of the profession through allied organizations. Some challenges had arisen, however, over getting representatives appointed and communication was inconsistent.

Dr. Beaver's intent in initiating the AWAC was to shift to a smaller, more agile committee of individuals with a broader view of animal welfare to advise the board as a visioning body. Soon after the board voted to make that change, however, some of the allied organizations represented on the AWC voiced strong opposition to a committee structure that they saw as potentially excluding their expertise.

As a result, at the April 2005 board meeting, Dr. Beaver brought forth a recommendation to change the composition of the AWAC before it is activated. "In talking with the allied groups in the House," she said, "they'd like to see a little larger group and food animal representation, so that's the intent (of this recommendation)." The board approved the recommendation.

Under the new composition, the AWAC will consist of seven voting members, all of whom must be veterinarians. Two will represent food animal veterinary medicine, two will represent companion animal practice, and three will be at-large positions. In addition, there will be one nonvoting member who can be a veterinarian or nonveterinarian but who must possess expertise of special relevance to the AWAC.

The allied groups also expressed concern about the AVMA transitioning to the AWAC before the new Animal Welfare Division is fully staffed and operational. Dr. Beaver agreed with that concern, and the board approved her recommendation to postpone activation of the new committee until July 2007.

Next, the board revisited its November sunsetting of the existing AWC. The board gave its immediate approval to a recommendation from board members, Drs. Robert Hertzog (District VII), Richard Coon (District XI), James Cook (District V), R. Tracy Rhodes (District IX), Gregory Hammer (District II), and David McCrystle (District X) to not sunset the AWC.

Dr. Hertzog reiterated that he "absolutely supports" Dr. Beaver's animal welfare initiatives—the prevailing sentiment among board members—but acknowledged that sunsetting the existing committee and replacing it "didn't set well with the allied groups." Dr. Hammer added that it was never the board's intention to eliminate allied group input. "We need the Animal Welfare Committee back, to address issues such as definition of the new (Animal Welfare) Division," he said.

House Advisory Committee chair, Dr. John R. Brooks, who was present for a portion of the meeting, commented, "This sends the right message back to the allied groups and the House of Delegates."

To further encourage the two-way flow of expertise and input among constituent organizations' animal welfare committees, the new Animal Welfare Division, and AWAC—once the latter is activated—the board approved Dr. Beaver's recommendation to authorize a special meeting each year. Chairs of the animal welfare committees from 10 constituent organizations will meet with members of AWAC to exchange animal welfare-related information, ideas, and concerns. The cost for AVMA to cover the travel of the constituent organizations' chairs will be about $9,350.

Action was postponed until June on a recommendation to prepare a proposed AVMA Bylaws amendment to establish a Council on Animal Welfare, and on consideration of the requisite Bylaws amendment. The sponsors are the national associations representing avian pathologists, swine veterinarians, food hygiene veterinarians, industrial veterinarians, and equine practitioners. Their intent is to further elevate the issue of animal welfare by changing the entity from a committee to a council. The board postponed consideration, given the related actions taken in April.

As recommended by the Strategic Planning Committee, the board approved establishment of an Animal Welfare Governance Task Force, with a budget of $11,200. The AWC and Governance Performance Review Committee both supported creation of the task force. "If ever there was a time we needed a task force," Dr. Hertzog said, "this is it. This would give an overall look at where AVMA is going with animal welfare."

Last year, the board designated animal welfare as one of the AVMA's top five strategic issues for the next one to three years. Now, the board has taken the next step—by setting goals for the AVMA on animal welfare. The goals, which reflect input from AVMA councils, committees, and other internal stakeholders, are as follows:

  • AVMA is the leading advocate for, and the authoritative, science-based resource on animal welfare.
  • AVMA has definitive core values and principles to guide policy development for animal welfare.
  • All audiences are made aware of the veterinary profession's essential role in animal welfare.
  • All veterinarians have a clear understanding and appreciation about the science and ethics of animal welfare including historical, political, and social constructs.
  • The legal status of animals is uniformly defined in all states consistent with AVMA policy.
  • AVMA has the infrastructure and resources to anticipate and proactively address emerging animal rights issues.  

"Animal Welfare 101"

To help veterinary practitioners better understand the philosophies and historical origins of the current animal welfare debate and position themselves as a primary resource for other professionals and the public on animal welfare issues, the AVMA will produce an educational presentation for its members that covers the basics. 

The board approved the Council on Public Relations' recommendation to produce "Animal Welfare 101" at a cost of $17,805. The program will be offered on the Internet for 30 days through a seamless link from the AVMA Web site to a host site. After that, a CD-ROM version will be made available to AVMA members who request it. The running time will be approximately 30 minutes.

The Animal Welfare Committee had expressed support for the project, saying that the production would be a valuable service for AVMA members and could serve as a springboard for future educational efforts.

Foie gras issue to return to HOD floor

Resuming discussion on an animal welfare issue that emerged in the House of Delegates last July—the production of foie gras—the board considered two proposals for position statements.


Foie gras is a delicacy made from the livers of ducks and geese. The term is French for "fatty liver." Birds are force-fed mostly corn to create lipidosis that expands their livers to several times their normal size. Three farms in the United States produce foie gras, two in New York and one in California.

The 2004 House of Delegates had voted to refer a resolution opposing this practice to the Animal Welfare Committee for study.

Since then, the AWC reviewed the scientific and ethical aspects of the practice and developed a recommendation for board consideration. Dr. David McCrystle, board member representing District X, recommended that the board forward the committee's recommendation to the HOD, so that delegates could decide this issue that originated in their chamber. The board agreed to this plan of action. Because neither councils nor committees may submit resolutions, the position statement drafted by the AWC will be sent to the HOD as a resolution submitted by the Executive Board.

The resolution states:

Production of Foie Gras
Resolved, that the AVMA opposes the practice of mechanical force feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras because of the adverse effects on the birds' health and welfare associated with this practice.

The Executive Board recommended that the 2005 HOD disapprove the 2004 resolution, which had been submitted by petition of at least 50 active AVMA members and referred to the AWC for study. It states:

Position Statement on Force Feeding Birds To Produce Foie Gras
Resolved, that the American Veterinary Medical Association hereby opposes the practice of force feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras.

According to Dr. McCrystle, one of the key word differences between the two proposed versions is inclusion of the word mechanical in the one developed by the AWC. By specifying mechanical, the position seeks to eliminate the animal's stress in having a tube forced down its esophagus, but it does not rule out the feeding of a high-energy ration. Dr. McCrystle said that feeding a high-energy ration would never result in as fatty a liver as can be produced mechanically, but the liver would still be fattier than normal.  

Legal status of animals

Revisions to two position statements and a recommendation to create a new task force were submitted for consideration by the Task Force on the Legal Status of Animals. The Executive Board approved all three recommendations. 

First, the board approved the task force's suggested revision to a 2003 AVMA position statement on compensatory values for animals. The revised position clarifies the criteria that should be considered when determining the real monetary value of an animal, and states the AVMA's opposition to the potential recovery of noneconomic damages. The task force believes that the unintended consequences of extending potentially available damages beyond economic damages outweigh any potential benefits.

The revised AVMA position statement reads as follows:

Establishing Compensatory Values for Animals Beyond Their Property Value
The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes and supports the legal concept of animals as property. However, the AVMA recognizes that some animals have value to their owners that may exceed the animal's market value. In determining the real monetary value of the animal, the AVMA believes the purchase price, age and health of the animal, breeding status, pedigree, special training, veterinary expenses for the care of the animal's injury or sickness, and any particular economic utility the animal has to the owner should be considered. Any extension of available remedies beyond economic damages would be inappropriate and ultimately harm animals. Therefore, the AVMA opposes the potential recovery of non-economic damages.

The other revision was to a 2003 position statement covering the use of the term guardian as an alternative to owner when referring to owned animals. In the new version, guardian is specifically identified as a term whose usage may actually harm the relationship between animals and their owners rather than enhance it. The revised position also states that the change in terminology to guardian may affect not only veterinarians' ability to provide services but also the ability of other caregivers to deliver their goods and services.

The revised AVMA position statement reads as follows:

Ownership vs. Guardianship—terminology describing the relationship between animals and their owners

The American Veterinary Medical Association promotes the optimal health and welfare of animals. Further, the AVMA recognizes the role of responsible owners in providing for their animals' care. Any change in terminology describing the relationship between animals and owners, including "guardian," does not strengthen this relationship and may, in fact, harm it. Such changes in terminology may adversely affect the ability of society to obtain and deliver animal services and, ultimately, result in animal suffering.

As recommended by the task force, the board approved the formation of a new Task Force on Legal Remedies. This task force will evaluate the current state of the law on economic valuation of animals to determine whether available economic remedies for injury to or loss of animals should be expanded. It will also explore potential legislative alternatives to noneconomic bills, and identify information and materials needed to develop tool kits for use by constituent associations. The cost of implementing the task force was estimated at $37,930.

The Task Force on the Legal Status of Animals submitted the recommendation because it saw a need for an entity with members who have expertise in tort/remedies law and state and federal lobbying. During the board deliberations, Dr. Jack O. Walther, immediate past president, said, "We're dealing with one of the most important or maybe the most important challenge facing our profession."

Before approving the measure, board members decided it was important to add two private clinical practitioners to the seven-member legal remedies task force. The composition is as follows:

  • an AVMA Executive Board member
  • a member from the animal health industry with state and federal lobbying expertise (a veterinarian or nonveterinarian)
  • two members who are private clinical practitioners
  • a member of the American Animal Hospital Association (a veterinarian)
  • a member of the American Society of Veterinary Medical Association Executives (a veterinarian or nonveterinarian)
  • a member representing the Animal Health Institute (a veterinarian)

The AAHA, ASVMAE, and AHI will pay the expenses of their respective members. 

Task Force on Diversity established

The Executive Board approved the establishment of a Task Force on Diversity to study and recommend initiatives that will enhance understanding of racial, ethnic, gender, cultural, and linguistic diversity as it applies to the veterinary profession. The task force will foster cultural competence in veterinary leadership and the delivery of veterinary services.
Recommended by the Member Services Committee, the task force will cost the AVMA an estimated $22,050.

2004 Veterinary Leadership ExperienceDuring their review, some board members were concerned that, in general, the committees and councils should work to address key issues themselves instead of creating task forces. But overall, the board believes the diversity issue requires more expertise than these entities could provide, if the AVMA wants to appropriately direct the issue's initiatives. "There's no profession undergoing more demographic change than we are," said Dr. Robert E. Hertzog, vice chair of the board.

"It's going to be very important (for the AVMA) to get into diversity even at the grade-school level," added Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver, AVMA president.

The establishment of the task force follows on the heels of the AVMA's recent adoption of a diversity policy. The policy serves as a guiding principle for the Association, since no written policy on diversity previously existed. The policy reads:

The AVMA is committed to diversity in all aspects of the profession so that we can best serve the animals and public. This commitment to diversity pertains to professional areas of service and to cultural, ethnic, gender, and racial representations.

With input from the AVMA House Advisory Committee, the board will appoint seven veterinarians or nonveterinarians to the task force. Ideal candidates are those who have a broad understanding and appreciation for developing and maintaining diversity within the veterinary profession, and who recognize the importance of addressing multicultural needs in the service of their clients. A board member will serve as chair.  

Education Standards Task Force created

As recommended by AVMA President Beaver, the board authorized establishment of an Education Standards Task Force, after modifying its proposed composition. The task force, which will cost approximately $15,750, was charged with evaluating the current and future outside influences on the educational and licensing processes of veterinarians and veterinary technicians in the United States.   

State advocacy measures approved 

As part of the major effort begun last year to provide resources and support to state veterinary associations in tracking and addressing state legislative and regulatory proposals, the board approved two new initiatives.


First, the board authorized the establishment of a State Advocacy Committee, at a cost of $7,480 this year and $14,960 each year thereafter. The committee was recommended by Drs. Larry Corry, District IV board member, and Jack O. Walther, immediate past president.

The committee will support AVMA efforts to foster successful participation of constituent organizations in state legislative and regulatory affairs. A similar recommendation from the Task Force on State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs was deleted in favor of this one. The reason is that after the task force was sunset, the AVMA hired Adrian Hochstadt, JD, CAE, to direct the Association's activities in this area (see page 1635), and the Corry/Walther recommendation incorporates additional elements Hochstadt developed to strengthen the committee function.

Funding for a second AVMA-sponsored State Public Policy Symposium was also approved. The event will be held near Chicago sometime in 2006. It will provide a forum for constituent organizations to learn more about managing public policy issues and for collaborating on a state legislative agenda.

The $46,050 in funds will include complimentary registration for one representative from each constituent organization in the HOD. The board also approved funding for all interested Executive Board members to attend the symposium.  

Veterinary Leadership Experience

Thanks to the Executive Board's approval, the AVMA will provide $75,000 annually for the next four years to support the Veterinary Leadership Experience. The AVMA House Advisory Committee recommended that the Association financially support the event in 2006-2009. 

The first VLE took place during 2004 in Idaho and was organized by the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The college initially modeled the program after its own successful Orientation and Leadership Experience. The VLE core curriculum includes such topics as servant leadership, emotional intelligence in medicine, and communication. Invited participants are two students and one faculty member from each of the U.S. colleges/schools of veterinary medicine, the four Canadian colleges, and the two offshore programs.

The board's decision marks the second time it has approved funding for the VLE. Last November, the board agreed to provide a donation of $15,000 to support the 2005 VLE, which takes place in June. The event costs roughly $125,000. This year's sponsors include the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust, American Animal Hospital Association, Hill's Pet Nutrition, Pet's Choice, Veterinary Pet Insurance, Cutting Edge Products, and several state VMAs.

During the board's deliberations, HAC Chair John R. Brooks noted the VLE is a "train the trainer" event. "This is the cheapest investment that (the board) is going to make for the greatest reward in leadership development," Dr. Brooks said.

AVMA Vice President René A. Carlson added, "This is an investment in a change of culture in the relationship between students, faculty, and administration at the colleges and organized veterinary medicine."

Two amendments to the recommendation were approved during the deliberations. Board members approved a request that the organizers rename the event the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience, on the basis of the substantial funds provided. Next, they agreed to direct the AVMA vice president to attend the annual event.

After learning of the board's approval, Dr. Richard M. DeBowes, chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences at the WSU veterinary college and the VLE organizer, agreed to "co-brand" the event as the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience during the four-year term.

In another proposal, the Missouri and Maryland VMAs submitted a resolution to the 2005 House of Delegates that requested the AVMA financially support the VLE. The board decided to postpone making a recommendation to the HOD on the resolution until the June board meeting.  

Four years of research on AVMA members

The board approved $105,000 in funding recommended by the Member Services Committee for the following initiatives in 2006:  
  • member needs assessment/satisfaction survey, $75,000
  • veterinarians and technology survey, $20,000
  • member relations management initiatives, $5,000
  • purchase of secondary reports to gain insights into other veterinary-related information from nonprofit and corporate resources, $5,000

The 2006 initiatives are part of a four-year AVMA Member Research Plan that the board approved last year as an integrated, comprehensive, and ongoing initiative to measure members' attitudes and activity. The plan, which spans 2005-2008, encompasses research projects that will be strategically aligned with overall AVMA goals.

The board amended the recommendation to also authorize funding for the 2007 and 2008 surveys. In 2007, there will be a member needs assessment/satisfaction follow-up focused survey. In 2008, member focus groups will be held in advance of the planned 2009 member needs assessment survey.

Last year, the board funded the 2005 element of the plan, which will be a gender and generational issues survey. Its cost is $30,000.  

Board to meet in D.C. in June  

The board decided to hold its next meeting from June 12-15 in Washington, D.C.


Coverage of the remaining Executive Board actions will conclude in the June 1 issue.