Social issues, biosecurity on AASV president's plate

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Dr. Rodney "Butch" Baker grew up on a small farm in Kentucky, where his family raised livestock, tobacco, and row crops. His father's enjoyment in working with animals proved contagious, and the farm's veterinarian served as the boy's mentor.

Dr. Baker said he made the decision to go to veterinary school during his two years in the U.S. Army, which drafted him during the Vietnam War.

"Some people know when they're 10," Dr. Baker said. "I knew when I was 20."

He went on to earn his DVM degree from Auburn University in 1978.

Dr. Baker spent 17 years in private practice, one in the animal health industry, four with a pig breeding stock company, and three with a large-scale integrated pork production company. He is now a senior clinician in the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Unit of the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Baker became the American Association of Swine Veterinarians' 40th president in March at the association's annual meeting in Dallas, where he talked about the issues facing the profession and the industry.

Dr. Baker
Dr. Rodney "Butch" Baker holds his dog, Pitch, outside his home in Ames, Iowa.

What issues will you focus on during your presidency?

I think antimicrobial resistance is an issue all of society, including veterinarians, needs to better understand. The other front issue is animal well-being.

We've been under attack from organizations like PETA and HSUS, and certainly we've had some bad actors in the industry.

We don't want our family farmers to go out of business because the government is legislating rules they can't survive by. And certainly the loss of individual sow accommodations would cause many of our smaller family production companies to go out of business.

PRRS virus is still our most economically devastating disease when new isolates enter our farms, causing abortions and lots of stillborn and weak piglets. It is even more costly when active in growing pigs. Vaccines have only been partially effective.

We're looking for a solution and, hopefully, there will be better technology in the next few years.

I'd also like to do more with the AVMA, National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, and local, state, and national governments.

What emerging issues do you think will affect swine veterinarians?

We certainly suffered starting in 2005. We think porcine circovirus type 2b came from Europe to Canada and then into the United States. It quickly swept across the United States in the next couple of years.

By 2007, we had vaccines, but it was a devastating event for us while two or three percent of our total production failed to thrive. Out of that experience, we know that our national biosecurity is lacking. Almost all pork producers were affected.

Today, we're putting filtration systems on a lot of our barns and our confinement houses and increasing transport biosecurity.

All those things we do to try to exclude new emerging diseases are fairly effective, and we're getting better at it. But we are always at risk of a new emerging disease or introduction of a foreign animal disease such as foot-and-mouth disease or another devastating agent.

We know that our influenza viruses continually change by mutation and mixing with other swine, human, and avian viruses. We need better control measures, better vaccines, and better methods to keep those viruses out.

Are there any other thoughts you want to share?

In the past 10 years, I believe the food supply veterinary groups felt somewhat alienated from the AVMA. We felt that many times our companion animal members didn't understand our business, our goals, and our efforts.

But I think recently the pendulum has swung back to center at the AVMA. I think Dr. Ron DeHaven is a great asset. He's tried very hard to pull the organizations back together and remind us that we're all veterinarians and we're all important for society.

So I've got great confidence in the leadership of the AVMA and that of our splinter organizations. I believe they will continue to work for the betterment of the profession, stewardship of our animals, and the benefit of society. I think even more important than one-health efforts with physicians, our AVMA and all the organizations within must remain unified.