Fighting to feed the world
Dr. Matthew S. Anderson said veterinarians in swine medicine are increasingly needed as advocates who can speak for their patients and their clients.
“There’s a pig producer who summed it up best in saying that producers have never had to fight so hard to feed the world,” he said.
Dr. Anderson, who became president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians in March, expects ongoing conflict between those who work in agriculture and those who work for advocacy organizations seeking to change the way animals are raised for food, and he said that conflict provides a need for veterinarians to advocate for their clients. He noted that, while such a role has not come naturally for many veterinarians, he thinks AASV members have increasingly embraced it.
For example, dozens of food retailers pledged in 2012 to stop buying pork produced through the use of gestation stalls, which typically are about 2 feet wide by 7 feet long and house one pregnant sow each. Many of the companies cited animal welfare concerns in committing to phase out use of the stalls within five to 10 years, and some included with their announcements supporting statements from the Humane Society of the United States, which opposes use of gestation stalls. But Dr. Anderson said producers and swine veterinarians adopted individual stalls to improve animal welfare and facilitate individual care.
In addition to their role in advocacy, Dr. Anderson sees a need for swine veterinarians to embrace a role as leaders in animal welfare.
“I think it’s swine veterinarians who are trained to do so, who have the experience to do so,” he said. “We must continue be the voice of science, the voice of reason, the voice for the animal and for producers.”
Dr. Anderson has worked in swine medicine since he graduated from Iowa State University in 1999. He currently works in swine-exclusive practice in Algona in north-central Iowa.
He had been interested in mixed animal practice while in veterinary school, but the opportunities at the time of his graduation, the friends and educators connected with swine medicine, and his own swine disease–related research during his veterinary education, together, helped push him toward swine-only practice. He and his family own about 100 beef cows, giving him occasional work in cattle care.
Domestic and foreign animal diseases also are among top concerns for swine medicine, Dr. Anderson said.
Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome remains a major threat to the swine industry, despite progress in protecting pigs, Dr. Anderson said. In August 2011, the National Pork Board reported that the disease was costing the pork industry about $660 million annually, according to figures produced in a study conducted by Iowa State University and underwritten by the Pork Checkoff.
And the risks posed by foreign animal diseases have become an increasing concern since the U.S. became a net exporter of pork. An outbreak with, say, classical swine fever, foot-and-mouth disease, or African swine fever could close global pork markets and become “harmful in a hurry,” he said.
Figures from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service indicate U.S. pork exports have increased from about 1.6 billion pounds annually in 2002 to about 5.4 billion pounds annually in 2012. In that same period, pork imports have decreased from about 1.1 billion pounds to 800 million pounds.
The expansion of exports has occurred as fewer U.S. farms have produced more pork in recent decades. For example, the 1987 Census of Agriculture indicates about 243,000 farms had an inventory of 52 million swine. According to the 2007 census, the 75,000 remaining farms had an inventory of about 68 million swine.
But Dr. Anderson thinks that consolidation in the pork industry has plateaued since its height in the 1990s, and the demand for veterinarians in the swine industry remains stable.
In talking about the challenges facing swine medicine and his hopes for the coming year, Dr. Anderson said that the AASV has dedicated members, a legacy of leadership, and a host of people he respects and admires. He said he will strive to serve the pork industry and help maintain a safe, wholesome pork supply.
“I think all swine veterinarians want to do what’s best for their patients and for their clients, and, in that regard, we’re no different than any other veterinary group,” he said.
Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the AASV, praised Dr. Anderson as well-respected in swine veterinary medicine, saying he has found it rewarding to watch Dr. Anderson grow as a newly graduated veterinarian and become a leader in practice, the AASV, and the broader industry.