AVMA president denounces ‘attack’ articles on veterinarians

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AVMA President Ted Cohn has denounced what he described as a series of “attack” articles on the veterinary profession, saying they impugn veterinarians’ integrity and imply their relationships with farmers and pharmaceutical companies are unethical.

Dr. Cohn’s comments were prompted by independent stories published by The Indianapolis Star and Reuters this past December.

Dr. Cohn
AVMA President Ted Cohn

The first in the Star’s three-part “Pets at Risk” series questions whether pets are safe under the federal approval process for animal drugs. The second suggests corporate money influences veterinarians’ decisions regarding treatment options for their pet patients, and the third questions veterinary opposition to awarding emotional damages for pet loss.

Dr. Cohn wrote a letter to the Star editor stating the series was offensive to veterinarians, “who are committed to promoting, preserving and protecting the health of our pets.”

“The articles are heavy on conjecture and innuendo and short on facts,” Dr. Cohn continued. “While you tried to paint a picture of veterinarians being beholden to pharmaceutical companies for monetary gain, you failed to cite even one specific case of impropriety or lack of professionalism. The same can be said for your suggestions that the AVMA annual convention ‘revealed just one of the many ways corporate money influences pet health care … threatening the objectivity of those prescribing drugs to your dog or cat.’

“Like every business, veterinarians must make a profit to stay in business, but to suggest that a profit motive would compromise our professional judgment without any supporting evidence is simply irresponsible. As a private practitioner myself, I can assure your readers that such allegations of impropriety are simply not true. Veterinarians have earned the trust and respect of pet owners and deservedly so.”

Dr. Cohn worried the articles might actually put pets’ health at risk. “(W)e feel this series could have the unintended consequence of frightening people away from visiting their veterinarian when we know that regular visits to a veterinarian are essential for their health and long-term well-being.”

The AVMA president also responded to a news item by Reuters news agency titled “Vets face conflicting loyalties to animals, farmers—and drug firms,” which questioned the integrity of veterinarians working in food animal medicine, industry, and academia.

“We take special exception to your impugning the character and professionalism of our food-supply veterinarians, who have the dual responsibility of ensuring not only production animals’ health and welfare, but also protecting the world’s food supply to ensure that people around the globe can rely on safe and wholesome food products,” Dr. Cohn wrote.

“Veterinarians work tirelessly to earn the trust and respect of food animal producers, government agencies, educators, industry and the public. There is no evidence to suggest that a veterinarian’s prime motivation is anything other than to do what is in the best interest of their patients and clients.”

Dr. Cohn noted that the AVMA supports full disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest, as is stated in the Association’s Code of Ethics. The AVMA would be happy to work with federal officials in drafting legislation that would increase transparency and eliminate any perceptions of impropriety within the veterinary profession, he wrote.

Related JAVMA content:

Learning under the influence (Nov. 1, 2011)