AAAP president sees chance to advocate, collaborate

Published on September 28, 2016
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Dr. Hector Cervantes thinks poultry veterinarians can help people learn about their food and offer assurances on safety and animal welfare.

“I think consumers today are very interested in where their food comes from,” he said.

As the new president of the American Association of Avian Pathologists, he also sees an opportunity to work more closely with government animal health agencies during disease emergencies, providing expertise during an outbreak.

Dr. Hector Cervantes (center) is the 2016-17 president of the American Association of Avian Pathologists. He is shown with immediate past president Dr. Rob Porter (left) and president-elect Dr. John Smith. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Hector Cervantes)

And Dr. Cervantes, the AAAP’s first president native to a Spanish-speaking country, wants to expand and strengthen AAAP collaboration with poultry veterinary associations in Latin America, including Mexico’s national association of poultry science specialists (ANECA), of which he is a board member. He thinks the organizations can develop joint programs to help all their members.

Dr. Cervantes, the AAAP’s 60th president, was born and raised in Mexico and wanted to be a veterinarian since he was 10 years old. He would attend veterinary school at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which, in those days, was geared toward food animal production. 

“Our people had a very substandard diet, a large protein deficit,” he said. “So, I really thought it would be really great to help our country feed their people and make animal protein more accessible to the people who needed it.” 

He entered the AVMA Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates program in 1983 and would become licensed in Florida. He now is a senior manager of poultry veterinary services for Phibro Animal Health.

Dr. Cervantes thinks the public wants livestock industries to be open about what care their animals receive, which drugs and feed additives are administered, and how the animals are housed. Consumers also have concerns about the potential for meat to contain drug residues or pathogens.

People who think foods labeled as antibiotic free are superior may not know animals can suffer if denied antimicrobials during bacterial infections, and they may not know regulators test for antimicrobial residues, he said. Veterinarians are trusted by the public, and they need to do more to educate people about practices used in food animal production, especially intensive food animal production, he said. 

He hopes the AAAP can provide education and technical support to members so they can be more effective in engaging with consumers. Veterinarians can deliver positive messages that will resonate with the public, he said. 

“We’ve done a great job, like I said, of using our scientific knowledge to advance poultry health and productivity, not only in the United States but also throughout the world, by our educational materials and meetings, like our meeting we’re holding this week,” he said during a break between sessions at the AAAP’s annual meeting in August at AVMA Convention 2016 in San Antonio. “However, like I said, our only deficiency has been in the area of interacting with activist groups or addressing issues of consumers that are raised more frequently now than ever.” 

The AAAP is working with Phibro Animal Health and the Center for Food Integrity, a nonprofit organization representing food industries, to host a workshop in October on engaging consumers on food animal production.  

The AAAP plans to expand the variety of resources available on its website,, by linking to consumer-friendly resources and videos showing aspects of poultry production. The latter is intended to show animal needs are met and the poultry industry has nothing to hide. 

Dr. Hector Cervantes (center), president of the American Association of Avian Pathologists, is shown with his Mexican counterpart, Dr. Miguel A. Casillas (left), president of the Asociacion Nacional de Especialistas en Ciencias Avicolas de Mexico. Julio Arellano (right) is the ANECA secretary-treasurer.

The AAAP also needs to be able to explain to the public why certain methods of last resort may be required to suppress an exotic disease outbreak, Dr. Cervantes said, citing the 2015 outbreak of a highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza virus that killed about 50 million chickens and turkeys in the U.S.

During the outbreak, Department of Agriculture officials indicated that, at times, their employees, contractors, and poultry company workers were, together, unable to depopulate poultry flocks at the same pace as the virus spread. APHIS officials have said that, in future disease outbreaks, the agency could try to save unaffected flocks through use of ventilation shutdown, a method that involves sealing barns containing infected birds with the intent that the birds die of hyperthermia and asphyxia within 24 hours.

The AAAP should be the main source of information on any exotic disease of poultry, Dr. Cervantes said. And he thinks the AVMA and AAAP need to remain leaders in providing expertise to organizations and government agencies working to suppress outbreaks.

Veterinarians must be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to infections with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, foot-and-mouth disease, and other exotic diseases, he said. 

Even the veterinarians whose work focuses on other animals need to know AAAP resources are available during disease outbreaks. 

“We have the expertise in our membership,” he said. “We also have committees within the AAAP that deal with animal welfare issues, emergency response issues, exotic disease issues, and these committees are very active, and they produce good information—white papers, position statements.

“We just have to make sure these are more widely available to not only our membership but to the public and our other colleagues in AVMA.”