Incoming AASV director has history fighting disease

Dr. Harry Snelson takes over amid concern over African swine fever
Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old
Dr. Snelson
Dr. Harry Snelson

The new executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians has fought animal disease since he started his career 30 years ago.

As a veterinarian for Carroll's Foods throughout the 1990s, Dr. Harry Snelson was among the swine veterinarians involved in eradication campaigns and efforts to seal farms against risks.

"We were able to eradicate pseudorabies virus, for instance, in the commercial swine herd, which was a huge, decade-long accomplishment," he said.

He worked at a Carroll's Foods–owned production company in Mexico to eradicate classical swine fever, received swine-specific training at Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York in diagnostics for foreign animal diseases, and spent a month in the United Kingdom visiting farms to look for clinical signs related to the country's foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

He will have a leading role as swine veterinarians prepare for African swine fever.

"Since African swine fever has moved into China, in particular—being the largest swine production country in the world, with as much trade and travel as there is with China—that's certainly raised our level of risk and our level of awareness," he said. "And that's what we've been working on over the last year or so, is trying to harden our preventive defenses against introduction of this disease into the U.S. swine industry as well as educate our members and producers."

Dr. Snelson took over this spring from Dr. Tom Burkgren, who was the AASV's executive director since 1997 and had been the organization's executive liaison starting in 1994, when the AASV was the American Association of Swine Practitioners. Dr. Snelson had been the AASV's communications director since 2005.

"We have a great staff and a really great board of directors and membership to work with," he said. "And so I'm looking forward to taking on this role."

Building higher

Dr. Snelson grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. He entered North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine with plans to be a mixed animal practitioner, with an emphasis on wildlife rehabilitation.

He became interested in swine medicine during his first year of veterinary college, when he was a summer worker in a swine research laboratory. North Carolina's swine industry was growing, giving him opportunities to work with swine production companies as he continued his work with the swine research group.

He was intrigued by the process of moving food from a field to a table, and he liked working with swine producers. He worked for Carroll's Foods after graduating in 1990, followed by working as a swine technical services veterinarian for Schering-Plough Animal Health and science and technology director for the National Pork Producers Council.

As he takes over from Dr. Burkgren, Dr. Snelson expects little change in the association. The AASV will stay true to its mission of furthering the education of swine veterinarians and its reputation of speaking for pigs, he said.

"Dr. Burkgren has done an excellent job building a great foundation for this association, and building on what he and previous boards of directors have done, I think, is really what I look forward to doing," he said.

Aiding members, clients

The AASV and its members are helping swine owners improve biosecurity and make sure state and federal animal health officials are able to track animals during outbreaks. AASV leaders also have constant concerns about animal welfare and public health, including foodborne risks.

Since the AASP's founders formed the organization 50 years ago, the association has grown from 31 members to 1,700, with a presence in more than 40 countries. It also has become more diverse, with women representing about 30 percent of members and rising, Dr. Snelson said.

Out of that rise in diversity comes a challenge to ensure all veterinarians feel welcome within their profession and on farms, Dr. Snelson said.

Dr. Burkgren said he is happy the AASV hired Dr. Snelson as the next director. Dr. Burkgren expects the transition will be seamless, and he cited Dr. Snelson's work managing committees, familiarity with volunteers, and leadership that shows his commitment to the AASV.

Dr. Burkgren said Dr. Snelson had been an AASV board member and a friend before becoming the AASV's first communications director. He since made Dr. Burkgren's job easier, particularly by taking on much of the travel and representation at meetings with other organizations and agencies.

"His skill set and his background—and just his personality—fit that position so well that it was great to get him hired," Dr. Burkgren said. "He's the type of staff person that you just turn loose and stay out of his way, and he does his job to an exceptional degree."

Related JAVMA content:

Outgoing AASV director: Do something that matters (May 15, 2019)