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Vet responds to ASF threat and student shortage

Vet responds to ASF threat and student shortage

Harry Snelson

Harry Snelson began his duties as executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians earlier this year.

Snelson received his DVM from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Following graduation, he spent 10 years as the swine veterinarian for Carroll’s Foods in Warsaw, N.C. He has since served as manager of swine technical services for Schering-Plough Animal Health and as director of science and technology for the National Pork Producers Council in Washington, D.C.

Snelson also served as director of communications for the AASV from 2005 until June 2019, when he assumed his current role of executive director for the association.

IFT: With the threat of African swine fever looming, how do you see the role of the veterinarians out in the field? How critical are they when it comes to possible detection of any foreign animal disease (FAD)?

Snelson: Practitioners in the field may likely be the first to recognize that something is “not right” and suspect a potential foreign animal disease. Veterinarians will submit the samples to the diagnostic lab that leads to the confirmation of the disease, or recognize a suspicious disease in the field and contact the animal health authorities to begin an FAD investigation.

Veterinarians will be instrumental in disease recognition and response but also in ensuring that biosecurity protocols are in place and followed to minimize the risk of disease introduction.

IFT: There have been changes over the past couple of years regarding antibiotic usage. Has the transition been smooth? What sort of an impact has it had on animal health, if any?

Snelson: I think the transition has actually been very smooth. Swine veterinarians support the effort to enhance veterinary oversight of antibiotic use. Also, swine vets have had a lot of experience with the veterinary feed directive considering the first couple of VFD (Veterinary Feed Directive) drugs were labeled for use in swine. So, the transition of all feed-grade medically important antibiotics to VFD was a comparatively easy transition for swine veterinarians.

Our members have embraced the effort to transition medically important antibiotics to prescription and VFD, and are making every attempt to comply with the regulations. We recognize the concerns associated with antimicrobial resistance in the human and animal population and we’re interested in managing antimicrobial use to minimize the impact of veterinary use on resistance.

We have been in frequent contact with the Food and Drug Administration during and following the transition and they have reported to us that there have been very few problems with swine vets adapting to the new regulations. In addition, we support efforts by USDA and FDA to explore on-farm antimicrobial use and its potential impact on antimicrobial resistance.

IFT: At one time there was a large demand for food animal veterinarians? Is this still the case? What can universities do to help bring more students into the vet schools?

Snelson: There remains a consistent demand for food animal vets. The challenge is the amount of debt many veterinary students are carrying upon graduation. It’s challenging in many rural areas of the country where large populations of livestock are housed to support a full-time veterinary practice, however, and that makes it difficult for new graduates to start up or join a practice in those areas.

We need to find some way to address the rising debt crisis among veterinary students. One of the challenges facing food animal veterinary medicine is the very low percentage of the public involved in agriculture in the U.S. This leads to a lower pool of potential students with an ag background and food animal interest going into veterinary school.

Universities are doing things to try to attract more students with an interest in food animal medicine, but vets have to be able to service their student debt and earn a living following graduation.

IFT: Do you have any plans or possible changes in mind for the AASV?

Snelson: I’ve been with AASV for 13 years prior to accepting this role as executive director and have always appreciated the leadership and direction that Dr. Tom Burkgren provided for the association. I look forward to continuing that effort. Our members take their role in swine health, well-being and production seriously and they recognize that we advocate for the best interests of the pig, food safety and public health.

AASV will continue our efforts to enhance our partnership with pork producers, provide for the continued education of our members, support the efforts of veterinary students interested in a career in swine medicine, and advocate for science-based solutions to issues impacting the producers we work with, the pigs we care for and the public we serve.

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.

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