Dean, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
The number of veterinarians serving the livestock industry continues to decline as slim profit margins and technology lead to concentration of greater numbers of animals into fewer and larger farm units. The limited value of each farm animal in this scenario means less investment in the health of each animal and more procedures being performed by farm employees rather than qualified professionals. This makes the traditional country veterinary practice less sustainable.
Fewer veterinarians are practicing in the food animal sector and more of them are providing health surveillance. Higher concentration of animals in each farm unit increases the risk of infectious disease. As these trends continue, the question inevitably arises: “What happens in an emergency?”
A pilot program between the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and Delaware Valley College is developing a cadre of food animal veterinary assistants with the goal of providing low cost primary animal health care. The veterinary assistants will work under the guidance of a consulting veterinarian. Assistants visiting farms will diagnose and treat common diseases and disorders, using information technology to interact with consulting veterinarians.
The relationship between animals and humans is changing as localities pass laws making the humans guardians rather than owners of animals. This has occurred in communities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Wisconsin. The state of Rhode Island has passed such a law. In this redefined relationship, the animals are wards with certain legal rights. The interests of the wards can supersede those of the owners, raising a variety of issues for veterinarians and farmers. Among those issues are when treatments for animals exceed the economic value of the animal and whether euthanasia is in the best interest of the animal or the owner. The guardian-ward relationship affects how animal shelters operate and even whether animals are spayed and neutered. The veterinary profession will be called on to be a voice of reason on these issues.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.