Today’s food production system is questioned relentlessly with issues ranging from “pink slime,” to “mad cow” and general animal welfare. Often, veterinarians can find themselves caught in the middle.
On the other hand, some veterinarians purposely put themselves in the middle to help defend their industry and communicate the facts. Bridging the divide between the urban and rural way of life is a common goal for these veterinarians whether it’s achieved through member organizations, government or social media—and the reward is a two-way discussion based on science.
Front and Center
Larry Bramlage, DVM, Rood and Riddle in Lexington, Ky., faces a barrage of questions each time he takes the microphone as part of the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) On Call program. The program provides accurate veterinary information to media during nationally televised horse races by simply being “on call” in case veterinary questions arise during the race.
Dr. Bramlage and the On Call program helped explain headline-making equine health concerns to the mainstream media, such as the tendon injury that sidelined Kentucky Derby winner “I’ll Have Another” this year.
“The disconnect between the population, what is now primarily an urban population, and animals leads to misunderstandings,” says Dr. Bramlage, who also co-owns 65 head of cattle with his wife. “People tend to put an animal’s feelings into human terms rather than take the perception of the animal in its context.”
For example, Dr. Bramlage says that new race viewers perceived races with two-year-old horses negatively. The younger, more inexperienced horses would often balk at the starting gate in their eagerness to run, but viewers perceived th is differently.
“The older horses have it figured out that going into the starting gate is how you start a race,” Dr. Bramlage notes. “The young horses don’t know that yet, the last thing they want to do is go into the gate because they want to run and go right at it, not get organized for a fair start first. People in an urban environment intuitively can’t understand that and think they don’t want to go into the gate because they don’t want to run, when it is actually just the opposite.”
The confusion surrounding animal agriculture is not limited to sports, notes Joe Seng, DVM, Iowa State Senator and owner of the St. Francis Veterinary Hospital in Davenport, Iowa. Dr. Seng supported the controversial “Ag-Gag” or “Ag Protection” bill that would make it a crime in Iowa to obtain a job at an agricultural operation with the intent to commit an unauthorized act, such as videotaping. Under the bill, animal rights activists that go undercover on farms with the purpose of staging acts of animal abuse could face serious charges.
Making The Connection
As a supporter of the bill, Dr. Seng says his colleagues and constituents presumed the agricultural industry was hiding something. It was his job as a state senator and veterinarian to connect the two sides.
“Discussions had the connotation that agriculture was on the defense, trying to stifle openness—and due to the lack of knowledge of what goes on in agriculture—everyone was considered a culprit,” Dr. Seng recalls. “In reality, for the bill to work, both sides had to give in some. There is this thing with consumers and issues of agriculture. They are getting inquisitive about things that have been standard practices on farms for years.
The political implications are huge. Everyone is questioning everything about everything.”
Dr. Seng says he believes veterinarians have a special place in the ongoing discussion about how food is produced due to the trust most people have in the veterinary field.
“I think veterinarians have consumers’ trust because we haven’t specialized. We’re still a family practitioner type of career,” Dr. Seng says. “When you get into urban areas, most veterinarians do almost everything for the overall health of your animal. As a practical matter, they are in business and not related to elite academia, but hold the respect of an advanced degree. At the end of the day, you could put all veterinarians in the country inside Hawkeye Stadium. We’re a rather sparse group in the overall population.”
One of the keys to making the connection is simply understanding how things have changed, Dr. Seng notes. When he first started as a veterinarian, many dogs were outdoor-only animals. In the last 40 years, he’s seen a greater emphasis on pets as members of the family. In urban America, pets could often be the only animal interaction readily available.
“With the increased interest in animal welfare on the companion animal side, people are looking across the scenario to the large animal field too,” Dr. Seng says. “If a dog is supposed to have a clean run and there are cattle standing in feedlots, they can’t understand how it would be a different standard. With increased awareness on their pet, it jumps into the large animal sector as well.”
Ahead Of The Myth
Providing context from a trusted source, like a veterinarian, is critical to squashing myths before they start.
Dr. Bramlage notes both the equine and beef industries suffer from similar misunderstandings in the rural population. The AAEP On Call program is a larger stage for what many veterinarians can do in their own backyards, and the best place he recommends to start is with kids...
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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