This article is from Farm and Ranch Guide: http://www.farmandranchguide.com/articles/2009/01/31/ag_news/livestock_news/live20.txt
The article suggests that the industrial meat industry has no need for veterinarians - their system that pushes gigantic numbers of confined animals through a chemical-laden system quickly requires no medical expertise. OK....do we all need to eat that much meat?
What's behind the vet shortage
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS, For Farm & Ranch Guide
Saturday, January 31, 2009 3:38 PM CST
The shortage of food supply veterinarians facing animal agriculture and endangering public health is being fueled by several factors.
“One of the big reasons is there is a growing disconnect” with farming, said David Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medicine Association. “Fewer farm kids are pursuing a field of their upbringing.”
Another big part of the problem is that veterinary schools in the United States have not grown in size in two decades. There are 2,500 veterinary graduates each year, and colleges just aren't able to accommodate any more. One reason for that is that the federal government hasn't increased funding to those colleges for 30 years.
“Many were founded by the states they're in, and there's not enough state support to maintain growth,” he said.
That doesn't mean the overall number of veterinarians is down. In 1980, U.S. veterinarians numbered 32,037; in 2007, that number grew to 83,730, according to AVMA.
But there is a huge disparity in large animal and small animal practices. In 1980, farm animal veterinarians, excluding equine practitioners, numbered 5,554; by 2007, that number had dropped to 5,090. In comparison, companion animal veterinarians numbered 15,808 in 1980; by 2007, that number had grown to 44,785.
“At the turn of the 20th century, virtually all veterinarians were farm animal veterinarians,” Kirkpatrick said. “With social changes, the pet area exploded.”
Another reason for the looming shortage is natural attrition of older veterinarians retiring from large animal practices, with fewer graduates wanting to take their place, he said.
Long-time veterinarian and R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry sees things differently, saying a vertically integrated industry is pushing food supply veterinarians out of business.
Thornsberry has practiced in central Missouri since graduating veterinary college about 30 years ago, and he's seen the swine industry there change drastically.
Large confined feeding operations took over the independent swine operations and brought in their own veterinarians to mass treat the animals. Independent veterinary practices had to go to primarily treating companion animals or go by the wayside.
“Thirty years ago, you could set up in any town and make a living; you can't do it anymore” without a small animal practice, he said.
With the ability of packers today to completely own supply and hold the animals captive, they never enter the market, and the services of private practitioners is no longer needed, he explained.
“They don't buy anything from anybody locally,” except electricity and hiring a few people, he said,
Years ago, Thornsberry used to have 100 producers with 20 sows each who called him every week. Now Cargill employs one veterinarian for the whole state and operates with service technicians instead.
“I'm completely shut out of the system. It's completely contained so I can't access it,” he said. “I haven't sold a vial of swine vaccine in 20 years.
“The industry no longer uses practitioners. You can't make a living doctoring emergency farm calls,” he added.
The same thing happened in the poultry industry, and the cattle industry now runs the same risk with three major packers controlling most of the supply, he said.
“Swine is gone, poultry is gone, and cattle is rapidly going that route,” he said. “The shortage of veterinarians is a way for someone to make a living when they get out of veterinary school. It's supply and demand.”
And there's more at stake than jobs for veterinarians.
“Not only can we not access the market but if they (packers) collapse, we lose the infrastructure,” Thornsberry said.
“I don't think there's anything that can be done to correct the problem until we correct the way agriculture is going - if we don't make a change and put a stop to this integrated system in the cattle industry” he added.
Kirkpatrick said AVMA acknowledges that certain regions of the country don't suffer a shortage of food supply veterinarians.
“One size doesn't fit all,” he said. “There are areas of the country where it's just fine and other areas where there are shortages, and it's going to get worse.”