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Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Paul Waldau

The profession of veterinary medicine has deep roots in the farm community. In the past 70 years, however, farming and the production of food has changed tremendously to a highly intensive agribusiness that often bears little if any resemblance to the farm of yesteryear. The intensification of farming to produce beef, veal, chicken, pork, dairy, and eggs has resulted in significant societal benefits, but also a host of problems involving animal welfare, economic impacts on the family farm, protection of the environment, and public health concerns. Veterinarians as well as other scientists and policy makers are engaged in a vigorous debate about these issues. Some countries, particularly in the European Union, are banning or limiting the use of production techniques that are common in the US. In the past few years, some of the largest fast food retailers in the US have begun a turnaround towards more humane production methods.

The adequacy and pace of change are controversial issues—even as these proposed changes fail to satisfy some, others feel that such changes are not compatible with our mission to “feed the world.” In this area as in no other, veterinarians are caught in the middle of competing concerns because there can easily be conflicts when one tries at the same time to promote animal agriculture, protect the food supply, protect public health, and advocate for animal welfare. For example, even as the importance of the human-animal bond is advanced by the veterinary profession regarding humans’ relations to their individual companion animals, the economic challenges and food supply/biosecurity issues often require that veterinarians focus on herd-level issues. How might individual veterinarians, veterinary education institutions, and the profession as a whole address tensions that arise between these two different approaches to animal welfare?

The goal of this presentation is to familiarize students with these issues, and to explore the role of veterinary medicine in providing solutions regarding the welfare of production animals, the viability of family farms and farming-based communities, the health of ecosystems, and the interests of both human and nonhuman individuals and populations.

1. Readings

  • Large Animals - "New Frontier of Veterinary Ethics" - Click here for PDF

  • JAVMA, July 15, 2002, “Pain and Distress in Agricultural Animals”

  • Alternatives in Veterinary Medical Education, April 2002, “An Innovative Approach to Veterinary Training and How it Applies to Large Animals”

  • JAVMA, December 1, 2000, “Animal welfare regulations: a rough crossing from Europe to US”

  • JAVMA June 2006, “Job satisfaction, changes in occupational area, and commitment to a career in food supply veterinary medicine”

2. Reflection Journal Assignment

Due at beginning of next session

Looking Back —One of the readings for the November 15 session was a JAVMA article dealing with some important differences between the U.S. and Europe on farm animal welfare and policy. The president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association is quoted as follows: “Some major decisions are going to have to be made about the way we [veterinarians] do business and the way we organize our practices and our lives. Do keep an eye on these issues in Europe. They will come your way..." What, in your opinion, should be veterinarians’ role, if any, in opposing or supporting the kinds of changes that the author suggests may be coming to the United States?

Looking Forward —What do you think of this claim made at the beginning of the article by Frederick Leighton? “Over the past several decades, the veterinary profession in North America has become severely imbalanced and now serves society in a very lopsided way. What we do, we do very well. But what we do not do, or do too little, is a shameful disservice to society.”