During this year’s American Association of Swine Veterinarians Annual Meeting in Kansas City, swine veterinarians had the opportunity to take a peak into the crystal ball for a glimpse of what challenges and changes might befall the pork industry in the future.

Major presentations were made about the future role of veterinarians in the pork industry. These presentations came from the perspective of a swine veterinarian, a pork producer and a pork packing industry representative.

Following are highlights of some of the information presented:

Practitioner’s perspective
In his paper and AASV presentation, James F. Lowe, DVM, MS, a swine veterinarian with The Maschhoffs, Inc, Carlyle, Ill., says that veterinarians will need to adapt their skills to meet the future challenges and changes in the pork industry.

 

AASV members got to look into the future during this year’s annual meeting in Kansas City.

“The first requirement for success in the new food chain model will be technical competence,” he says. “As a profession, we have long excelled at the ability to diagnose and treat individual diseased animals. However, mostly because of our clinical training, we have not excelled at the general scientific process, often choosing to use ‘experience’ and casual observation to answer questions instead of well-controlled scientific experiments.”

Further, Lowe says, future swine veterinarians will need an increased mastery of basic sciences, including immunology, pathology, virology, bacteriology and the applied science of epidemiology.

“With larger populations, rapidly evolving pathogens and new disease threats, our success will be limited by our ability to take clinical presentations and relate them to the biology of the problem.

“Only when we can have solid biological explanations for health challenges will we have solutions that work consistently in many situations.”

Lowe believes that the industry will continue to change -- even more dramatically during the next two decades than it did during the last 20 years.

“Increased availability and easier distribution of information will be the primary driver of changing organizations,” he says.

Lowe points out that changes in the pork business have resulted from, among other things, changes in the global market structure including rising costs, labor challenges and a single global market.

“With a changing industry, the skills that we have and services we provide must change in order to meet the industry’s needs. To be successful we must be willing to learn new technical skills, continuously obtain more knowledge and be able to work in teams that have many experts where information flows freely across multiple layers and locations of organizations.”

Those who can see change as an opportunity and not a threat will continue to have limitless possibilities in the pork industry, according to Lowe.

“We, as veterinarians, are positioned to flourish. If we adopt new methods, establish new roles and continue the pursuit of the truth with all our energy, we will succeed at a level that none of us imagined when we all started in this wonderful profession.”

 

In the future, veterinarians will be helping clients implement needle-free injection technology to eliminate broken needles in pork.

Producer’s perspective
In his presentation, Steven Pollmann, PhD, director of Western Operations for Murphy‑Brown LLC, Ames, Iowa, provided the producer’s perspective of the role of veterinarians in the future.

Pollmann believes that while the role of veterinarians will continue to be important, their role will change.

He describes the following five “critical gaps” that need to be addressed to help meet the needs of producers in the future:

1. An increased need for a greater understanding of financial ramifications of the business, a greater appreciation for total system optimization and less focus on maximum productivity by phase of production.

2. A need for greater appreciation of effective data collection and statistical analysis methods for correct data interpretation.

3. A need to improve the use of sound research data to make better recommendations and less reliance on an anecdotal or testimonial approach to modern pork production. This information will need to be converted into dynamic expert systems or business models for improved decision‑making.

4. A need to assist in educating personnel, especially for those who have the ability to speak Spanish. More of the production managers and technicians in the future will be those that speak Spanish as a primary, and, in most cases, only, language.

5. A need for veterinarians to be able to provide technical leadership to system improvements, especially in the areas of biosecurity, animal welfare, food safety and process‑verified systems.

“The role of the veterinarian will be critical in the future of the pork industry,” concludes Pollmann. At the same time, he cautions: “The present training and contributions need to be seriously evaluated to adapt to the changing environment. Veterinarians can have a bright future if they recognize their limitations and learn to more effectively function as an integral part of a team environment.”

 

Future veterinarians may be called upon to use fluency in a foreign language, such as Spanish, to help their clients in educating personnel.

Packer perspective
Gary Louis, PhD, vice president, Inte-grated Business Strategies for Seaboard Foods LLC, Shawnee Mission, Kan., discussed the role of veterinarians in the future pork industry from a packer’s perspective.

He cites the following five specific areas where veterinarians will play increasingly important roles:

1. Food safety.Veterinarians will be working closer with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to further separate out defects in pork meat that present a food safety threat from defects that may only be cosmetic blemishes. They also will gain a greater understanding of the tissue residue limits of the pork industry’s export customers. “By May of 2006, Japan will be enforcing the new ‘Positive List System for Agricultural Chemical Residues in Foods.’ New programs such as these may catch the industry off‑guard and have an impact on its ability to maintain a favorable export status.” Future veterinarians also will work more closely with producers to eliminate the potential for foreign material contamination of pork. This would include anything from wire in the mouth, staples or plastic ties used to repair ruptures, to broken needles. They also will be striving to implement needle-free injection technology in an effort to eliminate broken needles in pork. Further, they will continue to educate producers on the proper use of all medical compounds and ensure that adequate rec-ords are being maintained to support a traceability system.

2. Pork quality. Future veterinarians will need to be more active in evaluating feeding programs, so that they can be aware of the potential negative effects that such practices as the use of dried distillers grain may have on the iodine value of the pork fat. High iodine values can lead to undesirable fat firmness. Veterinarians also will be working with animal nutrionists to minimize the use of any ingredients that may lead to undesirable taste, and they could be involved in the future development of taste tests as one of the parameters to be measured when choosing among
genetic lines.

3. Export markets. The veterinarian’s role in this area will be to educate customers and policy makers, domestically and internationally, on the impact specific animal diseases have on the potential for spreading through pork products and the risk of humans contracting the disease. Perception will ultimately dictate policy and therefore it is critical that perception be as close to reality as possible. Veterinarians also will be involved in the proactive development of emergency plans for animal disease outbreaks. These plans should ensure that animal disease outbreaks can be regionalized and therefore export bans can also be regionalized to minimize the impact across the pork industry. In addition, practitioners will become an active participant in the investigation of animal disease breaks around the world so that they can help to identify weaknesses within the domestic pork industry that may leave it vulnerable to similar outbreaks. Further, veterinarians will be working with government agencies to identify opportunities to reduce the threat of bioterrorism.

4. Niche products. Niche programs based on the lack of use of antibiotics will require close attention by the veterinarian to ensure medical intervention plans to maintain animal welfare under a variety of health challenges. Veterinarians also will be working with  producers to develop  sustainable niche programs where the incremental revenues are greater than the incremental costs of production, processing and marketing.

 

Illinois swine veterinarian James Lowe believes that veterinarians who can see change as an opportunity as opposed to a threat will have limitless opportunities in the pork business of the future.

5. Industry integrity. Future veterinarians will be required to work with producers, processors and customers to establish a list of product claims that can be realistically achieved and are sustainable. This will require them to be knowledgeable about specific product claims being made about the pork under their care. It will be their responsibility to ensure that the producer is abiding by these claims. In the event a producer is not able to meet the previously agreed upon claims, veterinarians will help establish and maintain a system for identifying the “out‑of‑compliance” pigs that can be traced.

“As the pork industry continues down the path of the information age of pork, all sectors of pork production will become more transparent to all sectors of the food chain,” concludes Louis.

“If critical attention is given to developing science-based programs in the areas of animal welfare, food safety and pork quality, the pork industry will have a solid story to communicate and will be able to defend their position against the threats of special interest groups.

“As new methods of traceability are developed, the opportunity to connect our stories to the pork the consumer is purchasing will be achieved. Once all of this is in place, the pork industry should be poised to increase the demand for pork through niche and export markets. Veterinarians will play a key role in the success of the pork industry as we move through the pork information age.”