Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series of articles. The first article was published in the September issue of Swine Practitioner. Information in this series was initially presented during the 2004 American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) Annual Meeting in Des Moines, Iowa

Current events and changing societal values suggest there are numerous complex and conflicting ethical issues looming for swine veterinarians, says former AASV president David Reeves, a swine veterinarian with the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

“For those of us who are traditional, addressing these issues may prove difficult because we have been trained to examine them from a singular context; that being our relationship with the farm and the farm owner-manager,” Reeves says.

“Optimum resolution may mean breaking the paradigm of practice and examining issues from a broader context. They will mean examining issues outside the context of our role as the health-care provider to the farm.”

 

Some complex and difficult to answer questions may make the ethical road for swine veterinarians a little rougher in the future.

Reeves emphasizes that he is not attempting to advocate “singular ethical positions, but rather to provide a starting point for dialogue. This dialogue, he says, will hopefully initiate “a discussion as to the source of our moral authority and an examination of matters from the broad, rather than the narrow, context; that it will result in businesses developing guiding principles; and that some will be spurred to ask, ‘who is the conscience of the company?’”

Reeves provides the following examples where swine veterinarians could be faced with an ethical dilemma in today’s pork production industry environment:

Example #1
A producer’s pigs experience a disease outbreak caused by a virus. The disease has devastating effects on farm productivity and after the initial outbreak it becomes endemic. The disease frequently recrudesces in the herd causing continuing losses.

Vaccines are ineffective, sanitation has no effect, and changing pig flow does not control the disease. Depopulation/repopulation of the herd is not an option because the risk of re-infection appears great. The decision is made to infect all incoming gilts and boars by exposing them to the virus, realizing this approach means purposely making animals sick, even causing low-level mortality.

It also means perpetuating the presence of the disease over the long term. Perpetuating the disease is bad for the community of producers, but beneficial for the individual farm. Further, purposely making animals sick and causing death is counter to the veterinarian’s oath and appears merciless.

However, as a population veterinarian your emphasis is on the population of animals and not on the individual animal. You see this as a general does sending the troops into harms way. You have great loyalty to the farmer and are concerned that to do nothing surely means bankruptcy. However, perpetuating the virus means putting neighboring farms at risk. How would you handle this paradoxical situation?

(See the fax-it-back form accompanying this article on page 16. Readers are asked to answer the above question and fax the form back to 1.913.438.0662. Your answers may be used in a subsequent article in Swine Practitioner, but they will be used anonymously to protect the privacy of those readers who return the forms.)

Example #2
A producer is building a new gestation barn. He is concerned about the welfare of his animals and understands that the current state of research suggests that gestation stalls prevents injuries associated with fighting.

He also knows that behavioral studies and physiologic data suggest no adverse effects from using gestation stalls. Productivity will be equal to or better than group housing systems and the labor requirement will be less with gestation stalls.

All his logic favors gestation stalls. However, his pathos (inner feelings) suggests that animals should be allowed to move around and express natural tendencies such as interacting with other sows and exploring the environment. In this case, the producer’s logos (his reason) competes with his pathos. He solicits your input on the matter. How would you advise this client? In which of the two positions do you serve as the defender of the pig?

 

University of Georgia swine veterinarian David Reeves believes that it may be time for swine veterinarians to take a close look at their ethical positions as they relate to pertinent issues affecting the pork industry.

(Again, you are encouraged to use the accompanying fax-it-back form and answer the above question anonymously).

Example #3
The church that you, the local veterinarian, attend has decided to build a significant addition onto the existing structure. Bids will be solicited and the award granted to the lowest bidder. Before the bids are opened a contractor invites the minister to go fishing. The minister is an avid fisherman and needs a day away from the parish.

The minister does not know the intent of the contractor but assumes that the trip is simply a friendly gesture. Further, he knows that the day spent together will help establish communication channels that will be beneficial should the contractor receive the contract to build the new church addition

The minister also knows that the contractor is having personal problems and likely has need of counseling. However, the minister is concerned how the trip will appear to his congregation, particularly if the bid is awarded to the contractor. Will they perceive the trip as a privilege, a reward for information? Will it affect the minister’s judgment should problems arise once the building project is underway?

As a parishioner, member of the staff-parish committee, and as a veterinarian who has attended similar functions sponsored by vendors, how would you advise the minister? Besides, you have not let such trips influence your decisions when prescribing and selling pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Over your career you have accepted free travel, recreation, education and meals, thus you are somewhat of an expert on the issue of conflict of interest, transparency and recusal.

(Please provide your answer anonymously in the accompanying fax form on the following page.) 

Reeves says that these examples point to the complexity of what on the surface look to be very simple decisions and questions, such as:

“Are we about saving animal lives or protecting populations of animals? Are we about saving a group of pigs using a human-label antimicrobial or are we about preventing antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens? Are we about protecting animal welfare or are we about preventing animal exploitation?”

In today’s economic and societal climate, “these are questions without easy answers,” acknowledges Reeves. “They require an examination of logos, pathos, and ethos in an insightful manner.”

Reeves adds that facing ethical dilemmas is not just limited to private practice swine veterinarians but can include researchers, companies who develop and market animal health products and most everyone else involved in this aspect of food production.

He concludes by asking: “Considering recent challenges to the moral authority of the swine industry, is it time to look hard at our ethical positions? Going forward, swine veterinarians have the opportunity to influence the direction of our industry and assure that we stand for more than the bottom line.”   

 

An ethical question that might be raised by the way the pork industry has evolved is: Are swine veterinarians about saving animal lives or, instead, about protecting populations of animals.

What do you think?
The accompanying article provides three examples where you as a swine veterinarian may be faced with dealing with an ethical issue in today’s pork industry.

We are interested to know how you might answer the questions posed at the end of each example so we have included a fax-it-back form at the end of this article.

Just clip the form from the magazine, answer the questions and fax the form to:
Swine Practitioner Editor
1.913.438.0662

If you prefer not to fax the form, you may mail it anonymously to:
Jim Carlton – Editor
Swine Practitioner Magazine
RR 3 Box 46
Tecumseh, NE 68450
or e-mail it to jcarlton@vancepublishing.com

Your answers may be used anonymously in a subsequent article about this subject. Thanks for taking the time to send in your responses.