So great is meat’s enjoyment in this country that more than 85 billion pounds of meat and poultry are processed here each year. Whether it's rib eyes, pork chops or chicken breasts, the demand for protein is tremendous not only in the United States but increasingly, all over the world.
About a quarter of U.S. beef and pork is exported to feed people around the world. China is now the world's largest consumer of meat and Mexico’s meat consumption has increased by 50 percent since 1990.
The question is, "Are there enough veterinarians to keep this growing food supply safe?" According to several studies, the answer is "no." The growing shortage of veterinarians involved in food animal practice is a concern to many.
"The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for veterinarians will increase by 35 percent in the next several years, much faster than the average for all occupations," says Ron DeHaven, DVM, chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
As part of its effort to help address this shortage of food supply veterinarians, the AVMA recently unveiled a revamped Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Web page. The new page contains information about careers in food supply veterinary medicine, why it's such a critical field and which states are being hit harder than others by the shortage.
“The public's interest in the shortage has mushroomed,” says DeHaven. “By calling attention to the situation, I believe we have really touched a nerve." DeHaven said the AVMA's decision to update and enhance the Web page is partially a result of this growing concern.
The AVMA predicts that the supply of food animal veterinarians will fall short of what is needed by about 4 percent or 5 percent annually. The number of veterinary school graduates entering food supply medicine remains stagnant, and this lack of growth, DeHaven says, has all the makings of a crisis.
"Few jobs are more important when it comes to food safety than that of the veterinarian," DeHaven said. "They are not only checking the well-being of food animals and maintaining healthy herds and flocks, veterinarians are also first responders on the front lines of disease prevention and outbreak.
The new, user-friendly AVMA Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Web page is a clearinghouse of information, containing everything from career videos, to new studies detailing the shortage, and examples of what veterinary schools and states are doing to attract more students to food supply veterinary medicine.