In an article published by news agency Reuters on December 24, the ethics and professionalism of food animal veterinarians, their relationship with animal health companies and their use of antibiotics for their clients’ livestock was called into question.
Despite the allegations and inaccuracies in the article, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners’ (AABP) President-Elect Fred Gingrich, DVM, Ashland, Ohio, said in the article that cattle veterinarians are proud of what they do and welcome the discussion on and the responsibility of antibiotic use in cattle.
The article, “Veterinarians face conflicting allegiances to animals, farmers - and drug companies,” is part of a series called “Farmaceuticals” and is meant to disparage the ethics, scientific training and food-animal veterinarians’ relationship with animal pharmaceutical companies that develop, research and market animal drugs, including antibiotics. The AABP objects to the author’s questioning of veterinarians’ integrity in prescribing or using these animal health products.
The article focuses a lot on antibiotics used for growth promotion in livestock but this use will be phased out by December 2016 in accordance with an FDA guidance which will require antibiotics to be administered in feed to be on the order of a licensed veterinarian with a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) (see AABP’s VCPR Guidelines here.) Veterinarians will have more oversight on prescribing antibiotics on-farm, but the author implies that their integrity will be compromised due to allegiance and financial ties to animal pharmaceutical companies.
The AABP strongly objects to that implication. “U.S. cattle veterinarians are concerned about the health of animals and people by working with clients to produce safe and wholesome food,” says AABP Executive Vice President M.G. Riddell, Jr., DVM.
AABP President John Davidson, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, College Station, Texas, says, “As the nation’s leading group of cattle veterinarians, the AABP has been actively involved in the development of the proposed FDA legislation and supports the continued application of decision making based on science and not manufacturer influence.”
The article also brings up the issue of antimicrobial resistance and the use of antibiotics in humans and animals. The AABP and its members have been and will continue to collaborate with agencies such as the FDA, the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine these issues and work toward solutions.
Some inaccuracies from the article include the statements that veterinarians obtain their continuing education from company-sponsored sessions. The policy that the AABP Board of Directors set forth years ago regarding its annual conference is that pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to sponsor scientific sessions or contribute commercial content for those sessions. “Our annual meeting has long-standing policies against the delivery of commercial educational material from manufacturers,” Davidson says. “Our annual meeting has an exhibit hall which facilitates opportunities for voluntary interaction with organizations and their representatives. These interactions are invaluable and serve to keep our attending veterinarians up to date with the latest advances in tools and services so that we can better serve our clients and their livestock resources.”
Another portion of the article implies that pharmaceutical companies giving scholarships to veterinary students then require them to work in food animal practice for four years after graduation. While many scholarships that are administered through AABP are sponsored by animal health companies, they are on a “no strings attached” basis and are purely to help defray the cost of a veterinary education. “AABP is proud to facilitate ongoing support for our future colleagues through scholarships and leadership opportunities and never will we ask them to compromise their integrity in exchange for awards,” Davidson says.
The author confused veterinary school scholarships with the USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) which helps new graduate veterinarians with their veterinary school debt by the veterinarians working in practices in underserved rural areas identified by the USDA. The VMLRP program has no ties to animal health companies.
“As a member of the AABP and the veterinary medical profession, I, like my colleagues, take my oath very seriously,” Davidson says. “I take great pride in knowing that the collective work undertaken by my veterinary colleagues results in the plentiful supply of wholesome food that my family and yours depends on. My colleagues and I place the integrity of our work as veterinarians well beyond the reach of any commercial interest.”