With the changing nature of food-animal production in America, the overall demand for traditional veterinary services has declined. Nevertheless, if future food-animal veterinarians can master a broad understanding of the complex challenges of production medicine, there is a great potential to redefine the role of food-animal medicine in the intensive livestock and poultry industries, while at the same time fulfilling the profession’s responsibilities to an American public concerned with food safety, drug residues, animal welfare, and stewardship of the environment. If not, the veterinary medical profession is in danger of relinquishing its role in animal production to others who are able to consider the economic needs of producers but who have less understanding of the complexity of animal health and public health (King, 2000). Large dairies already routinely use consultants to advise on such issues as housing, communication, employee training, nutrition, and environmental regulations—matters that are frequently seen by producers as “outside the realms of veterinary medicine” (DSI, 2006). Because of the profession’s declining presence in food-animal care, the nation is losing the all important food-animal veterinarian-producer relationship upon which the health and welfare of livestock populations depend. For the veterinary profession, this is untenable.
A Vision for Food-Animal Veterinary Medical Education
To ensure their future in food-animal medicine, veterinary graduates should be well-grounded in the specialized aspects of the livestock or poultry industries they wish to serve and have the skills needed by these increasingly intensive, specialized, and concentrated industries. This direction was advocated by the late Otto Radostits (2002) who wrote that “meeting the needs of progressive livestock producers is a full time career for a progressive food-animal practitioner and is not a part time job.”
J. B. Herrick was among the first to redefine how veterinary services should be offered to livestock operations and popularized the term production medicine. Herrick emphasized a food-systems approach to food-animal services and defined production medicine in 1990 as “the utilization of many facets of production, e.g. nutrition, environment, genetics, and health, into a well-managed program monitored by records” (Herrick, 1990). With a few notable exceptions, progress in moving food-animal practice in that direction in the intervening two decades has been inadequate. The Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Commission (Andrus et al., 2006) drew attention to the thin supply of new graduates entering food-animal veterinary medicine and to the lack of focus on this field by many veterinary schools. Veterinary schools are accused of being slow in their willingness to change and develop curricula that meet the needs of the dynamically changing livestock industries and of an increasingly apprehensive public. Nielsen (2001) is harshly critical, stating that there has been a failure to