College of Veterinary Medicine

From the Dean

What Will Ag Animal Practice Look Like in 20 Years? UPDATED

by Bryan 4. April 2009 15:36

I've commented before on the shortage of agricultural animal veterinarians, and did so in a way that blurred the problems of rural mixed practice and the need for well-educated food supply veterinarians, which are not the same thing.  No doubt I'll have more comments on those topics, in which I'll try to be clearer, ... but my purpose here is different.

Part and parcel of the question of what elements do we emphasize in educating food supply veterinarians is the question, what will the animal food supply system will look like in 10 years?  20 years? 

I must admit that I do not have a fully satisfactory answer to the question, but I do think that the veterinary profession must be in the lead in providing the answer and the solutions to the issues raised.  If this is to be, those of us in academic veterinary medicine will not only need to educate students well in current practices, but we also will need to give them a glimpse of possible futures while also imparting the skills and the confidence they need to help shape that future.

Because of the complexity of this issue, and my lack of a fully formed answer, I would be very interested in receiving comments from you as to what you think.

In the meantime, to get the ball rolling, I'll say this:  I believe that whatever evolution occurs in agricultural animal food production in the next decade or two, one consistent element will be increased attention to animal welfare as regards housing, feeding, transportation, and humane slaughter systems that minimize stress and better allow animals to express more of their normal behaviors.

Why do I think that?


Because, in one way or another, society will eventually demand it.

So, why do I think society will demand it?  How about this?  Or this?  Or this?  Or this?  This (may require login after free registration)?  ... and this?  These events and opinions reflect a growing societal awareness of, and concern for, the animal welfare and environmental aspects of farming (including French fries).  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good steak as much as the next omnivore, and I believe most people do not want to eschew meat in their diet.  However, I think Wayne Pacelle is accurate when he says (as he did in his remarks at a 2007 USDA/CREES symposium on future trends in animal agriculture):

It is consumers who will decide what future farms will look like, whether through choices at the ballot box, the supermarket, the restaurant, and elsewhere.  Bottom line: Agriculture will have to meet societal expectations of how animals ought to be treated...

Importantly, the industry is getting this message.  In addition to some of the above links, for example, a vice president from Smithfield Foods, Inc. laid out the corporate case in largely those same terms in his presentation at the same symposium.  In fact, the future here has already been presaged by what is happening in the European Union.  So, I think change is inevitable.  I hope (but have been around long enough to not totally expect) that change will be driven by fact and science, and involve the most knowledgeable professionals.  This brings me back to the question posed in the title of this post.  UPDATE: See also this article for additional perspective.

If you were expecting an answer and not more questions, sorry...  But here are some things to consider.  Who will conduct the scientific studies needed to underpin best practices in sustaining animal agriculture with a greater emphasis on animal welfare (with an eye on environment to boot)?  Who will articulate the standards and policies?  Who will advise producers as to how to comply with standards and adopt best practices?  Who will be responsible for certifying compliance?

The veterinary profession is perfectly positioned to work with producers and end-point suppliers to meet both producer needs and societal expectations to shape the future of animal production and, in parallel, define what Ag Animal practice will look like.  In the end it boils down to a pretty simple choice; will we help shape the future or will we settle for reacting to the future others shape for us?

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Comments (24) -

4/14/2009 1:09:43 PM #


I think you're very right here.

There is a huge push to treat animals/agriculture differently than we have in the past.

This goes even beyond just the food that we as humans eat in the grocery store or at restaurants.

I was actually at the pet store getting my dogs some chew toys today, and about 75% of them at the store I was at had "free range, naturally raised beef/lamb, etc." Dog food and chews are going organic/free range, natural...

It's a big movement, that's for sure.

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5/29/2009 2:58:28 AM #

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There is a huge push to treat animals/agriculture differently than we have in the past

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5/29/2009 8:09:48 PM #


very interesting will look forward to see what happens in 20 years

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6/9/2009 8:47:07 PM #


With the changing world we need to change theanimal practice also

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6/9/2009 8:54:44 PM #

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recently according to the report there has been decline in the vetinary doctors.If we dont do something about this then animals life would fall in danger and may in 20 years only few animals will be left to be seen

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6/11/2009 2:18:07 PM #

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6/23/2009 7:50:12 AM #

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6/29/2009 1:58:39 PM #

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I agree that there will be a big push for better more humane treatment of animals especially those that are being used for meat. Its completely unnecessary for chickens to be kept in battery farms and the food they are fed is also atrocious. If more of the big companies like demand that animals are treated better then farmers will have no choice but to meet the demand if they want to stay in business.

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7/1/2009 9:12:11 PM #


As a large animal veterinarian in a rural mixed practice in Washington for the past 30 years, I have seen a gradual change towards more humane treatment of farm animals.  A large part of the change is initiated by the veterinarian who has seen the solid research from the small animal side of the practice and applies it to the farm animal side of the practice.  I think it is incumbent upon all veterinarians to recognize that animal welfare advocacy is a important role for all of us to embrace wholeheartedly.  We need to take the lead in this debate or we will end up having our veterinary medical practices dictated by the Humane Society and PETA.

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7/2/2009 3:00:24 PM #

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7/2/2009 11:16:28 PM #


Ultimately consumers will demand that treatment of animals conform to welfare standards. But it will take time and there will always be some that will be prepared to tolerate a level of 'invisible' abuse if it results in a lower price for them. Those closest to the animals will need to create awareness and change.

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7/7/2009 9:19:18 AM #

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I don't think animal practices are going to change unless there is a government drive to push for it there is just too much money in the industry and all the big players want to squeeze out every last penny by spending as little as possible.

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7/13/2009 12:54:48 AM #

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7/14/2009 6:56:27 PM #

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7/16/2009 2:13:51 PM #


I anticipate change is inevitable. I achievement (but accept been about continued abundant to not absolutely expect) that change will be apprenticed by actuality and science

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I think it is incumbent upon all veterinarians to recognize that animal welfare advocacy is a important role for all of us to embrace wholeheartedly.

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7/18/2009 6:18:45 AM #

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Its completely unnecessary for chickens to be kept in battery farms and the food they are fed is also atrocious.

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7/18/2009 2:52:39 PM #

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7/18/2009 3:05:12 PM #

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7/19/2009 3:15:17 AM #

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7/28/2009 9:21:18 AM #


I agree with Dan, we need to take the lead in this debate.

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Comments are closed

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