United Poultry Concerns AVMA
Take A Closer Look at the AVMA's Animal Welfare Policies
by Peggy Larson, DVM, MS, JD

This article appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of AVAR Directions, the quarterly newsletter of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights. AVAR.org.

Most people entering the veterinary profession want to work with animals, are primarily concerned with their welfare and motivated to improve their lives and health. Most have had companion animals or have lived on ranches or farms. These future veterinarians understand that nonhuman animals are sentient and have needs similar to those of humans.

During veterinary school and after we graduate, many of us join the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which is the largest veterinary association in the world. Aside from their excellent insurance programs, we join the AVMA because we have the perception that this is an organization whose main goal is to promote the welfare of animals by improving veterinary knowledge and expertise.

After reviewing the AVMA Positions on Animal Welfare, beginning on page 73 of the 2002 AVMA Directory, however, it is apparent that the association has an agenda separate from promoting animal welfare. In fact, most of the association's policies promote animal industries at the expense of the animal welfare, including promoting practices that cause great harm, pain and unplanned death.

Some examples of the AVMA's support of practices which are harmful and detrimental to animals are as follows: It supports and promotes confinement rearing of livestock and poultry. This includes forced molting in hens used in the egg industry, small confining battery cages and debeaking. It also promotes confinement rearing of calves used in the veal industry and crating of sows.

Many large animal practitioners have worked in these operations and have seen the effect confinement has on these animals. I personally have seen crippled calves in veal operations and lame sows. I have also seen the piles of dead hens, victims of forced molting and cage stress. Most European countries are phasing out intense confinement and returning to loose housing. Even McDonalds is addressing the confinement and slaughter issues by making positive welfare changes. Instead of the AVMA's Animal Welfare Committee taking a leadership role in the positive shift for animals that is occurring in our country and European countries , it clings to its industry-oriented policies, resisting pressure to change.

The AVMA also supports the use of random-source dogs and cats for research, testing, and education, with full knowledge that these particular animals will be used in acute procedures such as in surgical labs and will be killed at the end of the procedure. These animals are not good candidates for longer term research because of their unknown health history. Many states have laws against pound seizure. The AVMA continues to condone the sale of these animals, even though many people have lost their companion animals to this process. Cats, in particular, fall victim to this practice because they are so difficult to identify without microchips. When I worked in medical research for 7 years, I saw many random-source research cats that were tame and obviously well cared for. I often wondered if they were merely lost instead of abandoned.

The AVMA supports spectator events, such as greyhound racing, rodeo, circuses, and sled racing using dogs, even though many localities have enacted laws against rodeo and circuses because of the inhumane treatment to the animals. As a former United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector, I saw what goes on in circuses. USDA inspections constantly reveal many violations of federal law, including beaten elephants, inadequate food and shelter, improper transportation, forcing sick animals to perform, and lack of proper care. Furthermore, elephants can have both bovine and human tuberculosis, which is infective to both humans and cattle.

As a former rodeo bareback bronc rider, I saw animals injured while used in rodeo events. These animals, who usually are sent to slaughter, often have broken backs, broken necks, internal injuries, multiple bruises and cuts and damaged ligamenta nuchae, according to veterinary meat inspectors. Five bucking horses were killed last year in rodeos.

Many greyhounds used by the racing industry are kept in filthy conditions and often are killed inhumanely when they aren't needed for racing anymore. Some are sent to research labs; other are shot or killed by being hit on the head.

It is unfortunate both for veterinarians and animals that the AVMA has become a trade organization. Its industry-oriented Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) promulgates policies which are at best confusing and at worst they are hypocritical. Part of the problem is that the AVMA's AWC is comprised of pro-industry veterinarians. For example, a spokesperson for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, whose son is a rodeo participant, represents equine medicine on this committee. Two more seats are held by research and poultry industry veterinarians. Even though the majority of animals under veterinary care in the United States are companion animals, only one veterinarian represents this group on this committee. The person representing humane organizations is not a veterinarian and not always animal welfare-oriented. The Fish and Wildlife representative on the committee is pro-hunting and pro-trapping, even though the AWC considers the steel-jawed leghold trap to be inhumane.

It is unlikely that the current AVMA will change unless members demand a shift in focus from industry to animal welfare. Fortunately, a growing number of the veterinarians entering into the profession have a more progressive view of how our society should treat animals. With time, the veterinary profession will become an animal advocacy profession.

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070

(AVMA - Take A Closer Look at the AVMA's Animal Welfare Policies)

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