Shortage of food animal veterinarians puts our food supply at risk

As a veterinary student at Kansas State University, I hear quite a bit about the growing demand for food animal veterinarians. With the increasing cost of tuition for vet school, it’s understanding that many of my colleagues are choosing to specialize in small animal medicine to help pay off school loans. But the looming threat of agroterrorism, emerging diseases and heightened food security shows an increased demand for food animal vets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports, Only about 17 percent of veterinarians work in food supply, including practicing veterinarians and veterinarians working for governmental and corporate organizations. This is in contrast to the turn of the 19th century, when virtually every veterinarian was a food supply veterinarian. Moreover, research forecasts a shortfall of 4-5 percent per year in the ranks of food supply veterinarians.
Philip Lowe, from the Centre for Rural Economy at the University of Newcastle, has said the proportion of time vets in private practice spent treating animals used for food halved between 1998 and 2006 – due in part to the fact most vets run their own businesses, and pet owners have proved a more sustainable and lucrative source of income than farmers.
Professor Lowe argues in the journal Veterinary Record that due to this shift there has been a failure to make use of vets’ considerable and wide ranging expertise.
Various programs have been proposed to encourage vet students to enter food animal practice and help alleviate the problem of an enlarging veterinary student debt to salary ratio. Two programs that have been implemented are the Student Loan Repayment Program through the USDA and the National Veterinary Medical Service Act
These programs and future opportunities will help veterinary students join the nation’s food safety task force, and hopefully also increase our knowledge base and preparedness for foreign animal diseases within the United States. This is a critical time in the veterinary world, in which veterinarians must take full advantage of their skill sets to protect the nation’s food supply.
To read more about the food animal vet shortage, visit the AVMA’s Food Supply Veterinary Medicine media page.