As a veterinarian, I am the first to admit that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the organization purported to represent the interests of all veterinarians in the U.S., is not always a leader when it comes to animal rights and welfare issues. From my viewpoint, the group’s reluctance to take the lead on issues of humane treatment of animals casts a large shadow on all veterinarians.
There are many types of veterinarians out there–including those associated with slaughterhouses, public health (inspecting our food), laboratory animals, small animals, and research–and the AVMA has tried to be all things to all veterinarians. It has often found itself in the middle of fierce conflicts where, rather than rocking the boat by taking the moral high ground, it has often avoided addressing the issues. Where the interests of animals have conflicted with those of industry, the animals have usually lost. Some that come to mind include the following:
- Students at Tufts veterinary school protested operating on live animals and then killing them, requesting an alternate approach to learning surgery. The AVMA was silent.
- Whenever an attempt has been made to expand the rights of animals, the AVMA puts out a statement supporting the welfare of animals–but only in the context of animals as property.
- Proposition 2 in California, a recent referendum to provide room to move for some animals raised for food on factory farms (which passed by a wide margin), was not supported by the AVMA.
- Only after animal rights groups such as PETA protested the treatment of horses in the racing industry following Eight Belles’ death at the Kentucky Derby did the AVMA even make a statement.
- The AVMA refused to take a position on foie gras, which is made from the grotesquely enlarged and diseased livers of ducks and geese who have been cruelly force-fed.
In virtually every publicized opportunity to improve the lot of animals, the AVMA is either very late to the party or chooses not to attend at all.
Yet I see recent trends suggesting that veterinarians are paying more attention to these issues and are pressuring the AVMA to step up to the plate and take the lead on animal welfare issues. Take a look at the following examples:
- In the Journal of the AVMA, recent letters to the editor have lambasted the group’s stance on Prop2.
- The association has recently created an animal welfare division, suggesting hope that change is in the air.
- The group recently put out a position paper opposing ear-cropping and tail-docking of dogs for solely cosmetic purposes, putting the AVMA at odds with the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Most veterinarians are compassionate people who are naturally concerned with the welfare of all animals. The public and animal organizations look to us for guidance and expect us to manifest this concern not only by caring for sick and injured animals but also by acting as leaders in being better stewards of the animals with whom we share the planet.
I am encouraged by recent changes in the AVMA and challenge it to continue to listen to the calls for real change when it comes to animal welfare and rights.