Veterinarian shortage may impact safety of U.S. food supply



Suzanne Gregory, a fourth year veterinary medicine student at Virginia Tech, helps veterinarian John Currin do ultrasounds on dairy cows. Practicing as a food animal veterinarian is a dirty, physical job.


"It takes dedication, because you have clients who are relying on you to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she said.


It was a natural choice for Gregory; she comes from a family of farmers in southern Virginia. However, her fellow students are increasingly choosing to care for household pets instead, deterred by long hours, the rural location of jobs and modest pay.


By 2025, the American Veterinary Medical Association expects the vet shortage to grow to 15,000 -- most of them large animal doctors. That could leave farmers, like Marion Phillips, without essential care for their livestock.


"Most cases, they're our lifeline. If we did not have these vets out here, we would lose a lot of money through death of cows, for different problems," Phillips said.


Congress has taken note as experts warn a vet shortage could also weaken the security of the nation's food supply against threats like foot-and-mouth disease or even cripple the nation's defenses against bioterrorism threats.


"Anthrax has been a longtime disease. It's been around for a long time, and veterinarians are the ones who had to primarily deal with it, so veterinarians are very familiar with these types of diseases," Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, a vet himself, said.


Allard sponsored legislation that gives grants to schools preparing large animal vet students for jobs in the public health sector. It passed recently. and so did the Farm Bill. which kickstarts a program to forgive school loan debt for new vets who go to work in under-served rural areas.


Many in the profession say they are grateful for what they call "steps in the right direction," but they say much more needs to be done. 8-11-08



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