The problem for veterinarians is that movements by animal-welfare groups and a shortage of food-animal veterinarians could
have negative implications for the future.
First, California already passed legislation governing how pregnant sows are housed, and several states are considering copycat
laws. And as the movement toward free-range and organic animal agriculture grows, Baker says swine could be put at greater
risk for diseases.
"It would be the worst thing that could happen to our industry," he says, adding that many swine diseases farmers struggled
with when they used outdoor production, such as brucellosis, have been eradicated since swine were moved indoors. "It's not
about welfare. It's about putting animal agriculture out of business. And I can tell you our pig producers in the United States
have the best biosecurity system in the world, bar none."
Moving swine outdoors will put them at greater risk of diseases like influenza, which originated in birds, Baker says. Indoor
production helps limit swine contact with wild species that spread diseases globally.
Couple outdoor production with a shortage of food-animal veterinarians to recognize early signs of new diseases, and the result
could be devastating for the swine industry, he says. Already, higher feed prices over the last two years were making swine
producers lose about $20 per hog. The swine flu scare has increased that loss to about $30 per hog.
"There's a depression," he says, referring to swine producers. "Some of them are poised to lose their farms that have been
in their families for decades."
And with 75 percent of all human infectious diseases having a zoonotic base, Baker says food-animal producers are an easy
target for blame.
"We've been criticized for not having enough surveillance for swine-flu viruses, but there's no money to do it," he says.
"How can you have a surveillance program without dollars to run the tests or pay people to run the tests?"
Dr. Laura Banks, a DVM with a master's degree in public health and director of the University of New Mexico Center for Disaster
Medicine, says disease outbreaks like the current H1N1 strain emphasize how much the American Veterinary Medical Assocation's
One Health concept is needed. And not just among food-animal industries. Companion-animal veterinarians also are fielding
questions from pet owners curious about how emerging diseases will affect them and their pets.
"We need to make sure veterinarians are knowledgeable about the human side of zoonotic diseases and make sure they can communicate
about human symptoms. Sometimes we don't feel comfortable doing that," she says. "But I think we have an obligation to answer
questions. It's no longer an option for us to say 'it's not my job to talk about human health.' We need to be diligent about
giving accurate information."
"This is a great time for veterinarians to remember their public health role and to realize they can be an incredible source
of information for the public," Olsen adds.