First, Do No Harm

2011-01-13-farmsanctuaryjune10606

Continuing to revisit previous posts from Gene, we go back to January 2011 to review the place of veterinarians in working to help farm animals:


A 2010 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published an article  announced: “Veterinarian’s Oath revised to emphasize animal welfare commitment: Prevention of animal suffering also a key addition.” The updated oath, which was adopted despite stiff opposition within the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), reads as follows with additions in italics:

“Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”

For decades, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has upheld the status quo and defended cruel factory farming practices, including intensive confinement systems like veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages. In 2002, as Florida’s voters pondered whether to become the first U.S. state to outlaw gestation crates, the AVMA adopted a formal position statement endorsing these 2-foot-wide metal enclosures to confine breeding sows. Thankfully, voters rejected the AVMA’s antiquated position, and gestation crates are now illegal in Florida.

After the Florida vote, Farm Sanctuary pressured the AVMA to rethink their policies on several issues and we conducted a survey of veterinarians across the U.S., which found that more than 80% considered gestation crates and other cruel farming practices to be objectionable. In response, AVMA started refining some of their positions, including the adoption of a policy against the tail docking of dairy cows. Still, despite these positive reforms, the AVMA maintains close ties to the factory farming industry, and it continues to defend practices that most citizens and veterinarians consider to be outside the bounds of acceptable conduct.

The AVMA’s decision to update the veterinary oath is a positive step, and it is a reflection of a more humane attitude that is emerging within the veterinary profession, especially as new veterinarians, many of them women take up the vocation. Explicitly recognizing the importance of protecting animal welfare and preventing animal suffering represents important progress. As veterinarians come to take this oath seriously, and as they begin applying it in the real world, the days of factory farming will be numbered.