Organic Livestock: Shortage of Organic Vets a Non-issue?

06 Jan, 2012

by Michael J. Crumb, AP, via The Huffington Post,

The lack of chemicals used in organic production has created a challenge for farmers in caring for their animals: Few veterinarians are trained to treat livestock without antibiotics or other modern drugs.

The shortage of veterinarians trained in organic practices has become more noticeable as the industry has boomed.

There were about 3,350 organic livestock farms in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which counted segments of the organic industry for the first time that year and plans another count this year. The U.S. had 14,540 organic farms of all kinds in 2007, up more than 20 percent from 2002.

While no one tracks the number of veterinarians who treat organic livestock, experts agree it’s a relatively small number nationwide. That’s partly because organic agriculture, despite its growth, still accounts for relatively few farms.

“Unless you live in certain parts of the country, it is very much a niche market,” said Gatz Riddell, a veterinarian and executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners based in Auburn, Ala. “Only a minority of members have the mindset to work with organic producers because the vast majority is conventional production.”

Riddell, whose group is comprised of veterinarians who specialize in treating cattle, said most vets probably encounter only one or two organic farms and “it’s asking a lot of them to know actually two different ways of treating something.”

It’s also difficult to get subjects added to “already overflowing” veterinary curriculums, Riddell said. Iowa State University and some other schools now offer courses on alternative therapies, but the focus tends to be more on herbal and Chinese therapies, not necessarily organics, said Jim McKean, a veterinary professor at Iowa State University.

Mike Chaddock, deputy director of the Association of American Veterinary Colleges, said it’s unlikely schools would offer a course just about organic treatments. Most veterinary schools in the U.S have a “one-health” curriculum in which students are taught “how their decisions affect the health of the animal, the health of human beings as recipients of food produced by the animal …. and impact nature and the environment.”

There’s also an issue of money. Few veterinarians focus on organic medicine because it’s seen as difficult area for earning a living, McKean said.

“Organic producers talk to each other about things they have had success with and they develop a community of users that may or may not include veterinarians,” he said.

Tony Azevedo, 60, who has about 800 dairy cows near Stevinson, Calif., said while it would be nice to have more veterinarians who practice organic medicine, there’s less demand for their services because animals raised organically tend to be healthier.

“You have to understand, once you put animals back in their natural state or pasturing, you’ve eliminated 98 percent of ailments conventional farmers have,” Azevedo said.

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