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Food animal veterinarian shortage in US could affect food quality

Food animal veterinarians are in short supply in the US, a trend that is expected to continue and could have an effect on food quality, according to a recent article.

The American Veterinary Medical Association says that just 17 percent of veterinarians work in food animal medicine. Some say this problem of too few veterinarians managing the health of too many livestock animals increases the risk of animal diseases spreading. Increasing the risk, the shortage in food animal veterinarians is projected to grow 4 to 5 percent annually through 2016. According to Neil Dryer, director of the veterinary diagnostic lab at the North Dakota State University, the food animal veterinarian shortage has the "potential to be critical, in some areas where producers could use veterinary support, and can't get it.”

Experts in the field attribute the shortage to number of factors. Veterinarian Charlotte Klose said the shortage can partially be explained by the downturn in rural populations generally. Ron Del Vecchio, head of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Minnesota-Crookston, also agrees that the shortage is due to fewer families living on farms.

Students who choose to become food animal vets do so "because they love rural America," Del Vecchio said. "It's where they want to live and raise their families. They love being around livestock. Having a love for the lifestyle is probably the main attraction."

The shortage in food animal veterinarians can also be partially attributed to too many students entering the pet care field, according to Rene Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Charlie Stoltenow, extension veterinarian at North Dakota State University and board president of the North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, also says high education costs and high costs to start a practice add to the shortage.

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