Today’s food production system is questioned relentlessly with issues ranging from “pink slime,” to “mad cow” and general animal welfare. Often, veterinarians can find themselves caught in the middle.

On the other hand, some veterinarians purposely put themselves in the middle to help defend their industry and communicate the facts. Bridging the divide between the urban and rural way of life is a common goal for these veterinarians whether it’s achieved through member organizations, government or social media—and the reward is a two-way discussion based on science.

Front and Center

Larry Bramlage, DVM, Rood and Riddle in Lexington, Ky., faces a barrage of questions each time he takes the microphone as part of the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) On Call program. The program provides accurate veterinary information to media during nationally televised horse races by simply being “on call” in case veterinary questions arise during the race.

Dr. Bramlage and the On Call program helped explain headline-making equine health concerns to the mainstream media, such as the tendon injury that sidelined Kentucky Derby winner “I’ll Have Another” this year.

“The disconnect between the population, what is now primarily an urban population, and animals leads to misunderstandings,” says Dr. Bramlage, who also co-owns 65 head of cattle with his wife. “People tend to put an animal’s feelings into human terms rather than take the perception of the animal in its context.”

For example, Dr. Bramlage says that new race viewers perceived races with two-year-old horses negatively. The younger, more inexperienced horses would often balk at the starting gate in their eagerness to run, but viewers perceived this differently.

“The older horses have it figured out that going into the starting gate is how you start a race,” Dr. Bramlage notes. “The young horses don’t know that yet, the last thing they want to do is go into the gate because they want to run and go right at it, not get organized for a fair start first. People in an urban environment intuitively can’t understand that and think they don’t want to go into the gate because they don’t want to run, when it is actually just the opposite.”

The confusion surrounding animal agriculture is not limited to sports, notes Joe Seng, DVM, Iowa State Senator and owner of the St. Francis Veterinary Hospital in Davenport, Iowa. Dr. Seng supported the controversial “Ag-Gag” or “Ag Protection” bill that would make it a crime in Iowa to obtain a job at an agricultural operation with the intent to commit an unauthorized act, such as videotaping. Under the bill, animal rights activists that go undercover on farms with the purpose of staging acts of animal abuse could face serious charges.