"Since 1990, the number of veterinarians focusing on large animals has dropped to fewer than 4,500 from nearly 6,000, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, which said those doctors now made up less than 10 percent of private-practice veterinarians," Belluck writes. "A recent study predicted that by 2016, 4 out of every 100 food-animal veterinary jobs would go unfilled." (Photo for the Times by Linda Coas O'Kresik)
“We look at it as a crisis,” Dr. Roger Mahr, the association’s president told Belluck. He "cited serious consequences not only for the well-being of farmers and animals, but also potentially for food safety and the impact of non-native diseases like bird flu. “Of all the emerging diseases in people in the last 25 years, 75 percent of those were transmitted from animals,” Mahr said. “Veterinarians are the ones to identify those diseases in animals first.”
Maine, for example, has only 30 large-animal veterinarians, "and across the country, veterinarians who care for the animals that provide the United States with food are in increasingly short supply. For one, there is generally more money to be made caring for cats and dogs. And with fewer students from farm backgrounds, fewer gravitate to rural jobs, especially if a spouse needs work, too. Large-animal care can be tough, even dangerous — think of maneuvering in frigid weather around 1,000-pound cows in manure-filled pens. And more veterinarians are women, generally less inclined toward large animals."
A 2004 federal law that "offered to repay" student loans to veterinarians who work in underserved areas, has received little financing, Belluck writes. Loan repayment or grant programs have under way or have been proposed in Kansas, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Texas, and elsewhere, she reported. "In Iowa, students at the state’s veterinary school formed Vsmart, which barnstorms county fairs and 4-H meetings to entice teenagers to become rural veterinarians." In Oklahoma, a legislator-rancher has introduced a bill offering tax breaks to large-animal veterinarians.