Monday, June 18, 2018

Shortage of rural veterinarians has reached the point of posing risks to farmers, ranchers and the food supply

Large-animal veterinarians are critical for ranchers and farmers, but they've been in short supply in rural areas since 2003 because of low wages, long hours, and fewer new veterinarians wanting to live outside a major city. Last year the Department of Agriculture identified 187 mostly rural areas with a veterinarian shortage; the list almost exactly mirrors areas with a shortage of rural physicians, Esther Honig reports for Harvest Public Media.

Large-animal vets must inspect livestock before they can legally be sold for slaughter. The rule helps prevent the spread of illness among a herd or flock, or among the humans who eventually eat the meat. "And early detection is key to preventing devastating outbreaks, like the 2015 bird flu in the Midwest that led to the deaths of 50 million turkeys and chickens," Honig reports. Without large-animal vets, sick and infected animals would increasingly go untested, rendering the nation's food supply more vulnerable to disease outbreaks.

The shortage of vets isn't because of lack of initial interest: a recent survey by Mark Stetter, the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University, found that 30 percent of the students wanted to work in rural areas at the beginning of the program, but fewer than 10 percent actually took rural jobs after graduation.

Low pay is a big problem. Rural vets have the same school loans to pay back as their urban and suburban counterparts, but Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that rural vets make between $61,470 and $73,540 a year, half of what they could make in a city, Honig reports.

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