AVMA to consider resolution against ventilation shutdown

Revisions to campaign rules, compounding policy also on House of Delegates agenda

Published: July 23, 2021
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The AVMA House of Delegates convenes Thursday, the group's first in-person meeting since January 2020 in Chicago (pictured). Roughly 80% of all the delegates are expected to be there; others will attend remotely. Spectators may not attend in person due to the association's concerns about COVID-19.

Members of the American Veterinary Medical Association are petitioning the organization to renounce the use of ventilation shutdown, or VSD, along with heat, to mass-exterminate animals during times of crisis.

The petition, outlined in a resolution originally brought to the House of Delegates in January, asks the AVMA to reclassify VSD as "not recommended" in its Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals, which producers and veterinarians use to evaluate options for depopulating animals during emergencies.

Delegates declined during a meeting last winter to examine the resolution because it was submitted late. That move was a first for the House, which had previously considered late submissions. The anti-VSD resolution re-emerges during the House's regular annual session, held Thursday and Friday in Minneapolis as a forerunner to the AVMA Convention.

The resolution, one of many items on the House agenda, follows a culling in spring 2020 of healthy pigs in Iowa. Producers used VSD to alleviate overcrowding caused by slaughterhouse shutdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Animal-rights activists surreptitiously recorded audio as ventilation fans were turned off and hot air was pumped into swine housing facilities, causing thousands of deaths from hyperthermia.

In explaining their actions, producers pointed to acceptance of VSD by federal and state agriculture agencies and the AVMA to kill animals en masse during crises. The AVMA guidance states that using VSD to depopulate animals should be "a last resort" that "must only be considered when all other options have been thoughtfully considered and ruled out."

In brief

The VSD video, widely circulated online, spurred a polarizing debate among veterinarians about the use of VSD, as opposed to other depopulation methods, such as captive bolt or gunshot. While influential, the AVMA has no regulatory authority over producers. 

The website Veterinarians Against Ventilation Shutdown asks practitioners to petition the AVMA. An open letter from AVMA members warns that the association's stance on VSD might "severely damage the reputation of the profession as caring advocates for animals." 

For its part, the AVMA is calling for more research. Regarding the resolution, the AVMA Board of Directors and the House Advisory Committee recommend that delegates refer it to the Board of Directors for consideration by the AVMA Panel on Depopulation. The panel, comprised of more than 60 experts who reviewed some 250 comments to craft the group's depopulation guidelines, issued in April 2019, is already examining data from the Iowa facilities and others. Results of the research are expected to be published next year.

"I think for us to come out and say yay or nay on this topic now would be extremely inappropriate when we have a group of experts looking into this," said Dr. Lori Teller, chair of the AVMA Board of Directors and a candidate for president-elect.

In other business

Delegates are slated to discuss economic dynamics in the U.S. veterinary workforce and how best to communicate the value of AVMA membership to constituents. They'll also consider six resolutions in addition to VSD:

  • An updated policy on using random-source dogs and cats for research, testing and education is offered by the Animal Welfare Committee. The proposed new language emphasizes the importance of following federal, state and local regulations and protecting the welfare of dogs and cats used in research, testing and education, while ensuring the value of the activities.

  • A new policy on the use of prescription drugs in veterinary medicine, proposed by the Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents, recommends replacing three AVMA policies on prescription drugs with a single policy, and emphasizes that a veterinary-client-patient relationship is needed to make prescription drug-use decisions.

  • Revisions to the policy Notification to the Veterinarian of Violative Residues in Foods of Animal Origin clarify that veterinarians should consider drug residues when making decisions about the use of medications in their patients. In its proposal, the Food Safety Advisory Committee also suggests removing language indicating violators should be notified via a public forum. "First-time violators do not often become repeat violators, and the FSAC does not believe public scrutiny for every residue detected is in anyone's best interest," reads a statement about the resolution.

  • Revisions to the policy Veterinary Foresight and Expertise in Antimicrobial Discussions are proposed by the AVMA Board of Directors and reviewed by the Committee on Antimicrobials. The proposed changes are intended to better align with other AVMA policies on the topic and solidify that "Veterinarians are the professionals responsible for medical decision-making, antimicrobial sterwardship and conscientious oversight of antimicrobial use in animals."

  • A new policy on veterinary compounding is proposed by the Board of Directors and reflects suggestions from the Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents. Its adoption would supersede and combine language in several AVMA policies on the topic. Additional changes are intended to clarify lawful versus unlawful compounding; address concerns associated with products compounded from U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved versus unapproved bulk substances; and share veterinarians' obligations with respect to federal and state requirements and client communication.

  • A resolution to change AVMA policy on the rules for officer election campaigns comes from the House Advisory Committee. It is intended to give all candidates an equal chance to succeed when running for association offices. The revisions stem from a resolution delegates approved in summer 2019, which asked AVMA officials to appoint a working group to review election processes. In the past, those who've been elected to one influential body within the AVMA might hold events, using face time with colleagues to campaign for seats elsewhere in the organization. The working group rewrote the election rules to change elements involving eligibility, campaigns, travel expenses, funding, influence and endorsements, and violations. Also included are new guidelines on the use of social media, which call for an "adherence to professional ethical behavior."

Update: Delegates passed all of the resolutions except two. Resolution 8, the anti-VSD initiative, was returned to the Board of Directors for reconsideration by AVMA Panel on Depopulation. Resolution 10, the revised compounding policy, was deemed to be too restrictive and unrealistic. It was returned to the Board of Directors for clarification from the Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents.

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