CVMA mum as AVMA moves in on Prop 2

Association sits quietly as AVMA adopts a contradictory stance on ballot state initiative

August 27, 2008 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Schaumburg, Ill. — It’s been 24 hours since the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) publicized what appears a carefully crafted statement in opposition to Proposition 2, and the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has yet to respond to it.

Phone calls to CVMA leaders including President Dr. Bill Grant were not returned by press time. Whether or not the group is formulating a plan to counter AVMA’s statement that Proposition 2 “ignores critical aspects of animal welfare” is unknown. CVMA has taken heat in recent months for its support of the activist-led initiative, which involves a statewide phase out of battery cages among other agricultural housing systems by 2015.

CVMA's stance has divided practitioners and prompted a faction of the group's members, mostly food-animal veterinarians, to form a spin-off group called the Association of California Veterinarians (ACV). CVMA’s reason for supporting Proposition 2, slated for the state’s Nov. 4 ballot, is simple, officials say. Formally titled The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, the initiative seeks to amend the state’s Health and Safety Code to ban sow gestation stalls, veal crates and battery cages. Housing animals in quarters so cramped that they can’t turn around or extend their limbs violates the CVMA’s welfare principles. What’s more, it’s inhumane, leaders say.

Yet the initiative incites backlash from agriculture groups fearing such a ban will have “dangerous consequences” and be cost prohibitive for producers in a state that ranks a top egg producer nationally. While ACV pushed AVMA to weigh in, the national group’s involvement in a state’s political affairs without an invitation from the state association is unprecedented, insiders say, and directly challenges CVMA, it’s largest constituent organization.

In its press release issued yesterday, AVMA identifies itself as “the largest and most respected veterinary association in the United States” before carefully tearing into Proposition 2’s merits. While the group never uses the word “oppose,” it cites “concern,” related to the initiative’s passage. Proposition 2 “may hurt” animals because “it ignores critical aspects of animal welfare that ultimately would threaten the well-being of the very animals it strives to protect,” the organization states.

In plain language, AVMA’s position stands that agricultural science has not shown one housing method to be better than other systems, each carrying positive and negative baggage. Battery cages, for example, might be confining, but free-roam housing puts birds at greater risk for disease and parasites as well as bird-on-bird aggression, leaders contend.

CVMA officials, in previous interviews with the Veterinary Information Network, say that they want to lead the way on welfare and remain relevant by promoting science-based standards that are in line with the group’s responsibility to promote animal welfare. If Proposition 2 passes, it will follow similar successful referendums in Florida and Arizona as well as legislative bans in Oregon and Colorado. Even Smithfield Corporation, nation's largest swine producer, agreed last year to phase out swine gestation stalls within the next decade. 

Speaking out on AVMA’s behalf is Executive Board Chairman Dr. David McCrystle, a California resident. He calls animal welfare “a complex issue” that needs to be “based on science, tempered with compassion” and taking into account all aspects of animal welfare.

“Changing housing standards without consideration of how this may affect other aspects of animal welfare, such as protection from disease and injury, will not be in the animals’ or society’s best interest,” he says.

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