AVMA to debate homeopathy, jerky, foreign accreditation

House of Delegates meets this week in Chicago

January 6, 2014 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

AVMASome veterinarians want the nation’s largest trade group for the profession to stop accrediting foreign schools.

Others aren’t willing to condemn homeopathy.

The two disparate subjects are among several proposals expected to spur debate during this weekend’s Veterinary Leadership Conference, hosted annually by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

The House of Delegates, the AVMA’s largest policy-making body, will gather Jan. 9-11 in Chicago to deliberate on foreign accreditation and the merits of homeopathy. Also on the table is a bid to alter the group’s mission statement to shift its focus toward members and a rare petition-generated resolution that asks the AVMA to discourage owners from feeding jerky treats to their pets in the absence of adequate safety data.

Given that the jerky resolution was submitted after the AVMA’s October deadline, two-thirds of the House must first vote on whether to discuss it. More than 100 veterinarians have signed on in support, reflecting their concern that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received more than 3,000 complaints of pet illness and some 580 deaths tied to the ingestion of jerky treats. 

Scientists have yet to identify a contaminant.

“Jerky pet treats are not necessary for adequate nutrition,” the proposed AVMA position statement reads. “Adulterants have been found in jerky pet treats, and to mitigate the risk that the pet may become sick and potentially die from ingesting them, the AVMA discourages the feeding of jerky pet treats until further information on their safety is available.”

Foreign accreditation

Another topic veterinarians are passionate about is foreign accreditation. The Council on Education — the AVMA’s 20-member accrediting body — has offered its own accreditation to schools overseas since the 1970s, starting with Utrecht University in the Netherlands. U.S. accreditation wasn't extended to another foreign school until the late 1990s, when the AVMA resolved to “raise the bar” of veterinary education internationally.

Since then, a variety of state associations and private practitioners have questioned the AVMA’s motives and role in the business

Now the New York State Veterinary Medical Society wants the AVMA to stop extending accreditation internationally, and they’re asking the House to approve a measure that would terminate the program by the end of this decade.

“The focus of the Council on Education (COE) should be to continually improve the quality of the graduates, programs and institutions of domestic and Canadian veterinary colleges,” the resolution states. “This is best accomplished by … ceasing to accredit foreign veterinary schools.”

The resolution points out that the AVMA was chided a year ago by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) for falling short of federal requirements, putting the status of its domestic accreditation program in question.

“It appears obvious that if the USDE has questioned our methods of accreditation for domestic schools, we ourselves must question our criteria for the even more difficult task of effectively accrediting the ever-growing number of foreign veterinary schools,” the resolution states.

Critics believe the AVMA’s efforts in international accreditation have done little to elevate veterinary education in other countries given that only top-notch schools qualify for it. Some maintain that international accreditation helps funnel federal student aid to overseas programs that cater to American students who will return to an already saturated U.S. veterinary market.

AVMA officials counter that they have no business trying to curb accreditation to steer U.S. workforce issues; doing otherwise might run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission. The resolution makes no mention of U.S. supply and demand, nor the veterinary workforce in America. Dr. Frederick Baum, an alternate delegate representing Vermont, speculates that the resolution’s traction in the House will hinge on whether AVMA members voice support for it.

It “depends on how many people have called their AVMA representative and said, ‘Wake up, this is important,’” Baum wrote in a discussion on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession.

Dr. Valeri Devaney, a practitioner in Sugar Land, Texas, followed with a question: “Why does the AVMA need to accredit other schools?”

She continued: “The AVMA should be worried about vets practicing in the USA first. If they want to improve standards the world over they can make their accreditation standards transparent and allow other schools to voluntarily attain them, or create their own models.”

Determined to hang on to its foreign accreditation duties, AVMA officials have prepared counter arguments to the resolution that include a chart, information sheet and 15-page response from its Executive Board that defends the COE’s role as an international accrediting body.

“The Executive Board acknowledges that accrediting foreign schools requires resources and effort by AVMA members and staff, but it is no more logistically challenging than domestic accreditation activities,” the board report begins. “What is more important is that the board believes that the benefits of accrediting foreign schools are well worth the investment of staff and volunteer resources.”

The response culminates with a letter from Dr. Andrew Maccabe, head of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. He doesn’t speak to foreign accreditation specifically but makes it clear that he supports the COE’s work as an accrediting agency.

“The purpose of accreditation is not to regulate or limit the number of veterinary graduates produced nor the educational model employed; it is to provide assurance that accredited colleges produce qualified entry-level veterinarians on graduation,” he wrote. “We believe that the current accreditation process largely accomplishes this and continued recognition of the COE best serves the interests of the veterinary medical colleges, the veterinary medical profession and the public.”


Veterinary interests also might be served if the AVMA stays out of an ongoing debate about the scientific and medical merits of homeopathy — at least that’s what the Executive Board believes.

In a Dec. 20 letter to the House of Delegates, the AVMA’s Executive Board said the role of professional organizations is to convene experts to review scientific literature and develop evidence-based guidance that serves as the basis for policies. The opinion was written in response to a resolution submitted a year ago by the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), which called on the AVMA to publicly discourage homeopathy and identify it as an "ineffective practice." 

During the resolution's consideration last January, the House voted to seek further guidance from the Executive Board with the request that they forward it to the AVMA Council on Veterinary Service and the AVMA Council on Research for consideration.

The council opinions are summarized in an article published last week in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. After a review of homeopathy literature, the Council on Research concluded that "there is no clinical evidence to support the use of homeopathic remedies for treatment or prevention of diseases in domestic animals."

The Council on Veterinary Service determined that the AVMA shouldn't "single out homeopathy or any other treatment modality in alternative or traditional medicine for additional scrutiny of effectiveness."

The Executive Board's letter, which doesn't reference either council opinion, questioned whether the AVMA is the "proper arbiter" of specific clinical practices. "... The Executive Board must ask itself whether going down the path of reviewing and judging particular clinical therapies, whether traditional or alternative/complementary, will be supportive of our mission or divisive in our community," the letter states.

“Where does it stop?" the letter continues. "Consider the wide range of current medical and surgical interventions that could be adjudicated by the AVMA, many of which have varying and conflicting levels of scientific evidence.”

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