Visibly better: The role of the veterinarian in the public interest

A veterinarian does more than just cure sick animals. Veterinarians also play an important role in monitoring animal welfare, food safety and public health. These are tasks in the public interest; it is about safeguarding the securities, standards and values that society deems important.

Lost their autonomy

Over the past five to ten years veterinarians seem to have lost their autonomy vis-à-vis livestock holders, livestock organisations, dealers, transporters and slaughterhouses. Yet autonomy is crucial when undertaking tasks for the public interest.

Developments that have affected this autonomy include progressing commercialisation; general individualisation and consumer and animal owner assertiveness; economies of scale in agriculture that have made veterinarians increasingly dependent (financially) on fewer but larger customers; and increasing (international) competition in agriculture and between veterinarians.

Standards for the practice of veterinary science are set and observed

There is also discussion about how standards for the practice of veterinary science are set and observed. Clearly this involves interpreting the government's supervisory role.

Incidentally, these developments extend beyond veterinary medicine, and are witnessed across society. For instance, in the 2008 annual report the President of the Council of State wrote that public interests were losing out to the free market system. According to the President, entrepreneurs were losing focus on the public function of their business. At the same time, government supervision was being eroded.

Importance of the veterinarian in the public interest

Yet the importance of the veterinarian in the public interest is growing. For instance, 80% of all emerging diseases are diseases that can pass from animals to humans and vice versa. Veterinarians therefore have an increasingly large role to play in monitoring public health. Globally known as the One Health approach, physicians and veterinarians must join efforts in securing public health.

In conclusion, the Council noted that the social status of animals in Dutch society and, therefore, the importance of animal welfare have changed over the past five years. This is reflected in election programmes, the establishment of a political party that focuses solely on animal welfare, and the Memorandum on Animal Welfare published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. In line with these developments, the veterinarian is becoming increasingly important as guardian of animal welfare.

It is also the reason why the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality decided to request the opinion of the Council for Animal Affairs on the position of the veterinarian and his role in the public interest.