World War II had a big impact on animal medicine and food safety. New drugs developed for soldiers during the war such as penicillin and sulfa drugs were later used to treat livestock. The insecticide DDT was used during the war and later helped kill flies and other outdoor parasites that hurt farm animals. The purveyor of these new medicines for animals was the town doctor of veterinary medicine, and he or she was a key part of the agricultural economy.
During the war, the government thought Midwestern cattle operations might be targets for sabotage. They were worried that cattle might be contaminated by foreign infections, threatening the food supply. Government veterinarians were hired and local vets were told to be on the alert.
After the war, veterinarians began to use new drugs to treat diseases such as foot rot and shipping fever in cattle, as well as infections that killed baby chickens and turkeys. As new drugs came out of the research institutions, they were used against brucellosis, infectious anemia, worms, cholera, Newcastle disease, foot-and-mouth disease, and rabies.
In 1946, Mexican veterinarians told the US Bureau of Animal Industry that a herd of cattle from Brazil had foot-and-mouth disease. There was no vaccine for the deadly disease, so Mexican and U.S. veterinarians worked together to fight the outbreak. Scientists were able to develop a vaccine in This early experience led to today’s system of meat inspection.
Farmers, at that time, saw the benefit of hiring a vet. And as farmers increased their livestock herds to meet war and peacetime demands for food, they needed more veterinarians. Universities enrolled as many veterinary students as possible.
Charles Wempe (left) was one of these new veterinary students. Dr. Wempe says he choose the profession because of his and his family’s love of animals. “I think the first time I experienced seeing tears in my Dad’s eyes was at seeing six of our mares laying dead in the lot,” he says.
The first doctor of veterinary medicine was registered in Nebraska in about 1897. Dr. Wempe’s career has spanned 53 years, so he has seen half of the history of veterinary medicine himself. He has seen tremendous changes. “Just as much as human medicine because everything is tested with animals before using it on humans.” And often technologies developed for human health are then used in animal health, and vice versa.
But, as feedlot owner Winton Wright (right) has seen, more and more farmers and ranchers are doing their own “doctoring.” “We used to use the veterinarian a lot,” he says. “But we use the veterinary very little now. We do it ourselves.”
As a result of advancements in veterinary medicine, the farmer’s bottom line and the American diet improved.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. A partial bibliography of sources is here.