By Maneka Gandhi
Once a week I get an application from people who want to join my hospital/shelter as a veterinary doctor. They come without experience and completely raw, unable to diagnose anything. After several months of training, one fine day, the vet will simply vanish — usually it's the day after he gets his salary. Or he will say his mother is sick and take leave for a few days, never to return. Investigations reveal he has been chosen for a government job.
What do they do in the government? Do they heal animals? Do they go into the villages and teach villagers how to look after their animals? No. The ones that are unlucky enough to be posted to mofussil district clinics, while away their time playing cards or sitting in the winter sun. Those that are posted to city desk jobs become clerks and go into becoming teachers in government veterinary colleges. They have to look after the stray animals on the road and those that are taken to kanji houses. Not one of them does that and the kanji houses are simply a place where confiscated cattle are sold to butchers at night. Those that go to government laboratories to look after the “animal houses” - the animals that are used for experimentation – hardly ever go to work since their only job is to supply the poor animal to the experimenter. No one asks them how many die and whether they die of experimentation or starvation. The most prized posting that all government vets want is to slaughterhouses. Under the law every slaughterhouse has to have one vet for 96 animals. In reality, the slaughterhouses including the government ones in the capital, kill thousands of animals illegally. No vet can check the health of hundreds of animals with a cursory look. They have worms, broken limbs, tuberculosis, brucellosis, leukosis, sores, many are pregnant, most of them are underaged, and most of them are deeply wounded from being overloaded onto trucks and have gangrenous limbs. Many cannot walk and are dragged by the tails to the place of slaughter; breaking the rules that no sick animals can be killed. No vet checks any of this– most of them stay at home and receive a weekly packet from the butchers to stay away. In the history of slaughterhouses in India, not a single vet has rejected an animal for slaughter.
Another lucrative way is to certify private meat export companies without checking the meat. Many meat companies have been raided. What has been found is hundreds of pre-signed forms for years ahead in which the government vet has written that he has checked the meat and it is the meat of a buffalo, healthy, fresh and conforming to the rules. The meat has been found to be of cows and bulls. The vet gets paid per form without even being in the same city. A meat export company in Kanpur has its head office in Delhi – a small locked room that is the official “registered office”. Why do they keep it? They keep it so that the Delhi vet can sign for the Kanpur consignments.
The Supreme Court ordered an inspection of all slaughterhouses. By law, abattoir vets have to be on site to check that animals arriving and being unloaded are in a fit state to be slaughtered. They are also required check how animals are handled before slaughter. The other part of their job is leading a team of meat inspectors who monitor cleanliness and the processing of carcasses to control risks to health and hygiene. The inspections showed no vets on the premises and every kind of barbaric, terrible form of killing was common. Their excuse is they are threatened with knives by dangerous and volatile slaughterers if they object to anything. After a few days vets become immune to being surrounded by death, noise, shit and concrete, blood and screams.
Does this only happen in India? No. Across the world, the nature of the vet has changed. Very few are interested in animal welfare or health. Most now see animals as a route to a lot of money. A growing number opt to work in factory farms, poultries, and piggeries. They work in dimly lit, smelly, overcrowded sheds to prop up the factory farming system. Their aim is to keep animals alive long enough to be slaughtered profitably or to ensure they keep churning out enough milk or eggs to be commercially viable.
Instead of contributing to the development of sustainable, healthy farming systems, they have become servants of the industrial farming machine. They are the technicians that are called in to patch things up and keep the system going. They cannot afford to upset their bosses by accusing them of institutional cruelty. So they support a system that is inherently bad for animal welfare. They support the mass production of broiler chickens, caged production of eggs, the large-scale permanent housing and artificial insemination of dairy cows and highly intensive pig production where mother pigs are kept in confinement where they can't turn around for weeks. Vets no longer see animals as their clients; they see the person who signs their salary check.
Where they are at their worst is the use of antibiotics. Seventy percent of the world’s antibiotics are fed to farm factory animals and it is vets who prescribe the medicines. Instead of demanding a different agricultural system where animals roam free and eat natural, they are complicit in the cramming of animals into a small space causing disease. Antibiotics are used prophylactically to tackle the disease and keep the animal alive and growing.
All over the world, and especially in India, vets support farming practices that inflict unnecessary suffering. The American Veterinary Association ignored the slaughter of lame cows for food, force feeding of geese for foie gras, starvation of hens to extend their laying cycle, or confining calves for veal, until the industries began to change on their own in response to public opinion. In fact, the AVMA has actively lobbied in favour of the mass use of antibiotics that allows farmers to cram livestock into small buildings, and vehemently opposed legislation to stop the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and bills that would outlaw all battery cages in poultries; one of the most cruel and inhumane practices in modern agriculture where hens are forced to live in a cage, smaller than a letter size sheet of paper, their entire life. Why? Because a cage free environment means less sickness and about “1500 vets would lose their jobs”.
The German government regularly fines vets for selling huge quantities of drugs and dispensing medications to animals which should never have been administered. Investigators with the public prosecutor's office say that veterinary clinics are essentially a mail-order operation for drugs, and that the pharmaceutical industry expresses its gratitude with giving the vets money and perks. In India the pharmaceutical industry does the same with our vets. When a veterinarian finds a sick chick among 20,000 other chicks, he treats the discovery as justification to preventively treat the entire flock with antibiotics. Flock or herd health monitoring is the code name for the generous administration of drugs. In many cases fake diagnoses are used to provide a justification for the use of antibiotics. Veterinarians are allowed to both prescribe and sell medications -- with no supervision whatsoever. After testing 182 flocks on commercial chicken farms, German authorities found that over 90 percent of the animals were being fed a constant diet of drugs, raising suspicions that the drugs were being used to fatten poultry rather than to fight disease. 900 tons of antibiotics were fed to animals in Germany in 2010; 116 tons more than in 2005 and three times more than the entire German population takes annually. India uses even more. The mass dosing of intensely-confined animals on factory farms with antibiotics by vets is linked with the growth of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as “superbugs.” This overuse of antibiotics also allows animal cruelty — cramming animals into dark, filthy, crowded spaces on factory farms — to continue.
We need vets to rediscover their original mission; animal welfare. Vets have the power to change the system for good. It’s hard to understand why medical professionals, who specialize in treating animals, actively contribute to their pain and terror. Vets in India command no respect. They need to earn it by stopping their immoral practices that are killing both animals and people.