I recently received a registration packet for the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. This seemed a good reminder to pull together some of the information and observations concerning organized alternative veterinary medicine I have posted in the past.
I have written frequently about the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) and the spinoff group the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF). These organizations are the tip of the spear, so to speak, of the effort to promote alternative therapies in veterinary medicine. They mimic the organizational structure and functions of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and many other veterinary professional organizations, and they appear on the surface no different. In fact, the AHVMA recently became large enough to qualify for a seat in the governing House of Delegates of the AVMA as an affiliate organization.
These groups are very successful financially (AHVMA and AHVMF financial statements), with combined revenue in 2012 of over a million dollars. These resources give them influence, as illustrated by their donations to veterinary medical colleges intended to create or support the integration of alternative therapies into the curriculum. In 2012, the AHMVF announced a grant of $10,000 to the University of Tennessee to support an integrative medicine program, and another $40,000 grant to support an integrative medicine fellowship (though the tax filing only lists the $40,000 amount). The same year, the AHVMF announced a $200,000 grant to the University of Louisiana, for the formation of an integrative medicine program and the hiring of a faculty member trained in Chinese Veterinary Medicine (though again, the tax filing reported different numbers, with only $110,000 given to the university). They also reported over $13,000 in scholarships for students to support studying alternative veterinary medicine.
All of this is a good thing, if you believe that alternative/holistic/integrative medicine is a collection of safe and effective approaches to healing pets. If, however, you are committed to science as the best way to understand nature and to develop safe and effective medicine, well the success of these organizations should be troubling. The activities of these groups and the statements of their leaders have consistently demonstrated a superficial respect for scientific methods masking a deep philosophical rejection of the basic principles of science and evidence-based medicine. Yet their activities, and the influence of their financial resources, create the appearance of legitimacy for many therapies that are at least dubious and unproven, and often complete quackery.
Both organizations share a clear mission of advocacy and promotion of alternative therapies. While the AHVMF often claims to be interested in research into alternative approaches, it is clear that approach here is to use science the way a drunk uses a lamppost–for support, not illumination. The goal is to generate the appearance of positive scientific research findings and validation, but there is no serious willingness to follow where the evidence leads or reject practices when the scientific evidence against them is overwhelming. This is made starkly clear by the aggressive lobbying of the AHVMA against the resolution considered last year by the AVMA to declare homeopathy an ineffective therapy. Despite the clear scientific consensus that after 150 years of study homeopathy has been proven to be nothing more than a placebo, the AHVMA stood behind a clearly misleading collection of pseudoscience put forward by the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH), and proudly trumpeted the defeat of the resolution as a victory.
I have reviewed the proceedings available for a couple of AHVMA meetings in the past, 2009 and 2012. While there were sessions on some promising but as yet unproven methods (for example herbal remedies and dietary supplements and cold laser therapy), there were many on the Big Three of alternative medicine (acupuncture, chiropractic, and homeopathy), and plenty on other varieties of nonsense, from Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine to shamanism, to Earth Acupuncture, and so on. The tone of the majority of speakers clearly showed a deep philosophical rejection of science in favor of vitalism and the tyranny of the anecdote and personal experience. The offerings at the 2014 conference appear to be much the same, with a few new ”hot topics” (leech therapy, bee venom therapy, and medical uses of marijuana, for example).
I have also previously written about the funding for these meetings, which provides a major source of income for the AHVMA. They draw sponsorship from a wide range of commercial organizations, mostly those providing products and services used by alternative veterinary practitioners. These include manufacturers and distributers of herbal products, dietary supplements, laser equipment, unconventional foods such as raw diets, and companies which teach alternative therapies, such as the Chi Institute (the full list for 2104 is available here).
The point in mentioning this is not to suggest that these groups should do without such funding sources. The reality is that no veterinary education or outreach activity can occur without some source of funding, and that inevitably means working with related industries. However, the potential influence of this money on the practices employed by veterinarians and on the generation and interpretation of scientific evidence concerning these is a legitimate concern. Proponents of alternative medicine are quick to remind us of this when criticizing the use of pharmaceuticals and the potential influence of Big Pharma on conventional doctors, but they seem reluctant to acknowledge that their own activities are no freer from the influence of commercial funding.
Because the AHVMA and AHVMF are influential organizations and, in my opinion, are primarily promoting pseudoscience and anti-science in veterinary medicine, I try to keep track of their activities. So I have added this post to my list of topic-based summaries and will try to keep an up-to-date collection of relevant posts here.
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