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For Animal Health, Could the Future be Female?

Jean Szkotnicki, President of the Canadian Animal Health Institute, is one of a handful of women who have been inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame for her services to the industry, but she is certain she won’t be the last.

She tells us why the changing face of animal health is female.

For the first year ever in 2017, three women, including yourself, were inducted into the Hall of Fame – what message does that communicate to the world?

One of the things I said in my acceptance speech was that I thought the board of directors of the Ag Hall of Fame had made an important statement. It recognized the energy, collaborative abilities and high skill set women bring to their work.

It might have been the first time three women have been inducted at once but it won’t be the last.

More women want to enter the agricultural field, even at a production level with some novel approaches to business operations and management. It’s a sign of the times.

I think what we’re recognizing is the changing role of women in society.

You have been working in the industry since 1981, what was the gender gap like then?

When I joined the beef industry there were very few women. I would walk into a meeting at the Ontario Cattleman’s Association and there would be 250 guys and me. The times when another woman was present would only be if she was serving the meal!

But I was completely accepted by my male colleagues. One of my mantras is ‘identify what needs to be done and do it’. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female in my opinion, and this was shared by the people I worked with.

The sciences have historically been male-dominated industries, are you seeing this change?

We are seeing a huge change. When I started at university, there were just five women in a class of 160. If I look at the vet college now for example, it is 80% women and 20% men.

It’s been a gradual change in society itself ever since the Second World War, when women actually worked in the factories in place of the men gone to battle. Now, with the cost of living, you need a double income and it’s put women more on an equal basis with men. Besides women have an interest in contributing to society with their skills.

The work you have led over the past 25 years has been instrumental at building a safe and secure food animal industry while advocating responsible antibiotic use. How have you managed this?

The Canadian Animal ealth Institute (CAHI) has been working with members to provide the Public Health Agency of Canada with the aggregate data for the antimicrobials that are distributed by our members annually. We supply that data by family of drugs, by companion and production animals, by province and by route of administration.

By doing that, it allows Canada to meet it’s WHO obligations and the recommendations of WHO. We’ve done it for more than 10 years now.

Our membership represents about 95% of the sales of animal health products in Canada, so we’re very representative of the industry and the Government recognizes our voice. This has given us power and credibility to ask the Canadian government to put greater controls around the importation of and use of unlicensed animal health products in Canada.

You are now working on greater controls for over-the-counter (or OTC) drugs. Why are you doing this?

We are now working to have all the medically important antimicrobials moved from over-the-counter status to prescription status. We believe trained practitioners making the diagnosis and prescribing decisions around medication use will lead to greater responsible use of antimicrobials. We also voluntarily agreed to remove the growth promotion claims from medically important antimicrobials.

One other thing that has been well received in Canada is a logo we have developed for responsible use, enabling companies to voluntarily signify that their products should be used responsibly. It has been seen so positively that even the human side of the Canadian health industry has inquired about using it too.

What message would you share with any women who may be reading about your career and want to follow in your footsteps?

Be strategic in how you approach things, but be strong in your networking and be confident.

It’s impossible to do things in isolation so you really need to work with other people and be a team player, and find how you can contribute and bring your skillset to the forefront.

Jean is a graduate from the University of Guelph in the animal science field a minor in food science. She completed a post-graduate qualification in meat science before joining the Ontario Cattleman’s Association. She has been at the Canadian Animal Health Institute since 1991.