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The Biggest Winners and Losers of 2014

Who came out on top? Who came out on bottom?

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Originally published in the January 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News

Dear colleagues, we are gathered here today to bid farewell to yet another banner year of paddling about in this fish pond we call the veterinary profession. And what a year it was! As you look around the room, you’ll see plenty of clients, friends, co-workers, classmates, competitors, mentors, instructors, researchers, drug reps, supply vendors, pharma execs, industry leaders and maybe even journalists who have influenced your professional lives over these past 12 months.

While the memory of most may bring a tear of remembrance to your eye or a broad smile of appreciation to your lips, some are more likely to elicit a sigh or a scowl as you recall their missteps—political, practical, scientific, economic, ethical or otherwise.

To be sure, every year has its host of winners and losers, most of whom we’d rather ignore, so intent on treading pond water as we are. But as I scan the room from atop the bully-est pulpit my 4-inch heels will afford, I find it difficult to withhold my own assessment of the landscape (no surprise there). To that end, here’s my take on the best and worst of 2014.

Best New Drug

Apoquel, of course! For its safety, efficacy and buzz, Apoquel has had no equal. In fact, in almost 20 years in practice I’ve never seen a drug bring brand-new clients in the door. (“I can’t get this drug anywhere!”) What’s not to like?

Worst New Drug

Well … Apoquel, of course. What kind of marketing genius looked at a drug like Apoquel and decided it would be a great idea to promote the hell out of it upfront only to ramp up production nice and slow?

To be fair, I’m no Zoetis insider, so I have no idea who messed up where, but I do know one thing: Anyone who doesn’t intuitively understand that an effective anti-itch drug for dogs is a no-brainer blockbuster should go back to peddling Viagra.

Biggest Corporate Winner

While I’m still on this subject: Have you seen Zoetis’s stock price lately? Let’s just say that, as of press time, I’m wishing I’d held even a fraction in Zoetis as the above-mentioned marketing genius received in his severance package. Seems some rich guy in the corner over there has been poring over pork prices long enough to look past Apoquel’s foibles.

Biggest Corporate Loser

No, I wasn’t about to diss Zoetis’ marketeers again. Instead, I’m struck by the tight circle of Blue Buffalo execs over by the back wall. After playing it all tough in the face of a Néstle- Purina lawsuit this past spring, these folks finally had to ’fess up to the presence of poultry byproducts and grains in their fancy bags of pet food.

It was either a rogue supplier or magic, right guys?

Based on their impressive display of PR skills in the face of adversity, I’m guessing Blue Buffalo’s next round of advertising will extol the alchemical properties of their raw materials: Look beyond the label, ladies and gentlemen. We may not know what’s in it, but we know for sure it turns to pure gold once your pets eat it!

Biggest Industry Loser

Hot on the heels of this corporate faux pas comes an October study out of Chapman University raising potentially industry-crippling concerns about the fundamental reliability and ethics of the pet food industry.

In it, researchers found that out of 52 pet foods sampled, only 21 correctly labeled the origin of its meats. Sixteen contained meats not listed and seven contained unrecognizable mystery meats. So much for transparency and quality control in the pet food industry.

Not even the first of its kind—reference the May 2013 edition of the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition—this study raises all sorts of red flags. I mean, who watches over this industry?

Not surprisingly, the pet food industry’s response was at once defensive and dismissively chipper. To wit, Pet Food Institute spokesman Kurt Gallagher, quoted in the November issue of Veterinary Practice News, proudly pointed to the fact that the majority of tested products were labeled correctly. I imagine it was this wild “success” that led to his proud claim that “pet food is one of the most highly regulated food products [in the United States].”

Unfortunately, few veterinarians—and apparently even fewer pet food consumers—learned of this monumental breach of consumer trust. Which, to be fair, wouldn’t have happened had veterinary journalism not played runner-up to the pet food industry in this category.

Biggest Industry Winner

As with other sectors within the U.S. economy’s private education industry, Veterinary College Inc. appears to be doing brisk business these days. Make no mistake, creating veterinary institutions of higher learning is a highly profitable endeavor that’s still gaining steam. This in spite of overwhelming economic evidence to support the contention that as higher ed wins, new graduates lose (along with the rest of us).

Biggest Media Winner

See that supercute old bald dude struggling to heft an oversized bottle of Dom? No, that’s not Jay-Z’s accountant, that’s Dr. Pol! His show’s been picked up by yet another network. You go, veterinary medicine!

Biggest Media Loser

Veterinarians. Yeah, people think we all practice like Dr. Pol does. What’s worse, maybe they think we all look like him, too.

OK, OK, I know it’s all snark and flames until someone loses a libel suit. But if this year is anything like the ones since past, our profession will show it’s more than capable of shouldering tragedy and adversity, redirecting misguided industry interests, even of managing its biggest bullies and blowhards. This is, after all, the world’s greatest profession.

So let’s raise a glass to us all! (And never mind the buttheads in the back row.) Happy New Year!

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