Interview with Dr. Don Hoenig


Dr. Don Hoenig has enjoyed a long and varied professional career in private practice, teaching and regulatory medicine including the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services (APHIS, VS) for five years and 26 years with the Maine Department of Agriculture mostly as the State Veterinarian.  From 2014-2020 he was senior veterinarian advisor to the American Humane Farm Welfare Program.  He has traveled widely for his affiliates in the U.S. and also for the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) on assignments in Africa.  His experience extends from aquaculture through dairy, bees and poultry.


Recently EGG-NEWS had the opportunity to review his past career and future activities.


EGG-NEWS:  Please share some information on your education and early career.


Dr. Don Hoenig


Dr. Hoenig:  I was born and raised in New Jersey and vacationed in Maine. I fell in love with the State of Maine and upon high school graduation, I enrolled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.  After college graduation in 1973 I spent a year training guide dogs and their owners at The Seeing Eye in Morriston NJ before entering the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine graduating in 1978.  After 2 years in mixed animal practice on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, I joined the USDA and spent five years in various locations in New England.  My direct experience with poultry was gained during the 1983-84 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Pennsylvania.  During this time I undertook special training in foreign animal diseases.  In 1986, an opportunity opened up as a Field Veterinarian for the Maine Department of Agriculture to service the poultry and dairy industries in the state.  Subsequently I was appointed as State Veterinarian and jointly as the Public Health Veterinarian.


EGG-NEWS:  Please comment on your involvement in regulatory veterinary medicine.


Dr. Hoenig:  During my tenure as the Maine State Veterinarian I participated in framing regulations and laws involving dairy, aquaculture and poultry, with particular emphasis on mastitis and milk quality assistance to Maine’s dairy farmers.  I also was among the first group of 10 U.S. veterinarians to provide assistance to the United Kingdom government during a catastrophic Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001. After retiring as State Veterinarian in 2012-13, I served on the staff of Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) as an AVMA Congressional Fellow and was involved in advising on legislation concerning food safety, the Farm Bill, animal welfare, antimicrobial resistance, and dairy policy.  During my affiliation with American Humane, I participated in reviewing and revising farm welfare standards and advising on their implementation for the benefit of the dairy, swine and poultry industries.  My involvement with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) involved interaction with colleagues in Paris and three missions to Africa—


EGG-NEWS:  We are aware that you have received numerous honors in your career.  Could you please expand?


Dr. Hoenig:  In 2003 I received the Maine Veterinary Medical Association’s Service Award.  In 2012 my involvement in public health including suppression of Salmonella Enteritidis on  egg-producing farms resulted in the Pump Handle Award for Epidemiology from the Maine CDC.  In the same year I received the USDA APHIS Administrator’s Award and in 2018 the United States Animal Health Association Medal of Distinction.


EGG-NEWS:  How do you see your post-retirement career progressing?


Dr. Hoenig:  I’ve enjoyed serving as a consultant on farm animal welfare when offered the chance and have also been involved in advising pharmaceutical and biologics companies on public health and wildlife rabies. I have been involved in litigation as an expert and hope to apply my training and experience to any future assignments.


EGG-NEWS:  Have you any messages for the industry?


Dr. Hoenig:  Producers must always prioritize animal welfare above all else. As veterinarians, I believe we must help to engage, energize and educate consumers with the reality that intensive, integrated animal production provides high quality, safe protein for millions in the world and that large can be compatible with high welfare outcomes if the animals come first.  I believe that the overwhelming majority of producers do the best things for their animals.  One of the Five Freedoms of animal welfare states that animals should be allowed the opportunity to express their normal behaviors. In pursuit of this goal, producers are moving toward cage-free housing of hens, the elimination of gestation crates for sows and enhanced outdoor access for organic certified and specialty animal products. These all represent positive outcomes for the poultry and livestock we raise, and they are the right things to do. Placing animals first and providing them with a good life is the only way to counter attacks from activist groups whose goal is the elimination of animal agriculture.