Denmark – 225 Years of the Kopenhagen Veterinary School

In August 1998 the Veterinary School in Kopenhagen celebrated the 225th anniversary of its foundation.

At that occasion a 115 page book was published with 14 contributions, i.a. written by I. Katic (on the highlights in the history of the school; on the sculptures and paintings in its possession and a bibliography of earlier Festschrifte) and by A. Rosenbom (on the developments in veterinary practice).

The title of the book reads: Veterinærskolen 225 år; Rids af de seneste års udvikling [The Veterinary School 225 years; Sketches of the developments in the last 25 years]. Red. G. Lefmann. Frederiksberg: Kollegiet for Husdyrbrugs- og Veterinærvidenskab/Den Kgl. Veterinær- og Landbohøjskole, 1998. ISBN 87-7432-526-4.

In 1999 the Danish Veterinary Association celebrated its sesquicentennial jubilee. For that occasion a special exhibition was held at the Danish Agricultural Museum (Gammel Estrup, Djursland) about the work of Danish veterinarians throughout 150 years.

Dr. Bent Christensen reports:

The Veterinary school

In this exhibition special mention is made of Peter Christian Abildgaard (1740-1801), who founded Den Kongelige Veterinærskole (Royal School of Veterinary Medicine) in Christianshavn, Copenhagen, in 1773, and of Erik Viborg (1759-1822). After Viborg’s death in 1822, it was not long before the space available at the school in Christianshavn became too cramped. In 1858, Den Kongelige Veterinær- og Landbohojskole (Royal Danish Veterinary and Agricultural University – commonly referred to as KVL) could receive its first intake of veterinary trainees “far out in the country” in Frederiksberg, where it is still situated.

Military veterinarians

From very early times, the army has had a proud tradition of employing veterinarians. As far back as the first centuries AD, reports tell of “military veterinarians” in the Roman legions, and this was a tradition that persisted throughout the subsequent centuries. Around 1780, a new era began for the army’ s veterinary service as the army was slowly supplied with qualified veterinarians. The army’s veterinary corps was established in 1810 and has thus been in existence for almost 190 years. As horses were gradually phased out of the military, the military veterinarians were assigned to other tasks – primarily related to food control – although the officer in command is still called colonel of the veterinary corps.

The Danish Veterinary Association founded in 1849

Absolute monarchy in Denmark was abolished in 1848, and this signalled the start of the formation of countless associations. Veterinarians, too, discussed the options for organising themselves, and this led the colonel of the veterinary corps, David Gottschalksen Ringheim (1787-1875) to insert an advertisement in the newspaper Berlingske Tidende in January 1849, calling the veterinary profession to demonstrate its presence and to show its role in society. Ringheim acted fast. By 8 February 1849, a meeting had already been held in the Kongens Nytorv 5 restaurant where Den Danske Dyrlaegeforening (Danish Veterinary Association) was founded and agreement was reached on the guidelines for the association’s regulations. In March 1849, the association approached the authorities concerned with the Royal School of Veterinary Medicine to draw their attention to the wishes of veterinarians with respect to training and their professional role.

Evolution of the profession

Throughout its 225 years of existence, the veterinary profession has developed and changed. This applied also to the employment options for veterinarians. Denmark’s entry, in 1973, into what was then the EEC, resulted in comprehensive harmonisation of legislation and regulations that have also had an impact on veterinary areas. During the first ten years of Denmark’s membership of the EEC, employment for veterinarians in the cattle industry was stable, but at a later point the number of herds fell considerably. This can primarily be attributed to milk quotas imposed to limit the increasing levels of milk production.

In the pork industry, the veterinary service has moved from diagnosis and treatment of individual animals to providing diagnosis and advisory services at herd level.

In the area of small animals and hobby animals, veterinary activity and employment has increased over the years. The number of veterinary clinics and hospitals has also increased significantly.

For many years, veterinarians have played an important role in veterinary meat inspection at abattoirs. The objective is to safeguard consumers against any health risk associated with eating meat and meat products. The number of cattle slaughtered has fallen markedly while the number of pigs slaughtered has increased to approx. 20 million per year.

In the early 1970s, Denmark passed new food legislation that established the Miljo- og Levnedsmiddelkontrollen (Municipal Food Control Unit – MLK) within a municipal framework, and about 50 MLK units were set up employing many veterinarians. From 1993, the units were assigned new tasks involving industrial and consumer milk control, but at the same time the number of MLK units was reduced to 32. With the introduction of new food legislation, 11 regional units will remain.

Practising veterinarians use both state and private laboratories when diagnosing diseases. Under the terms of legislation concerning contagious diseases in domestic animals, the state laboratories – Statens Veterinaere Serumslaboratorium (National Veterinary Laboratory) and Statens Veterinaere Institut for Virusforskning (State Veterinary Institute for Virus Research) – are required to conduct the laboratory tests in connection with such diseases. Furthermore, the two laboratories are also engaged in a certain level of vaccine and serum production and important related research. The virus research institute on the island of Lindholm has a fine 70-year-long tradition for research in foot and mouth disease in cattle. Finally, agricultural organisations have established several nationwide laboratories, which also employ many veterinarians.

The exhibition at the Danish Agricultural Museum

In illustrating the long development right back from the time of the cattle plagues and Abildgaard, the exhibition presents a wide range of instruments and other articles, including horseshoes, used by veterinarians in their day-to-day work. These items stem from the Veterinaerhistorisk Museum (Historical Museum of Veterinary Science) at KVL, where extensive work is carried out to preserve these valuable objects for posterity. There is also a range of specimens from KVL’s pathology department, where they are used for teaching purposes. Other objects are on loan from the Slagterimuseet (Abattoir Museum) in Roskilde, the Garderhusarregiment (Royal Hussars) in Naestved, the abattoir in Bjerringbro and from Kruse, a firm for veterinary supplies servicing today’s veterinarians. The National Veterinary Laboratory shows how the campaign against salmonellosis is being conducted through collaboration between veterinarians and others involved in industry. Along the way, the exhibition looks at some of the many veterinarians who have worked abroad over the years.

This tour of veterinary history concludes with a look at a modern small-animal clinic, food control, abattoir meat inspection and at the latest, state-of-the-art equipment found in vehicles used in a veterinary practice of today – complete with cellular phone, fax and PC.