Dr. Nancy Atkins’ devotion to animals is deep-rooted and widespread. She says she knew she wanted to be a veterinarian before she even knew what a veterinarian was, and now she oversees the welfare of poultry and livestock across ten states. Dr. Atkins is a District Veterinary Medical Specialist at the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which means she applies her compassion and 40 years of veterinary experience to make sure the animals intended for food in the western United States are handled humanely.
Dr. Atkins admits her job is tough, but she considers her position “the best job in the agency.” She is inspired by Dr. Temple Grandin, a fellow veterinarian and animal welfare advocate whose work continues to influence the way FSIS views animal handling. Dr. Atkins’ philosophy is, “Be vigilant and diligent. Animals are giving up their lives for us and they should be treated with the greatest respect and kindness under these circumstances.”
And diligent she is. Dr. Atkins begins her days with a workout at 4:30 a.m., and at least 75 percent of her time is spent traveling. After working as a veterinary medical officer in Idaho and Pennsylvania, she now holds a supervisory position and is highly regarded by those who depend on and learn from her. She and her colleagues observe plant employees in their district to make sure they are handling animals with minimal excitement and without pain or injury. “We are legally, morally and ethically obliged to handle animals as humanely as possible,” she said of her important job.
After a 40-year career in veterinary medicine, however, Dr. Atkins says she is looking forward to retiring in Louisiana. She was one of the first graduates of Mississippi State University’s veterinary school, and she has seen plants around the country make great strides in properly handling livestock. To those following in her footsteps, she passes along the simple advice, “to handle animals with care.”
Faces of Food Safety is an initiative by FSIS to introduce Americans to the real people who work every day to keep the food in their own homes and yours safe. Read more about Dr. Atkins and other Faces of Food Safety on FSIS’ website.