Advocacy in action

Harry Snelson 2007 in review

As you read this, 2007 is drawing to a close. I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on the issues we faced this year and perhaps update you on their present status.

AASV goes to Washington

The AASV Executive Committee met with their counterparts from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) at the Washington, DC, headquarters of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA’s) Government Relations Division in June. The group discussed the legislative concerns facing the veterinary profession in general and the food-animal sector specifically. They also met with representatives of the Environmental Protection Act to discuss issues involving the Clean Air Act and Superfund legislation. The AASV group visited researchers at the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service facility in Beltsville, Maryland. The researchers presented information on the federally supported on-going research programs focusing on swine issues. The executive committee also met with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) to discuss issues of common concern, such as legislation addressing downer animals, antibiotic usage, 2007 Farm Bill issues, horse slaughter, welfare issues, and animal identification. The group then visited their congressional representatives on Capital Hill in support of AVMA and NPPC legislative efforts. We hope to make this an annual event.

30-day health rule

The USDA interpreted a portion of the regulation governing livestock inspections to require veterinarians to inspect individual animals born into a herd since the last 30-day health inspection before issuing a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI). This placed accredited veterinarians at risk of losing their accreditation. The AASV staff requested a more practical interpretation, but was denied. At the US Animal Health Association (USAHA) meeting in October, the AASV sponsored a resolution requesting a wording change in the Code of Federal Regulations that would allow accredited veterinarians participating in a recognized herd-health program to issue CVIs for animals born on the farm since the last 30-day inspection based on the previous inspection. The resolution passed the USAHA board and has been sent to USDA for comment.

Disease issues

Pig high fever disease in China. Chinese pork producers continued to experience elevated mortalities associated with a disease syndrome which spread across the country. Chinese researchers identified a porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus variant as the cause of the disease, although many people with firsthand knowledge of the situation believe other factors are also contributing. Most reports estimate that the disease has killed in excess of one million pigs and contributed to rising pork prices in China and the need for additional imports of pork products. Some of those imports came as a result of an agreement with Smithfield Foods.

Porcine circovirus associated disease (PCVAD) vaccines. Multiple vaccines reached the market in North America. Unfortunately, demand quickly outstripped supply and manufacturers scrambled to make more of the products available. Reports from the field indicate that all products appear to be efficacious.

Research grants. The National Pork Board’s (NPB’s) Swine Health Committee awarded over a million dollars in research grants to study diseases that include PRRS and PCVAD.

Clostridium difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus (MRSA). Human health issues associated with Clostridium difficile and MRSA arose as a result of the publication of research studies purporting to show a link between the presence of these agents in livestock and human populations. The role livestock plays in the incidence of human infections remains unclear, and additional research is underway to help quantify the relative risks.

Classical swine fever (CSF). The USDA implemented a CSF surveillance program to test tonsil samples submitted from 18 high-risk states in an effort to verify that the US swine herd is free of CSF and to monitor for its potential introduction. The AASV collaborated with USDA, Iowa State University, and the NPB to develop and distribute educational materials targeting veterinarians and veterinary students to raise awareness about CSF. One of these educational tools, a 3-D video presentation, has been viewed by over 600 veterinarians and students.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). The UK suffered its second outbreak of FMD since 2000. This latest outbreak was linked to contamination from a leaking waste-water drainage pipe located on the Pirbright site housing the government’s Institute of Animal Health and a vaccine production facility operated by Merial. The outbreak was first identified on a farm near the Pirbright site on August 3. The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responded quickly and successfully contained the outbreak to the local area. The outbreak resulted in eight confirmed cases, resulting in the euthanasia of 791 cattle, 32 sheep, two goats, and 753 pigs.

National Animal Identification System (NAIS)

Swine producers continue to work with USDA to implement a strategy to facilitate the rapid traceback of swine during a disease outbreak. The Swine Identification Implementation Taskforce, comprising producers, veterinarians, extension specialists, packers, and breed registries, continued to pressure the USDA to move forward with the adoption of the tools necessary to implement the Swine ID Plan, which would adapt the existing animal-identification requirements for swine, in place since 1989, in order to comply with the NAIS goal of a 48-hour traceback. Swine producers joined with USDA in calling for all producers to register their premises as a first step in implementing an animal identification system. At its fall board meeting, the AASV Board of Directors sided with producers by establishing a position statement favoring premises registration, urging veterinarians to register their premises and encouraging them to promote premises registration to their clients.

AASV student delegates

The AASV Board of Directors welcomed its first student delegates to the board. Aaron Lower and Lynda Gould, both from the University of Illinois, served as student delegate and alternate delegate, respectively. The delegates represent student issues on the board, as AASV student memberships continue to rise.

Animal welfare

Horse slaughter ban. A bill to ban the transportation of horses for the purpose of slaughter for human consumption passed the US House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate. All three remaining slaughter plants in Texas and Illinois were forced to close, however, as a result of state laws outlawing the slaughter of horses. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 unwanted horses were slaughtered annually in the US, with most of the meat exported for human consumption. No provisions were made for the care of these animals. Many are now being transported to Mexico for slaughter, and proponents of the ban are attempting to enact legislation to stop that practice as well.

Gestation stalls. Smithfield Foods announced that they will begin to phase out gestation stalls in their company-owned facilities over the next 10 years. Canadian producer Maple Leaf followed suit. Both companies state that the decision is based on “consumer interest” and acknowledge that the science indicates that no single system provides consistently better welfare. Producers in Arizona continue to consider their options for compliance with legislation enacted to ban gestation stalls by 2013.

National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF)

The Department of Homeland Security narrowed to five the list of potential sites for the new $450-million facility and announced that Plum Island was also still an option. The department will now begin environmental-impact assessments on all sites, with the goal of announcing the final selection in the fall of 2008. Projected completion date is 2013.

Farm Bill

As of the time I’m writing this in mid-November, the US House has passed its version of the Farm Bill. The Senate continues to battle over its version. Congress has recessed for the Thanksgiving holiday and will resume debate when it returns in December. Among some of the favorable amendments are funding for the Farm Animal Residue Avoidance Database and the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act. However, the Farm Bill also contains language addressing antimicrobial use in livestock, welfare issues, and leadership during animal emergencies that do not favor livestock production as we know it.

These are just a few of the issues we addressed in 2007. 2008 looks to be a busy year as well, with national elections and ongoing efforts to ban gestation stalls and curtail the use of antibiotics in livestock production. The issues of welfare and antimicrobial use will continue to take on ever-increasing significance on the world stage as international groups such as the World Organization for Animal Health begin to address international standards. We’ll do our best to keep you informed regarding issues that significantly impact the swine industry or that may affect your ability to practice your profession.

--Harry Snelson, DVM