The 114th United States Congress was sworn in on January 6, 2015. As we all know, the Republicans now control both houses of Congress while the Democrats lay claim to the Executive Branch. While it’s a situation unlikely to eliminate governmental gridlock, every new beginning is at least a chance for temporary optimism. It is always possible that both parties might set aside their desire to blame their failures on the other party and actually accomplish the job the people sent them there to do. Aww, who am I kidding? Following are some random thoughts about the new Congress and issues of importance to swine veterinarians and pork producers.
We now have three veterinarians in Congress: newly elected Ralph Abraham (R-LA) joins Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Ted Yoho (R-FL). In the 113th Congress, Representatives Schrader and Yoho formed the Veterinary Medicine Caucus, the first such group in the 224-year history of the US House of Representatives.
Caucuses are designed to educate other legislators and help generate awareness and support for specific initiatives. Caucuses can draft and advance legislation, provide congressional testimony, and conduct briefings, events, and hearings. Perhaps this is a group that practitioners can work with to raise awareness about issues of importance to veterinarians.
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA’s) Government Relations Division (GRD) is responsible for lobbying Congress on issues of importance to veterinary medicine. Although the GRD tried, but failed, to push through three major bills – the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, the Marketplace Fairness Act, and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act – the 113th Congress was not a complete disappointment. President Obama did sign into law
• The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, which formally legalizes the drug-dispensing actions of many mobile and rural veterinarians;
• The Farm Bill, a massive package that provides subsidies to farmers and funds an array of veterinary programs, including the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative; and
• The Animal Drug and Animal Generic Drug User Fee Reauthorization Act, which permits the US Food and Drug Administration to collect fees from drug makers and fund faster reviews of new and generic animal drugs.
So what are some issues of importance to swine veterinarians and pork producers facing the newly seated Congress? We were successful getting funding authorized in the Farm Bill to support enhancements to the NAHLN. One thing the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus outbreak has shown us is the importance of an effective, efficient laboratory network that has access to necessary diagnostics and the trained personnel to conduct the testing.
In addition, we have seen the importance of rapid electronic communication between member labs, the National Veterinary Services Laboratory, state and federal animalhealth officials and the NAHLN. Enhancing the NAHLN infrastructure hinges on convincing 1) Congress to appropriate the $15 million authorized in the Farm Bill and 2) the US Department of Agriculture to prioritize information technology and laboratory infrastructure.
Trade issues and immigration are also critical to pork producers and US agriculture. In the works are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would standardize work rules, environmental impact thresholds, and other regulatory differences among partner countries. The National Pork Producers Council is asking the Obama administration to urge TPP countries to remove tariffs on pork and sanitary-phytosanitary barriers to trade, as well as to accept US plant inspections as equivalent to the inspection systems in each TPP nation.
Antimicrobial use issues will also likely emerge again during this Congress. There will likely be calls to further restrict the approved uses of antimicrobials in food-producing animals, as well as efforts to access additional data on on-farm antimicrobial use. While a Republican Congress is perhaps less likely to pass additional restrictive legislation, the Food and Drug Administration is seeking to modify the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System to better understand the impact of activities occurring on the farm and subsequent movements of resistant bacteria through the processing facilities and into retail meats. The USDA is working with researchers to evaluate possible mechanisms for accessing more on-farm data on antibiotic use as well. Veterinarians and producers will actively monitor these issues and work to engage government agencies as necessary.
The AVMA-GRD will likely pursue the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act again. This proposed legislation would make the veterinary medicine loan repayments tax exempt. Currently, 39% of the total funds appropriated are immediately taken off the top to pay taxes on the disbursements. Gaining tax exempt status would allow additional award opportunities.
These are a few of the key legislative and regulatory issues AASV will be watching in 2015. Lobbyists from the barnyard are going to be busy trying to educate all the new congressional representatives and reminding the old guard about why these issues are important.
Harry Snelson, DVM Director of Communications
Advocacy in action