Advocacy in action

Harry Snelson Advocacy in review

As 2007 begins, it offers us a chance to reflect on the past year and look forward to the future. I take this opportunity to bring you up to speed with our major advocacy efforts and share some thoughts about the challenges facing our profession and the swine industry in general.

We addressed a number of legislative and regulatory issues in 2006. The Horse Slaughter Bill (H.R. 503, S. 1915) passed the US House of Representatives in September and has been forwarded to the Senate for consideration. This bill, effectively outlawing the slaughter of horses for human consumption, was introduced after a similar law prohibiting use of federal tax dollars to fund inspection of horse meat intended for human consumption failed to halt the slaughter of horses. This legislation is opposed by most veterinary associations, as it fails to address the future treatment of animals currently destined for slaughter.

A ballot initiative, Proposition 204, to ban sow gestation stalls and veal crates in Arizona, passed during the midterm election in November. Although opposed by most livestock producers and veterinary groups and the Secretary of Agriculture, the measure, supported by the animal activist groups Humane Society of the US and Farm Sanctuary, passed by a 61%-39% margin. This legislation makes it a criminal offense to confine a veal calf or pregnant pig in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down and fully extending its limbs or turning around freely. It is punishable by fines of up to $20,000 and 6 months in prison. The initiative will take effect December 31, 2012. A similar measure was approved in Florida in 2002.

On the positive side, both the US House and the Senate passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which broadens the definition of an animal enterprise to include agriculture, research, food production, zoos, aquariums, and rodeos. The law expands the judiciary’s authority to prosecute cases of terrorist acts directed towards individuals and companies involved in or doing business with animal enterprises.

From the veterinary perspective, two legislative efforts were on the forefront in 2006. The first, the National Veterinary Medical Services Act (P.L. 108-161), allows for establishment of a federal veterinary loan repayment program for veterinary students willing to practice in shortage situations, eg, rural and inner-city areas, government service such as food safety and public health, and federal disaster responses. Although signed into law in 2003, the bill had previously not been funded. In 2006, it received a $500,000 appropriation from Congress, allowing the USDA to begin writing the program’s regulations. More funding is necessary to initiate a functional pilot program. The AVMA estimates that it will require approximately $60 million over 3 years.

Second, the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act (H.R. 2206, S. 914) proposes a competitive grants program to increase the number of veterinarians addressing public health needs. These grants will expand capacity and services at existing schools, including teaching laboratories, research facilities, classrooms, and administrative space. It is estimated that, by 2025, there will be a total shortage of approximately 15,000 veterinarians in the United States. As of November, the bill had been referred for review to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

On the regulatory front, in response to a legal petition submitted by a number of animal rights organizations, the USDA has determined that the legislation governing the transportation of animals, commonly referred to as the “Twenty-Eight Hour Law,” applies to livestock transported by truck. The law, initially enacted in 1873 and applying exclusively to transportation of animals by rail, was amended in 1994 to include transportation by express or common carriers involving confinement in a “vehicle or vessel.” The USDA had previously not interpreted the regulation to apply to transport by truck. The law requires that animals being transported interstate must be unloaded for feeding, water, and rest after 28 consecutive hours. Although not likely to have much effect on swine shipments within the United States, it could impact shipments transiting the United States between Canada and Mexico.

A look to the future is in order. I anticipate that animal welfare issues will continue to enter the legislative arena at national and state levels as we move toward elections. Animal activist groups, emboldened by their recent ballot initiative successes in Florida and Arizona, are likely to use similar tactics to further their agenda. We also have to look forward to the upcoming debate over the next Farm Bill, which will likely be a key topic in 2007, with significant implications for agriculture. In addition, USDA will continue to debate the future of a national animal identification system.

The AASV will also actively promote enhancements to the current diagnostic and surveillance systems. The Department of Homeland Security is proposing a replacement facility for the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) called the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility. We must insert ourselves into this process to ensure that this facility will adequately meet our needs and that the PIADC is supported in the interim. The AASV is aggressively involved in this process and in the search for a new PIADC director.

Finally, food safety issues will continue to be an area of focus, and there will be additional trade issues to address and further discussion on the implications of feral swine. It’s likely to be another busy year.

--Harry Snelson