Advocacy in action

Harry Snelson AASV goes to Washington

On June 18 and 19, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Government Relations Division (AVMA’s GRD) hosted the AASV leadership in Washington, DC, to discuss legislative and regulatory issues of common interest. Daryl Olsen, Kerry Keffaber, Butch Baker, Tom Burkgren, and I joined with the leadership from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) for 2 days of meetings with congressional and government-agency leaders representing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), USDA-Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS), and FDA. In addition, the groups also met with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

Within our group, there was a variety of previous experience working with congressional representatives and the leadership of the various government agencies, as well as with the AVMA and NPPC. It was an educational experience looking into the issues facing our profession and the industry we serve. I’d like to take this opportunity to give you an overview of those meetings.

Both the AVMA-GRD and NPPC outlined the legislative issues which they are facing. The AVMA is addressing a number of proposed legislative challenges affecting the veterinary profession in general and food-animal practice specifically. Some of the key issues are as follows:

National Veterinary Medical Services Act. This legislation was passed in 2003 with the goal of providing loan repayment to veterinary graduates agreeing to practice in under-served areas. The intent of the law was, in part, to encourage young graduates to consider predominantly rural food-animal practice to address a recognized shortage of veterinarians serving those areas. To date, congress has appropriated $1 million to USDA to write the rules by which the program will be managed. Unfortunately, USDA has been slow to begin this process and the program has not yet provided any return to its intended recipients.

Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act. This proposed legislation (HR 1232 and S 746) would provide federal grants to support the expansion of the infrastructure at colleges that provide veterinary training with an emphasis on public health. The original intent of the bill was to encourage expansion of existing infrastructure at US veterinary colleges to support the training of additional food-supply veterinarians. While AVMA and AAVMC support this bill, the AASV and AABP representatives expressed some concern with the broader language of the bill, which targets public health and fails to specify “food-supply veterinarians” per se.

Preservation of Antibiotics Acts. Two bills (HR 962 and S 549) have been introduced that would potentially ban the use of antibiotics in livestock feeds for disease prevention, based on concerns of developing antimicrobial resistance in humans.

Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act. This bill (HR 5557) would restrict federal purchases of products derived from food animals to only those from animals raised using specific welfare guidelines, including a provision requiring that animals be provided with adequate shelter “which allows sufficient space…to stand, lie down, get up, walk, move his or her head freely, rest, and turn around completely and fully extend all limbs or wings without touching any part of an enclosure…”. This would prohibit the purchase of products from farmers using gestation stalls or poultry cages.

In addition, there are a number of other issues regarding the Food Animal Resistance Avoidance Databank (FARAD), the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), and small business regulations that also affect veterinary resources and the way we do business.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, the NPPC is addressing a number of issues that impact producers, including the following:

1. 2007 Farm Bill

2. Downer Animal legislation designed to ban the slaughter for human consumption of animals arriving recumbent and unable to rise at the processing facility. Experience shows that hogs fatigue easily during transport and, if given time to recover, are perfectly acceptable for human consumption. In addition, it is currently the responsibility of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to inspect every animal arriving at the facility to determine its suitability for human consumption, making such legislation unnecessary.

3. Mandatory country of origin labeling, passed in the 2002 Farm Bill, would require specific labels on products derived from food animals as to their country of origin. The NPPC’s position is that the requirement will be costly to producers and packers.

4. Animal ID. Pork producers have called for a mandatory animal ID system for all relevant livestock species and are moving forward to adopt a swine-specific program to ensure the ability to effectively identify swine premises and track animal movements if necessary in the event of an animal-health emergency.

The AASV leadership had an opportunity to visit with legislators and their staffers on Capitol Hill to discuss these issues in support of AVMA and NPPC.

We also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the EPA to discuss issues involving the Clean Air Act and Superfund legislation. The EPA expressed its desire to work with food-animal producers to evaluate and solve environmental concerns. They used the Air Quality Compliance Agreement as an example. They touted the agreement as a model for scientifically evaluating a possible environmental concern and as a way to work with producers rather than regulate them. The AASV leadership expressed concerns regarding why producers had to pay a “penalty” to receive assurances from the agency protecting them against violations of the Clean Air Act, in order to participate in the environmental research and assessment.

The EPA also expressed support of the legislative efforts to exempt livestock manure from the Superfund Act. Some environmental groups have been suggesting that manure should be defined as a “hazardous waste” and thus regulated under the Superfund Act.

The group then visited with Dr Ron DeHaven, APHIS administrator, to discuss the status of the National Animal ID System and our concerns regarding the agency’s interpretation of the “30-Day Rule” governing the issuance of Certificates of Veterinary Inspection (CVI). The AASV encouraged APHIS to adopt an interpretation that recognizes the value of routine whole-herd visits versus a requirement to inspect specific animals destined for interstate shipment. The challenge is that as currently interpreted, a veterinarian operating within the context of a Herd Health Plan and visiting the farm every 30 days would have to re-visit the farm to personally inspect animals born since the last visit before issuing a CVI for pigs moving out of a production system. This also constitutes a problem for the movement of day-old chicks and dairy calves.

On the second day, the AASV group was invited to visit the USDA-ARS’s headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland. We spent the morning discussing ongoing research projects with the ARS researchers and leadership. The ARS conducts basic long-term research projects that are fundamental, but not likely to be conducted by private industry due to the lack of direct economic return, long-term commitment necessary, or specific disease restrictions (foreign animal diseases, for instance). The ARS leadership is interested in improving stakeholder involvement in its research focus and long-term direction.

Finally, our group traveled to FDA headquarters to meet with Dr Stephen Sundlof, Director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, to discuss concerns regarding FARAD, NARMS, CDC’s “Get Smart on the Farm” program, and the antibiotic approval process. Dr Sundlof informed the group that FDA would be providing funding necessary to support FARAD for this year. He also expressed concern about the recent challenges encountered with new antimicrobial approvals and understands the importance of antimicrobial availability and variety. We discussed the need for equitable funding of all agencies associated with the NARMS program and the importance of a unified reporting structure. Lastly, we expressed concern with the CDC’s program entitled “Get Smart on the Farm,” which targets antimicrobial usage in livestock by veterinarians and producers. It is the opinion of the group that this program does not belong within CDC and that the money would be better spent supporting industry-derived antimicrobial use programs such as PQA and “Take Care – Use Antibiotics Responsibly.”

So, in conclusion, it was a busy couple of days, but I think time well spent. It is important that our leadership is active in the issues affecting our profession and the animals and clients we serve. I want to thank our officers for taking the time out of their busy schedules to make the trip. Nothing is more powerful than sitting across the table from our professional counterparts, legislative representatives, and regulatory agencies to discuss common concerns. I hope this will become an annual event.

--Harry Snelson