Advocacy in action

AASV leadership visits DC

Members of the AASV’s Executive Committee visited Washington, DC, June 16 and 17 to discuss legislative and regulatory issues of importance to swine veterinarians and the pork industry. Kerry Keffaber, Butch Baker, and Paul Ruen joined Tom Burkgren and me for the 2-day visit. The group met with representatives from government agencies, and with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the AVMA’s Government Relations Division (GRD).

Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We met with Dr Larry Barrett, director of Plum Island, to discuss the research and operational activities at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, and with Dr Joanne Jones-Meehan, DHS Biosurety Officer, who has been actively involved with the planning for DHS’s proposed new $450 million National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF). The DHS has secured millions of dollars to enhance the infrastructure at the aging Plum Island facility, which will continue to be operational until at least 2014, when the NBAF is projected to be completed. Unfortunately, USDA’s budget for foreign animal disease research is a paltry $4 million. Currently, researchers are working only on foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and classical swine fever (CSF). Advancements have been made on an FMD vaccine and diagnostic tests for CSF. However, due to budget constraints and facility capacity issues, no research is currently being conducted into diseases such as African swine fever, Rift Valley fever, malignant catarrhal fever, and Nipah virus, that continue to threaten US livestock.

Six sites, including Plum Island, are currently being considered to house the NBAF. The AASV leadership expressed concern that selection of the site be based on sound scientific analysis following an extensive study including environmental, security, workforce, and disease transmission risk assessments. The group also expressed the importance of insuring that the mission of Plum Island, ie, to develop countermeasures addressing disease issues of importance to animal agriculture, not be diluted in the larger DHS mission as the development of the NBAF moves forward.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. We met with Dr John Clifford and his staff to discuss three issues.

1. Concerns regarding a newly enacted regulation that allows for importation of uncooked pork products processed in facilities located in CSF-positive regions of Mexico. The AASV, the National Pork Board, and the NPPC raised concerns about the potential risk of introducing CSF into the US swine herd as a result of this ruling. The USDA believes that the rule affords adequate safeguards to reduce this risk to “acceptably low levels.” During our meeting, we expressed concern that the safeguards rely on infrequent inspections of procedures that may not necessarily be designed to minimize the risk of viral contamination of carcasses with CSF. By virtue of their being uncooked, these products pose a potential risk of transmitting CSF to susceptible animals. We suggested that these products should be included in the USDA’s list of “high risk” activities associated with the possible introduction of CSF and should be entered into the CSF surveillance program for random sampling. Dr Clifford agreed to consider these suggestions and comments.

2. Veterinary liability associated with the interpretation of the “30-day health rule.” The rule was intended, in part, to allow accredited veterinarians to issue a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) based on monthly routine herd health visits. The USDA has agreed that a veterinarian’s accreditation is not at risk for issuing a CVI covering pigs born since the last 30-day herd health visit if the CVI accurately reflects the inspection activities conducted by the veterinarian. That is, if the veterinarian has not actually inspected the pigs referenced by the CVI, the CVI must state specifically what animals the veterinarian inspected (eg, the herd rather than the individual animals). The AASV expressed concern, however, that this interpretation may not abrogate the veterinarian’s legal liability for failing to inspect the individual animals before issuing the CVI, as outlined in the regulation. Dr Clifford agreed to have the USDA’s General Council review the regulation and render a legal interpretation.

3. Delays in depopulating pseudorabies- (PRV-) positive “transitional” swine herds in Michigan resulting from contact with infected feral swine. The first herd was not depopulated until more than a month after the disease was detected. Considering that exposure to feral swine is the most likely route by which PRV could re-infect the US commercial swine herd, the group expressed concern that a more effective plan was not in place to address the legal and indemnity issues blamed for the slow resolution of this potentially serious source of infection.

Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES). We met with the leadership of ARS and CSREES, the two principle research agencies for the USDA. The discussion centered on ongoing swine-related research projects and the need for increased funding to support future programs. These agencies conduct basic long-term research on issues associated with animal agriculture, eg, animal health and well-being, environmental challenges, production issues, genomics, foreign animal diseases, and food safety. Funding to support these projects has been flat at best over the last few years. In effect, research capacity has decreased dramatically due to underfunding and greatly increased operational costs. It has been estimated that ARS will lose more than 25 scientists and be forced to discontinue or relocate some research projects and facilities. Funding is unavailable to move staff and researchers into the newly completed National Center for Animal Health in Ames, Iowa, or to conduct needed basic research into the disease killing millions of pigs in Southeast Asia.

FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. We met with Dr Bernadette Dunham, center director, and her staff to discuss three issues.

1. Antimicrobial resistance and proposed controls on the use of antimicrobials in livestock production. We expressed the need to maintain access to a wide variety of antimicrobial products for use in food-animal medicine and discussed the role of antimicrobials in growth promotion.

2. Update on injectable iron availability. The FDA has been very cooperative in dealing with the shortage of injectable iron. The agency continues to allow importation of product to meet the needs of the swine industry and indicates that product manufactured in the US should be available by the middle of July.

3. Implementation of the Animal Feed Safety System. The FDA has been working for a number of years to implement stricter controls over ingredients used in the manufacture of animal feeds. The agency continues to identify gaps in the feed safety system and to suggest approaches to address those gaps.

FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). The group met with center director Dr Stephen Sundlof to discuss models and strategies the agency uses to evaluate imported foods, eg, vegetables, fruits, and seafood. The tools utilized by CFSAN might also apply to surveillance of imported pork products regulated by USDA.

NPPC. The AASV leadership met with Dr Jen Greiner, NPPC Director of Science and Technology, and Kirk Ferrell, Vice President of Public Policy. It is in the interest of both the NPPC and the AASV to improve communications and interactions between their organizations and to address the need for more swine veterinarians to be involved in advocacy activities at the local and federal level. Among other activities, AASV is working with NPPC to develop a veterinary leadership training course for swine veterinarians interested in becoming active in legislative issues.

AVMA. The AVMA’s GRD hosted the group for lunch. We met with Dr Mark Lutschaunig, GRD director, to discuss legislative issues of interest to swine veterinarians and the AVMA, including antimicrobial legislation, permanent funding to support the Food Animal Residues Avoidance Databank, legislative efforts to address the future of food-animal veterinary education (eg, National Veterinary Medical Services Act and Workforce Expansion Act) and welfare issues, including euthanasia and the Humane Society of the United States and the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights.

Other meetings. Members of the AASV leadership group also visited Congressional staffers on Capitol Hill to discuss antimicrobial issues, including renewing the Animal Drug User Fee Act, which has received strong support from AVMA, animal agriculture groups, and the pharmaceutical industry, and the need to preserve veterinary access to antimicrobials for use in food-animal production.

It was a very busy couple of days for the group but I think all agreed that it was also very worthwhile. The visit offered an opportunity for our leadership to become more engaged in the national issues that impact the way we practice veterinary medicine from a legislative and regulatory perspective.

-- Harry Snelson, DVM