Advocacy in action
AASV leadership meets in DC

The executive committee of the AASV spent May 15 and 16 in Washington, DC, meeting with regulators, legislators, and researchers to discuss issues of interest to swine veterinarians. Drs Tara Donovan, Matt Anderson, Michelle Sprague, Randy Jones, Tom Burkgren, and Harry Snelson, along with the leadership from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), were hosted by the Governmental Relations Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. This annual meeting is an excellent opportunity to offer continued stakeholder input.

Participants met with representatives from the following United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies: Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). In addition, we visited with folks from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We also had a chance to hear what issues were driving the allied producer groups, including the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Milk Producers Federation. The NPPC also scheduled time for our group to visit with their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill as well as with staff members of the House Agriculture Committee. Following are some highlights of those discussions.

The main topic of interest with representatives from FSIS was the issue of violative drug residues. The majority of residues are found in cull dairy cows and bob veal calves. Swine continue to have an exceptionally low rate of residues. The names of producers having had two or more violative residues are published in the Repeat Violators List. It would be helpful if the veterinarian associated with the producer could be notified after the first violation so they could work with the client to avoid further violations. Unfortunately, FSIS no longer publishes a list of first-time violators. It was suggested that FSIS make an effort to notify veterinarians when the initial violative residue is detected. Also, for some reason, FSIS wants to start publishing a list of producers that have non-violative residues. Both the AASV and AABP representatives felt this was unnecessary and confusing and requested that FSIS not pursue this notification, given that these producers were not in violation and were actually adhering to the withdrawal periods for the drugs they were administering.

The FDA was represented by Dr Bernadette Dunham, Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, and her staff. There were two key topics for discussion: the pending proposed regulation on Veterinary Feed Directives (VFDs) and changes to the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). It is the intent of the agency to eliminate the administration of feed-grade antimicrobials for growth promotion and feed efficiency and to stop all over-the-counter distribution. Their mechanism for accomplishing this is the migration of all feed-grade antimicrobials to VFDs. The agency recognizes there are problems and inefficiencies with the current VFD process and has sought stakeholder input to modify the process.

With regard to NARMS, historically FDA has provided the funding to support the collection and testing of samples at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FDA, and USDA ARS. The FDA has announced that they are restructuring the program so that all testing will be conducted in-house at FDA, and ARS will no longer receive funding. Dunham indicated the agency was interested in changing the sampling strategy to include samples collected by FSIS in the holding areas of the processing facilities as well as also accessing on-farm samples collected through collaborative agreements with a number of universities. The FDA is currently funding a pilot project to determine if such a collaborative effort would be effective in collecting the necessary samples. We objected strongly to the elimination of ARS as one of the collaborators on this project. ARS is the research arm of USDA and the only entity without a regulatory mandate. Consequently, we strongly believe ARS should be instrumental in conducting the analysis of the samples collected. We have continued to pursue a resolution to this issue.

One of the key topics for discussion with Dr Lisa Ferguson (USDA APHIS) was the issue of declining funding, particularly as it relates to support for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN). The NAHLN receives funding from both APHIS and NIFA and has never been fully funded. The network has significant needs for enhanced information technology to promote efficient communication between the member laboratories and the research and regulatory agencies. This network would be critical in the event of an animal-health emergency and will also play a key role in the department’s stated goal to adopt a comprehensive and integrated surveillance system. APHIS, however, continues to endure significant budget cuts disproportionate to those of other agencies. This funding decline is resulting in deep cuts in the agency’s programs and emergency preparedness. We indicated our support for efforts to impress on Congress the need to adequately fund USDA and its associated agencies.

Lastly, we met with Dr Doug Meckes from DHS. Dr Meckes updated the group on the status of the proposed National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) to be built in Manhattan, Kansas, to replace the facility on Plum Island. Significant questions are being asked about the feasibility of moving forward with this facility, given the current economic climate. Some cost estimates for the facility are now approaching $1 billion and the design is being re-evaluated by the National Academy of Sciences. If the facility is built, the current projected completion date is 2020, and DHS continues to spend millions of dollars on badly needed maintenance and upgrades of the facilities at Plum Island. The DHS has requested an evaluation of three options regarding how to move forward with the project: 1) build NBAF as designed, 2) build a smaller version and collaborate with international partners, or 3) stay at Plum Island and increase international collaboration. This evaluation was completed in late June and is currently undergoing review.

Additional news from DHS is that they have recently vaccinated 500 cattle with a newly developed adenovirus-vectored foot-and-mouth disease vaccine. Reportedly there were no adverse reactions, and the animals were 100% protected when challenged at Plum Island. This differentiable vaccine could be manufactured on the US mainland when licensed.

In addition, the group also met with swine researchers from the ARS and NIFA to discuss the priorities and direction for swine health, production, and welfare research in the face of continued declines in research funding. The PRRS Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) II funding is scheduled to end this year, and it doesn’t appear likely that additional CAP funding will be available. It is hoped that other sources of funding might be made available to support ongoing research and regional control projects which have benefitted tremendously from access to these funds.

Finally, the AASV leadership also had an opportunity to meet with their individual legislators on Capitol Hill to discuss legislation and funding concerns associated with swine health and production. In addition, we met with staff members of the House Agriculture Committee to discuss agricultural issues including the Humane Society of the United States/United Egg Producers egg bill. The committee staffers were adamantly opposed to the bill and concurred with our reasoning for opposing it.

This annual meeting affords our leadership an opportunity to interact with the leadership from AABP and the AVMA’s Government Relations Division on a broad range of topics that potentially have a significant impact on the practice of food-animal veterinary medicine. Although it requires a time commitment away from practice responsibilities, I think we would all agree that it is time well spent and the association benefits from their participation.

-- Harry Snelson, DVM
AASV Director of Communications