Advocacy in action
AASV leadership meets in DC

The AASV’s executive committee held their seventh annual meeting with regulators, legislators, and researchers in Washington, DC. Drs Matt Anderson, Michelle Sprague, Tara Donovan, Tom Burkgren, and Harry Snelson, along with the leadership from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), were hosted June 10 and 11 by the Governmental Relations Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). This annual meeting is an excellent opportunity to offer continued stakeholder input on issues of importance to swine veterinarians.

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, 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 the offices of their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. Following are some highlights of those discussions.

Dr Ron Dehaven, AVMA executive vice president and CEO, led off the discussions via video conference from AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois. His key topics of interest for the group included the following.

Veterinary workforce. That study showed a 12.5% excess capacity in the veterinary workforce. He emphasized that this did not indicate an excess number of veterinarians, but rather that their time was not being utilized to the fullest. The study also showed that 98% of new graduates are employed by 6 months post graduation.

Foreign college accreditation. The AVMA will continue to accredit foreign colleges at the same standards the association uses to accredit domestic colleges. There are currently 13 AVMA-accredited foreign colleges.

AVMA Governance Task Force. The latest proposal for changes to the AVMA governance would replace the House of Delegates and existing committees and councils with advisory councils and a board of directors. The board would have policy and fiduciary responsibilities for the association. A “Veterinary Issues Forum” would replace the current House of Delegates meetings, but would have no delegated authority to vote.

Key legislative issues

Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act – Supported by AVMA, the act would instruct the US Drug Enforcement Agency to allow veterinarians the ability to transport controlled substances outside of their registered premises.

United Egg Producers/Humane Society of the United States Egg Bill – While recognizing a concern about the establishment of federal oversight of on-farm practices and the recommendations of the AVMA Legislative Advisory committee (no action) and the Animal Agriculture Liaison Committee (active pursuit of defeat), the AVMA Executive Board elected to follow the recommendation of the Animal Welfare Committee and support the bill.

AVMA is planning an Animal Welfare Intraprofessional Conversation November 14-15 in Chicago. A select group of 150 AVMA members will participate in a discussion of welfare issues affecting the veterinary profession. The stated purpose is to have a conversation about how we handle welfare issues and why. Fifteen participants will ultimately be selected to form a working group following the conversation.

AVMA is also proposing a symposium on euthanasia in early 2014 following the publication of three documents outlining euthanasia, humane slaughter, and mass depopulation.

The main topic of interest with representatives from FSIS and FDA was the issue of violative drug residues. The majority of residues are found in cull dairy cows and bob veal calves. Market swine continue to have an exceptionally low rate of residues. However, the incidence of penicillin G residues in cull sows have increased since the FSIS validated a testing protocol to identify previously unidentifiable residues. A recent USDA study examined the necessary withdrawal times needed to meet the FDA’s zero tolerance level for penicillin in swine kidneys. At the effective dosage of 5 mL per 100 lb of body weight, the study estimates a 52-day withdrawal period would be necessary to avoid a violative residue. Additional discussions with FDA and FSIS are ongoing to determine any possible resolution to this issue.

In addition to the residue issue, we also discussed the issues of proposed changes to the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) and the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) with FDA. Dr Bill Flynn reported on the information learned during a series of public hearings designed to gauge the impact of the proposed VFD changes on producers and veterinarians in rural areas. The agency plans to consider the concerns raised before publishing a proposed rule later this year. 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 a VFD. The agency recognizes there are problems and inefficiencies with the current VFD process and has sought stakeholder input to modify the process.

Concerning NARMS, Dr Pat McDermott was asked about FDA’s plans to restructure the NARMS program. The agency is exploring how to access antimicrobial use and resistance samples representative of what happens on the farm. They would also like to bring all NARMS testing in-house at FDA. Currently, testing is divided between the three agencies participating in the program (FDA, USDA ARS, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). 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 involved in NARMS without a regulatory mandate. 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 with both FDA and USDA.

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 to be built in Manhattan, Kansas, to replace the facility on Plum Island. The cost estimate for the facility now exceeds $1 billion. Dr Meckes reported that the President’s FY2014 Budget contains a request for $714 million, and the state of Kansas will be providing an additional $202 million. The current projected completion date is 2021. In the meantime, DHS plans to spend $60 to $70 million to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure at Plum Island.

In addition, the group also met with swine researchers from 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 porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome Coordinated Agricultural Project II (PRRS 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 that 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. The key issues discussed included funding for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network; support for research into methods to control feral swine, proposed in the President’s Budget; and the importance of legislation allowing for the transportation of controlled substances by veterinarians.

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 they would all agree that it is time well spent and the association benefits from their participation.

-- Harry Snelson, DVM
AASV Director of Communications