Advocacy in action
Meet, discuss, implore. Repeat as needed.

It was a busy first half of the year on the advocacy front for the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. In May, the AASV leadership (Drs George Charbonneau, Alex Ramirez, and Scanlon Daniels) and staff (Drs Tom Burkgren and Harry Snelson) joined the leadership from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners for our annual government relations meeting in Washington, DC. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s Government Relations Division hosted the meeting at their headquarters in Dupont Circle. The group met with regulators, researchers, legislators, and agriculture industry representatives (including the Animal Feed Industry Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Milk Producers Federation, and the National Pork Producers Council [NPPC]) to discuss veterinary and livestock issues.

A key topic of conversation was antimicrobial use. Drs Bill Flynn and Mike Murphy from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the group on preparations for the January 1, 2017, deadline to transition medically important feed-grade antimicrobials to Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) status and water medications to prescription. The agency has implemented a pilot project designed to help train FDA compliance personnel on the new VFD rules and to identify gaps in stakeholder education regarding the impending changes, with the goal of targeting educational outreach to address those knowledge gaps. This project is currently ongoing and involves the selection of random VFD forms at feed distributors and tracking those forms back to the veterinarian and forward to the producer. The investigator will evaluate all aspects of the process, including paperwork accuracy, recordkeeping, proper manufacturing, distribution and administration of the VFD feed, and compliance with the regulation. The goal of this pilot project is to enhance education and promote compliance during the transition.

While in Washington, the AASV leadership met with swine researchers from the Agriculture Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The researchers described swine-related research projects involving animal health, genetics, and production. We provided feedback and thoughts on future challenges facing the swine industry from a veterinary perspective. The group expressed support for continued emphasis on swine research and efforts to increase federal funding for animal agriculture research.

The group also met with Dr Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian at the NPPC, to discuss legislative topics of interest to swine producers. The NPPC scheduled meetings with representatives from both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to give our group an opportunity to offer a veterinary perspective on antimicrobial issues, funding to support on-farm antibiotic-use data collection through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and support for enhancing the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine bank.

Regarding USDA’s plan to address on-farm antibiotic-use data collection, NPPC has requested federal funding to support projects developed in association with the animal agriculture industries, designed to provide meaningful information to guide implementation of the National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB). Congress appropriated approximately $375 million in additional CARB funding in last year’s budget to address human health issues, but none for animal health.

The other significant issue we discussed with the congressional agriculture committees involved securing adequate funding to enhance the FMD vaccine bank currently maintained on Plum Island. Under the current strategy, it would take months to provide an adequate supply of vaccine needed to control a significant outbreak. In addition, the vaccine bank maintains only a limited number of antigen strains. Due to limited global production of FMD vaccines, there is insufficient surge capacity available to produce the amount of vaccine necessary to begin addressing a large-scale outbreak. We discussed the urgent need to address these challenges.

In addition to the leadership meeting in Washington, AASV staff recently joined with pork producers to discuss similar swine health, production, and trade issues with Mr Kevin Shea, USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service administrator, and Dr Jack Shere, USDA chief veterinary officer. These discussions addressed a myriad of issues, including comprehensive swine surveillance, agency funding strategies, plans for addressing information technology needs, Secure Pork Supply, status update on development of the National List of Reportable Animal Diseases, trade support issues, emerging disease response planning, and generally, how to improve the industry’s interactions with the Department of Agriculture.

Given today’s economic times, funding is a challenging issue. According to Administrator Shea, the agency has seen budget reductions amounting to half a billion dollars over the last few years. It’s gotten to the point where we are fighting to maintain adequate funding to support core mission programs integral to the continued health and productivity of animal agriculture in the United States, let alone trying to implement new programs or enhance response capabilities. These meetings all provide an opportunity for face-to-face, one-on-one discussions of issues pertinent to swine health and pork production. Results can be slow to come and the process is often frustrating, but it’s necessary if we are going to maintain an emphasis at the federal level on issues of concern to veterinarians and pork producers. You can help as well by taking the opportunity to contact your Congressional representatives to discuss the impact these issues have on your ability to ensure the continued production of safe, wholesome, and economic pork products.

Harry Snelson, DVM
Director of Communications