AVMA addresses ballot initiatives on animal care, legislative group follows

Posted 12 January 2010


On Jan. 8, 2010, the AVMA Executive Board approved a policy calling for the use of appropriately constituted expert bodies to establish public policy on animal care. The statement supports regular legislative and regulatory processes for this purpose, which, by design, include opportunities for appropriate stakeholder engagement. The new policy expresses concerns about using ballot initiatives to establish public policy on issues that do not lend themselves to "yes" or "no" answers. "Whereas ballot initiatives can precipitate a polarizing public debate based on incomplete information, legislative and regulatory processes typically engage multiple experts and viewpoints and facilitate discussion. The latter contributes to responsible recommendations that can be practically implemented, and the end result benefits animals, those in the animal use industries and consumers."

The new policy proposes that representation on standard-setting bodies for animal care should be well-balanced, both in technical expertise and viewpoint.

Balance is essential to ensure good animal welfare outcomes and to achieve public acceptability and support. Veterinarians and animal welfare scientists, who have been professionally trained to responsibly advance animal care, should thereby be given substantial opportunity for representation. Varying constituencies and viewpoints also deserve representation on standard-setting bodies, because they facilitate and can help ensure complete discourse.

Three AVMA entities submitted the proposed policy to the Executive Board: State Advocacy Committee, Animal Welfare Committee, and Animal Agriculture Liaison Committee. In several states, ballot initiatives have been utilized to restrict livestock confinement (Arizona, California, Florida) and last year in Ohio, to establish a board to set livestock care standards. This tactic is now being applied to create public policies affecting companion animals. We expect to see a ballot initiative in Missouri this year directed at regulating dog breeders and commercial kennels.

The complete statement can be viewed on the AVMA Web site at www.avma.org/issues/policy/establishing_public_policy_aw.aspx.

A few days after adoption of the statement, on Jan. 17, 2010, much of this language was incorporated in a resolution passed by the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders Association (SARL) at its annual meeting held in Orlando, Fla.

The SARL resolution urges state legislatures to adopt legislation creating livestock care standards boards, or authorizing existing agencies, for the purpose of establishing standards governing the care and well-being of livestock and poultry. It also states that livestock care standards boards should strive for continual improvement of animal care systems through comprehensive evaluations that are based on sound science, with appropriate consideration for the practical implementation of their recommendations and societal preferences regarding animal use. The SARL statement proposes that such entities consider factors that include, but are not limited to, agricultural best management practices for care and well-being, biosecurity, disease prevention, animal morbidity and mortality data, food safety practices, and the protection of local, affordable food supplies for consumers. Representation on such boards is advised to be well-balanced, both in technical expertise and viewpoint.

Created in 2001, SARL was incorporated in 2006, and consists of state legislators and private sector entities promoting policy solutions and innovations for the agricultural and rural communities of the U.S. and Canada. AVMA has participated in SARL and attended its annual meetings since 2006.


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