June 15, 2006


 2006 resolutions range from welfare philosophy to finances

Seven measures to be deliberated by House of Delegates

By Susan C. Kahler
Posted June 1, 2006

The House of Delegates will consider seven resolutions at its 143rd annual session, July 14-15 in Honolulu—five of them submitted by state veterinary medical associations and two by petition of AVMA members.

The resolutions were submitted to Executive Vice President Bruce W. Little by the May 1 deadline. When the Executive Board meets in June and the House Advisory Committee meets in July, each will make recommendations on whether the HOD should approve the resolutions.  

AVMA financial policies 

AVMA financial policy on charitable giving, cash reserves, and nonbudgeted spending is the subject of three resolutions, all of them submitted collectively by the California, Oregon, and Wisconsin VMAs.

Oregon VMA Executive Director Glenn Kolb said their genesis goes back to January 2005 when the Executive Board authorized $500,000 in matching funds to Heifer International for tsunami-relief efforts in Asia. Oregon's delegate to the House of Delegates grew concerned about whether the AVMA has a policy on charitable giving and whether this is a budgeted area. The California VMA shared similar concerns. Last September, the board authorized another half-million dollars in matching funds for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

"And then, as we asked additional questions trying to find out if there were policies on cash reserves (and) charitable giving, we couldn't find any," Kolb said. "That's not to say that they weren't there, (but) that's how (this) started, so we decided to go ahead and do this."

The AVMA has a fiscal policy that covers areas such as budgeting, reserves, and investments. According to AVMA Treasurer Bret D. Marsh, "The fiscal processes and policies of the Association are sound and have been in place for some time, and they will be discussed in greater detail in the House of Delegates reference committees."

Last October, the state VMAs expressed their concerns to AVMA President Henry E. Childers during the Wild West Veterinary Conference and were encouraged to consider the HOD resolution option, according to Kolb.

Resolution 1 states:

Resolved, that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) determine if charitable giving is part of the organization's mission. If so, resolved that the AVMA define charitable giving and establish a charitable giving policy.

In their statement about the resolution, the submitters note that no AVMA funds were directed for worldwide natural disasters other than the tsunami and Katrina.

Kolb would like the HOD to discuss whether charitable giving falls within the Association's mission and to consider adopting a policy that defines it and provides guidance to the Executive Board. After the sponsors submitted Resolution 1, they learned that the Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues has been looking into the need for an AVMA protocol on responding to severe disasters nationally and internationally. Still, the sponsors decided to go forward with the resolution.

They view the introduction of resolutions 2 and 3 as an important opportunity for dialogue among members of the House of Delegates and Executive Board that will increase understanding of AVMA fiscal policies, clarify questions, and determine whether further policymaking is in order.

In Resolution 2, the submitters call for establishment of an AVMA reserve policy, as follows:

Resolved, that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) establish a reserve policy with regard to liquid assets, with a goal of maintaining 20 percent of the organization's annual budget in cash reserves.

Kolb said the 20 percent figure came from suggestions by the American Society of Association Executives. "We're just trying to determine what specifically constitutes cash, and what other assets might be included," he said. "Again, it's one of those issues (where) we weren't sure we had a full answer—for us and for our satisfaction."

Although the resolution calls for 20 percent, the amount of the AVMA's liquid assets (cash, government funds, and investments) at press time was approximately $29 million, which equates to 130 percent of operating expenses at the end of 2006.

Current AVMA fiscal policy specifies that a level of reserves must be maintained equal to an amount between 50 percent and 150 percent of the annual operating expenses. At year-end 2005, the fund balance was 101 percent of operating expenses.

The AVMA fund balance—assets minus liabilities—is considered to be the reserves of the Association. The reserve percentage is calculated by dividing the fund balance by total operating expenses at the end of the year.

Developing a policy on nonbudgeted spending is the subject of Resolution 3, which states:

Resolved, that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is encouraged to develop a policy that places a limit on non-budgeted spending for the annual budget. A five percent limit would be considered prudent if preservation of cash reserves is deemed important.

According to current policy, a three-fourths vote of the Executive Board is required for new, unbudgeted expenditures from the reserves when such expenditures would deplete or exceed the contingency fund. Each year, $300,000 is budgeted as the contingency fund to finance actions approved by the Executive Board. In addition to this reserve policy, a three-fourths affirmative vote is required for approval of recommendations with a cost of $25,000 or more.

Dr. Marsh said, "My sense in all these resolutions is that we keep the door open for people who are interested in offering new ideas. The reference committees and House of Delegates provide the forum for honest dialogue to determine whether our membership would like to change certain things and what course the Association should take."  

Animal welfare in philosophy and practice

Animal welfare-related resolutions 4 and 7 were submitted by petition of at least 50 active AVMA members. One seeks precedence for animal welfare over economics, and the other denounces a production practice. 

Resolution 4 states:

Resolved, that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) hereby declares animal welfare to be a higher priority than economic considerations.

The statement about the resolution notes that in some instances, the economic priorities of animal industries may be in conflict with the welfare of animals, that the AVMA is considered a leader on matters relating to animal welfare, and that veterinarians have an ethical obligation to promote animal welfare. The final point calls for veterinarians to place a higher priority on animal welfare when required to choose between animal welfare and economic considerations.

The animal rights organization Farm Sanctuary generated the AVMA-member petition that resulted in Resolution 4, but it did not submit the resolution, despite its claims in a May 3 press release. AVMA resolutions may be submitted only by the Executive Board, an organization represented in the House of Delegates, or the House Advisory Committee or by signature of 50 active AVMA members.

Farm Sanctuary contends that the AVMA has aligned itself with industrial agribusiness and that the resolution challenges the Association to reevaluate its priorities.

The Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics do address patient considerations. The first provision under Professional Behavior states: "Veterinarians should first consider the needs of the patient: to relieve disease, suffering, or disability while minimizing pain or fear." The first provision under Influences on Judgement states: "The choice of treatments or animal care should not be influenced by considerations other than the needs of the patient, the welfare of the client, and the safety of the public."

Resolution 7 is a proposed position statement on force-feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras, which many chefs consider a delicacy. Foie gras is made by force-feeding the birds to create lipidosis, which expands their livers to several times their normal size.

The 2005 HOD disapproved two resolutions on foie gras. Defeated Resolution 1 (2005) had been submitted in 2004 by petition of AVMA members and referred to the Animal Welfare Committee for study until 2005. The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights had helped generate the petition supporting that resolution. The other, Resolution 3 (2005), had been developed by the AWC. Deliberations in the 2005 HOD session had centered around whether to adopt a position on a specific production practice.

The wording of this year's Resolution 7 is identical to that of Resolution 3 (2005) and states:

Resolved, that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) opposes the practice of mechanical force feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras because of the adverse effects on the birds' health and welfare associated with this practice.

One of the key differences between Resolution 7 (2006) and Resolution 1 (2005) is the inclusion of the word "mechanical" in 7.

The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights helped generate the AVMA-member petitions that resulted in Resolution 7. Speaking for AVAR, Dr. Holly Cheever said, "We are hoping that by continuing with (the Animal Welfare Committee's) chosen wording, we can enhance its chance of passing this year."

She hopes that given enough time for the HOD to understand the issue, they will take "a proper welfare stance" on it, as they have eventually done with initiatives on leghold trapping, ear cropping in dogs, and forced-molting in laying chickens.

"What we find either ironic or frustrating is that on the one hand, the AVMA is eager to try to capture a leadership role in welfare—hence all this flurry of new departments, councils, and task forces," Dr. Cheever said. "Yet on the other hand, they continue to follow behind public opinion and even the sentiments of many of their members, particularly in agricultural welfare practices."

Last year, the Executive Board and HOD reference committee had recommended approval of the AWC's Resolution 3, but after hearing accounts from three delegates who toured the Hudson Valley Foie Gras plant in New York, the House disapproved it.

"With all due respect," Dr. Cheever said, "in my opinion, our colleagues who have visited this plant in the past year and a half have been shown a very altered, sanitized, and choreographed version of the feeding process compared to what we see in the videotapes taken during the same period."

From statements made by the plant manager, she calculates there are about 17 workers doing 1,050 bird feedings a day. "It's not going to be this very gentle, almost dreamlike performance that I and the other people last year witnessed. What you (also) don't see is the birds that are in the horrendous last week of production."

Before the HOD convenes in July, AVAR intends to e-mail each delegate with links to videos showing foie gras being produced in California, New York, and Europe, and to a study by the European Union on the welfare aspects of foie gras production in ducks and geese.

As for delegates who have concerns that taking a stance opposing foie gras production is a slippery slope, Dr. Cheever said it is incumbent upon the profession to look at each issue on its own merits. But what is AVAR's ultimate ambition?

"Dealing with the realities of the world in which we live, what AVAR tries to do with the AVMA ... is to make the use of animals ... more welfare oriented and less bottom-line, production-dollar oriented," she said. "We are not trying to shut down agribusiness tomorrow. It would be lovely philosophically, but we're not such fools as to think that is possible."  

Sharpening skills along the first line of defense

The training of accredited veterinarians is addressed in Resolution 5, which states: 

Resolved, that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) urges the USDA-APHIS to implement ongoing training programs for accredited veterinarians in the United States.

In their statement about the resolution, the Indiana and Wisconsin VMAs note that veterinarians are the first line of defense in an animal disease outbreak or emergency, and the 60,000-plus accredited veterinarians are a valuable tool for ensuring public health and safety. They emphasize the importance of modernizing the accreditation training and providing for periodic reaccreditation of veterinarians.

A proposed new structure for the National Veterinary Accreditation Program has been in the works at the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for some time. Key elements of the revised program will be a two-tiered system of accreditation, required supplemental training, renewal of accreditation every three years, and the availability of accreditation specializations. The long-awaited, proposed rule seeking public comment was not published as anticipated by the end of 2005.

Lisa Perius, secretary/executive director of the Indiana VMA, said the resolution is a general position underscoring the need for veterinarians to stay in the forefront at a time when many issues are changing the face of veterinary practice.

"Our delegates felt it was important that veterinarians receive training throughout the course of being a veterinarian, not just (to become) accredited when they get out of veterinary school. They proposed this resolution ... to urge the AVMA to prod that along to get it back on the radar screen."

When contacted this May after Resolution 5 was announced, APHIS administrator, Dr. H. Ron DeHaven, commented, "We agree completely with providing training to accredited veterinarians. Given the environment of today and new emerging zoonotic diseases, it makes such training all the more important.

"We recognize that our proposed rule on New Program Initiatives for the National Veterinary Accreditation Program has taken longer than we anticipated to finalize. However, we are optimistic that we will have it published in time for the 2006 AVMA Annual Meeting."   

Leadership development and official business?

Holding an additional business session of the House of Delegates at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference is requested in Resolution 6, submitted by the Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Oregon, Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois State VMAs. 

Resolution 6 states:

Resolved, that beginning in January 2008, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) House of Delegates holds an official business session at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference.

Leslie Grendahl, Wisconsin VMA secretary/executive director, explained the rationale of the sponsoring delegates and associations. "They were feeling that if they're going to be the backbone of the Association, once a year is not enough time to meet," she said. In the statement about the resolution, they also cite the enhanced timeliness of addressing issues and serving as a more effective information conduit. Currently, the HOD convenes its two-day annual session the day before the AVMA Annual Meeting begins each July.

"There was discontent by the people who were signing onto this that their time wasn't well-spent at the leadership meeting," she continued. "The state (VMA) leaders are learning how to be leaders at the conference, but the (delegates) are at a national level. They felt the time they're spending in group discussions at the leadership conference would be better served within the House of Delegates doing AVMA business."

Grendahl said that although the sponsors are "especially unhappy" with the leadership breakout groups, they like the issues updates, which could become part of the HOD session.

Dr. John de Jong commented, "As chair of the House Advisory Committee, I have clearly heard the message from the House of Delegates calling for making part of our January meeting an official business session. This was never made more evident to me than when I asked for a show of hands at our informal meeting this past January on this very subject.

"Since we could not implement such a change until January 2008, it would be prudent to first hold a special session, as permitted by our bylaws, in January 2007 to conduct any official business that is deemed appropriate, such as to review and finalize the HOD manual. The HAC is considering doing just that. This could give us a sense of how a January session might function, afford the House the opportunity to take official action, and at the same time, realize any financial impact that future January official business sessions might have."

However, the resolution sponsors believe the special session option should be reserved for an emergency gathering of delegates, whereas the proposed January business session would have a scheduled agenda. They would entrust the HAC with developing a streamlined agenda that does not duplicate the formal summer session.

Dr. de Jong wholeheartedly agrees that if Resolution 6 is approved this summer, the HAC would need to develop a streamlined agenda for January business sessions.

"We would also need to ensure that we do not lose two other important components of our January gatherings," Dr. de Jong said. "First, we would still need to maintain an informal part of the meeting where breakdown of the House of Delegates into smaller groups is achieved by reference committees.

"Second, we would need to maintain our participation in the leadership conference component of the meeting. We, in the House of Delegates, can all continue to learn leadership skills and grow in that capacity, but more significantly, we need to be able to share time with the state leaders and recent graduates. They are the future of organized veterinary medicine."

AVMA Executive Vice President Dr. Bruce W. Little noted, "Adding a House of Delegates business session in January would require shifting the fall meetings of councils, committees, and Executive Board about a month earlier, so that the cycle began in August, to meet the required deadlines leading up to the session. It is workable, but delegates need to consider how that might affect our volunteer leadership and the Association overall."

Grendahl noted, "This was not a power play; this was something that they seriously felt would make fiscal sense," adding that the financial impact is estimated at $20,000, although the actual costs are not known.