The AVMA welcomed two positive developments in the House of Representatives in June: a $1 million appropriation for the National Veterinary Medical Service Act by an important subcommittee and passage of the Captive Primate Safety Act.
Congress passed NVMSA in 2003 as a means of providing school debt relief to veterinarians who opt to work in underserviced areas, such as rural communities experiencing a lack of large- and mixed-animal practitioners. The Department of Agriculture was given oversight of the program but four years later has yet to implement it.
The farm bill passed by Congress in May 2008 contained language requiring the USDA to write regulations implementing the program within less than a year. The AVMA has learned that the USDA Cooperative State, Research, Education, and Extension Service is moving forward with the rule-making process for NVMSA.
On June 19, the House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee included a $1 million request for NVMSA in the 2009 appropriations bill. At least 64 members of the House requested the funding level.
"We are very pleased with this appropriation, and we will work to ensure that it stays in through full committee work and the full House vote," commented Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C.
Two days earlier, on June 17, the House passed legislation strictly limiting commerce in pet primates by classifying chimpanzees, monkeys, and other nonhuman primates as prohibited wildlife species. Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, spoke in favor of the Captive Primate Safety Act (H.R. 2964) at a congressional hearing in March.
Dr. Golab testified that the evidence is clear that primates kept as pets are unsafe. Not only are these animals a physical threat, they may also be a source of the herpes B virus and other zoonotic pathogens. "Make no mistake about it," Dr. Golab, said, "nonhuman primates kept as pets—while cute and often very entertaining—can also pose serious injury risks for their human caretakers and other domestic animals."
The Senate version of the bill (S. 1498) was voted out of the Committee on Environment and Public Works last year and is awaiting action by the full Senate.