January 01, 2009


 Student debt relief, unwanted horses are among AVMA legislative priorities

Board sets Association's agenda for 111th Congress 

Posted Dec. 15, 2008

horsesStudent debt and unwanted horses are among the issues the AVMA plans on fighting for aggressively in the 111th Congress.

The Executive Board approved these and a number of other recommended actions by its Legislative Advisory Committee.  

Student loan repayment 

One item designated for "Active Pursuit of Passage" on the AVMA's legislative agenda is amending Sec. 108 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exempt, from income tax, loan repayments to veterinarians under the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.

Exempting loan payments from taxation under the National Veterinary Medical Service Act, which authorizes the loan repayment program, will maximize the use of federal funds for distribution and increase the number of annual awards, according to the committee recommendation.

Because the program authorized by Congress is not tax-exempt, to account for the tax liability, the secretary of Agriculture needs to make a payment equal to 39 percent of the total loan repayment made during the taxable year involved, the committee wrote.

Exempting these payments from federal income tax allows the limited funding to be better spent on loan repayment instead of taxes, according to the committee.  

Unwanted horses

Legislation addressing the welfare of thousands of unwanted horses is another of the AVMA's top legislative priorities. Unsuccessful efforts have been made for the past several years to ban horse slaughter for human consumption. 

If Congress decides that horses and other equids are prohibited from being processed for human consumption, it is estimated that each year an additional 100,000 unwanted U.S. horses would need to find an alternative method of care, or disposal if the horse were euthanized, according to the committee recommendation.

A congressional ban on transporting horses to slaughter will lead to a crisis situation and possible unintended consequences for the sport horse population, if the ramifications of such actions are not addressed, the committee stated.

During the past few years, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, AVMA, and other equine stakeholders have come together to address the issue of unwanted horses. The consensus: legislation is needed to ensure the humane care and treatment of these animals.

In early October 2008, the Animal Welfare Committee reviewed this topic and recommended continued "Active Pursuit of Passage" for introduction and passage of legislation addressing unwanted horses and related AVMA concerns in the 111th Congress.

On a related note, the Executive Board approved a recommendation from the Legislative Advisory Committee for the AVMA to "Active Pursuit of Defeat" of The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, which will likely be reintroduced in the 111th Congress. The bill is similar to the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act as it criminalizes activities related to processing horses for human consumption

The AVMA opposes the bill because neither does it make allowances for unwanted horses nor does it allocate funding for the care and placement of horses seized by the government in accordance with the law.  

Horse transportation

Another horse bill the AVMA is acting on is The Horse Transportation Safety Act, which the board has designated with "Support" status. The legislation was introduced in this past Congress and will likely be reintroduced in the 111th Congress.  

The proposed law would amend regulations to prohibit the transportation of horses in interstate transportation in a motor vehicle of two or more levels stacked on top of one another.

Support for the transportation bill is consistent with the AVMA Policy on Humane Transport of Equines. The Animal Welfare Committee has also recommended that the AVMA "Support" the legislation.

Laboratory network 

The board approved a recommendation of "Support" for authorizing language and $12 million annual appropriations for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network Analytical Toxicology component. 

Launched in 2002 and not yet fully finished or funded, the laboratory network is a cooperative effort between two USDA agencies and the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians.

As recent events have shown, chemical contamination of animal feeds is as real a danger as bioterrorism or infectious disease. According to the Legislative Advisory Committee, the analytic toxicology sections of many federal and state veterinary diagnostic laboratories have closed or reduced their capabilities as a result of cost-cutting measures, however.

The committee believes legislation is needed to integrate the nation's veterinary toxicology laboratories into a coordinated network with the capability of quickly responding to chemical emergencies.  

Great apes

The Great Ape Protection Act, which would prohibit invasive research on the animals, has received a "Non-Support" designation from the Executive Board.  

An international movement within the animal rights community would end the use of all great ape species in research, whether it is for the benefit of humans or other nonhuman primates, according to the Legislative Advisory Committee.

Currently, chimpanzees are the only great ape species used for research purposes in the United States and the research is focused primarily on human vaccine development.

The Great Ape Protection Act defines "invasive research" to mean experimental research that may cause death, bodily injury, pain, distress, fear, injury, or trauma to great apes, according to the committee recommendation.

This definition excludes close observation of natural or voluntary behavior, provided it does not require the removal of apes from their social group or environment or require an anesthetic or sedation event to collect data or record observations, and excludes postmortem examinations of great apes following their natural death.

The Animal Welfare Committee also reviewed the bill and recommended "Non-support," noting that ongoing research in zoos to improve great ape health and conservation efforts that would be prohibited if this bill were to pass. 

Foot-and-mouth disease

The board approved a recommendation of "Non-Support" for The Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention Act. The proposed legislation would prohibit the importation of ruminants and swine, along with fresh and frozen meat and products from ruminants and swine, from Argentina until the secretary of Agriculture certifies to Congress that every region of Argentina is free of foot-and-mouth disease without vaccination. 

In the Jan. 5, 2007, Federal Register, the USDA proposed amending regulations to add a portion of the Patagonia region of Argentina to the list of regions considered free of rinderpest and FMD on the basis of a 2005 risk analysis by the National Center for Import Export, Regionalization Evaluation Services. The analysis indicated a low likelihood of an outbreak in domestic livestock resulting from ovine meat or products imported from this region of Argentina.

The Animal Agriculture Liaison Committee reviewed The Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention Act at its fall 2008 meeting. The AALC believes that USDA's proposed consideration of Patagonia is in accord with the AVMA Policy on Importation of Animals and Animal Products, which states: "Imported animals and animal products must present no more than a negligible risk to human and animal health in the United States. The AVMA supports scientific, risk-based decisions on the importation of animals and animal products."

Furthermore, the AALC recognized that the legislation is contrary to the principle of regionalization and standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and recognized by the World Trade Organization's Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement.

As a result, the AALC suggested that the LAC recommend "Active Pursuit of Defeat" of The Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention Act. The AVMA Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine also reviewed the legislation and concurred with the AALC. The LAC ultimately recommended "Non-Support" for the bill, which the board approved.

The AVMA's legislative agenda is available here.