Hatch highlights AVMA PAC luncheon

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Senator praises veterinarians' dedication, supports increasing research funding Utah Sen Orrin G. Hatch entertained and educated a sold-out AVMA Political Action Committee at a July 23 luncheon during the AVMA Annual Convention in Salt Lake City. The four-term senator and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee recognized veterinarians as protectors and promoters of animal health, yet focused on the contributions of veterinary research to the nation's burgeoning biomedical research industry.

Sen Orrin G. Hatch
Sen Orrin G. Hatch

While acknowledging the inherent difficulties of such a task, Hatch promised to explore the possibility of creating an institute of veterinary medicine within the National Institutes of Health.

Hatch was introduced at the luncheon by former colleague Dr. John Melcher, who was elected with Hatch to the Senate for the first time in 1976. One of the country's "great Western senators," Hatch has demonstrated that he can be "a solid Republican and articulate spokesman for the party, and get along with Democrats of all stripes on the other side of the aisle," Dr. Melcher said.

Hatch came to Congress as a political outsider, never having held public office until his successful Senate bid. Since then, he has gone on to champion limited government, tax restraint, and integrity in public service. Hatch also sits on the Finance, Select Intelligence, and Joint Taxation committees, and, for a time, was a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in the upcoming election.

If elected to a fifth term in November, which is all but assured, Hatch will be the longest-serving publicly elected senator in Utah history.

Speaking to many of today's leaders in organized veterinary medicine, Hatch said, "It's impossible to address such a distinguished group without being reminded about the loyalty and companionship that I've known over the years from a variety of pets who truly became members of our family."

Noting the high standard of care his pets have received from veterinarians, he added, "Human medicine can learn a lot from your dedication."

Veterinary medicine contributes to human health, Hatch observed. It has been shown that animals can contribute to the healthy development of children as well as be a comfort to elderly people. "The benefits that you bring to animal health are too numerous to mention and only half the story," he said.

Veterinary research and its "cousin," biomedical research, continue to develop some of the most important new treatment modalities. Not only does this medical field help answer questions of disease mechanisms, it is able to assist with the development of treatments for zoonoses that plague many areas of the world. As populations grow, Hatch said, such virulent diseases as West Nile fever, hantavirus infection, and eastern equine encephalitis kill significant numbers of people.

"We'll continue to rely on veterinary research and its associated biotechnologies as means to unlock the secrets of these lethal diseases and for the development of appropriate vaccines," he said.

Hatch said that Congress has been a chief supporter of biomedical research. There have been two successive years in which Congress has increased the National Institutes of Health budget by more than $2 billion annually. Indulging in a bit of partisan politics, Hatch pointed out that since 1995, when the Republicans won control of the House and Senate, Congress has funded NIH research at substantially higher levels than those requested by the Clinton administration.

"When you talk about putting your money where your mouth is, the Republican-led Congress has certainly come through for biomedical research," he said.

The Clinton administration has, nonetheless, taken credit for the ensuing health advances, but Hatch told the audience that he "didn't want to get into the shortcomings of the Clinton administration."

"We have less than an hour to be together today, and I certainly couldn't give that topic enough justice in such a short period of time," he said to much laughter.

The admittedly conservative Republican did, however, credit those "on the other side of the aisle" who also support funding research, such as senators Tom Harkin and Edward Kennedy, and Rep Henry Waxman. Funding increases are a result of a broad, bipartisan consensus, he said.

Hatch recognizes the importance to veterinarians of a national institute of veterinary medicine in the NIH. One of the charges for such an entity would be the study of zoonotic diseases that are public health concerns to Americans.

"I agree that this new institute would create a critical bridge between veterinary medicine, agricultural research, and public health medicine. Let me pledge to all of you that I will work with my colleagues in exploring this important idea, which has been around for a number of years but hasn't, frankly, been paid much attention to," he said.

Yet he corralled expectations with a reminder that numerous scientists and public health advocates have come to his office asking for the creation of certain new institutes in the NIH. Congress, as well as the NIH itself, is reluctant to do so for fear of diluting the institute's importance.

"With or without a new institute at NIH, we can and should support increased resources to our research enterprise," he said.

Also of concern to veterinarians is the increased resistance by certain animal-rights factions to biomedical research, some of whom behave more like extremists and terrorists, Hatch said. It would be hubris for man to conclude that only his species matters, he said. Man has a duty to eliminate pain and suffering regardless of species, but progress does not come without cost.

"In the final analysis," he said, "there must be valued risk taking and sacrifice in order to make progress, progress that benefits not only humans but the animal kingdom as well."

To protect medical laboratories where animal research is performed, Hatch and Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) have proposed legislation that would strengthen penalties for crimes committed by animal rights extremists. The amendments were attached to the Violent Juvenile Justice Act, which is under consideration by a House-Senate conference committee.

The bill is unlikely to go anywhere because of disagreement over gun control issues, Hatch said. He encouraged the luncheon attendees to write letters to the president and their representatives explaining why the amendments are important.

Hatch also noted that the Senate recently approved an agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2001 that contains a $14 million increase for the FDA-CVM. The House approved a similar bill; once the differences are worked out in conference committee, the bill will go to the president.

The senator also asked for veterinarians' help in determining whether the Dietary Supplementary Health and Education Act of 1994, which he introduced, should be amended to extend the safety and labeling provisions to animal products. Congress values veterinary opinions, he said, emphasizing the need for veterinarians to speak with their representatives.

"Sometimes the only reason things don't happen," Hatch said, "is because people don't take the time to talk to us about it."