Farm bill includes animal health, welfare provisions promoted by AVMA

Congress addresses research animals, TSEs, and nonambulatory livestock
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he massive $111 billion farm bill, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in May, will subsidize U.S. farmers over the next several years. The bill also contains several provisions backed by the AVMA, including a prohibition on interstate shipment of fighting birds, a directive for the Department of Agriculture to study nonambulatory livestock, and improved overtime pay for USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service veterinarians.

For months the farm bill lingered in conference as committee members searched for a compromise between House and Senate versions. Conferees at last issued their report May 1, and the House, followed by the Senate, quickly approved it. The election-year bill is a stark reversal of a 1996 congressional restriction limiting government subsidies to farmers. President Bush was reportedly unhappy with the bill because of the spending increases, but he signed it into law May 13.

The AVMA Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C., had been working with legislators and congressional staff on parts of the bill affecting animal health and welfare, biosecurity, veterinarians working for the federal government, and animal disease research. Following are some highlights.

The Puppy Protection Act was dropped from the conference report. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin introduced the bill (S. 1478) as an amendment to the farm bill. It provided for the socialization of puppies intended for sale as pets; prohibited female dogs from being bred before they are one year old, or from having more than three litters every two years; and established a three strikes system for Animal Welfare Act licensees who commit three or more serious violations of the act over an eight-year period.

Farm Bill

While supporting the intent of the bill, the AVMA opposed it because the Association felt it would not achieve its stated goals and could have unintended consequences for all dog breeders (see JAVMA, March 1, 2002, page 577). The House version of the farm bill did not contain a comparable provision of the puppy bill, and the conferees deleted the Senate provision.

Although an amendment authorizing the president to establish a senior executive service position in the Office of Science and Technology Policy for a veterinary adviser was deleted, the committee conferees noted that they "expect that OSTP will draw heavily upon the expertise of veterinarians to provide similar leadership to facilitate multi-agency efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks of animal diseases."

Also dropped from the bill was a Senate provision banning the interstate or foreign commerce in bear viscera—the body fluids and organs, not including blood or brains, of any bear species.

The Senate version of the farm bill included the Animal Health Protection Act, which consolidates and updates existing animal health authorities at the USDA. The House bill did not contain a comparable provision, but the conferees adopted the Senate provisions with some changes. The purpose of the act is to address pest and disease threats to animal health and production. The Animal Agriculture Coalition, of which the AVMA is a member organization, worked for many years to finally gain passage of this bill.

Rats, mice, and birds bred for research are not to be defined as "animal[s]" in the Animal Welfare Act, according to an amendment offered by North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms. The act was amended, however, to prohibit the interstate shipment of birds for fighting purposes. The maximum penalty for transporting animals for fighting purposes to other countries was raised from $5,000 to $15,000.

The Secretary of Agriculture is required to investigate and submit a report to Congress on the scope of nonambulatory livestock, causes of the condition, humane treatment, and the extent to which nonambulatory livestock may cause handling and disposition problems for stockyards, market agencies, and dealers.

The bill extends the Pseudorabies Eradication Program to 2007 and allows the Secretary of Agriculture to develop a program maintaining a sufficient number of federal and state veterinarians in all regions of the United States well trained in the recognition and diagnosis of exotic and endemic animal diseases.

The Agriculture Secretary can pay USDA employees working in an establishment subject to the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Products Inspection Act for all overtime and holiday work performed at the establishment at rates determined by the secretary, subject to applicable law relating to minimum wages and maximum hours.

Funds are available from 2002 through 2006, with the option of extending through 2007, to study transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, including chronic wasting disease in deer, elk, and moose, with results to be reported to the congressional agriculture committees. The risks to livestock are also to be examined.

A new research and extension grant program for livestock production is established within the High Priority Research and Extension Priorities Initiative of the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act. The act is amended to allow for a program controlling Johne's disease.

In the area of biosecurity, new authority was authorized for "such sums as necessary" for research, education, and economic activities to reduce food and agriculture vulnerability. Moreover, there is to be continuation of partnerships with higher education and other institutions to address biologic threats, and to offer competitive grants to counter or respond to attacks.

In addition, new authority was provided for competitive grants for security upgrades—limit of $10 million for each facility—at colleges and universities if the grant applicants can pay the nonfederal share of the cost. The conferees encouraged the Agriculture Secretary to give priority in awarding grants for the expansion of biosecurity research in the area of animal and plant diseases, substantial animal and plant diagnostic laboratories, and well-developed working relationships with the agriculture industry and farm and commodity organizations.