AVMA takes a stand on legislative initiatives

AVMA to pursue funding for animal ID, opposes bills on horse slaughter and dog breeding
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To help speed the implementation of the U.S. Animal Identification Plan—a task made more urgent by the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a U.S. cow last year—the AVMA has vowed to actively pursue legislation that will provide adequate funding for the plan.

President Bush's budget for fiscal year proposes $33 million to fund the program; however, estimates of the cost of implementing the U.S. Animal Identification Plan run as high as $550 million. To help close the funding gap, the Executive Board recently authorized the AVMA to actively lobby for legislation that would provide more funding for the plan.

In November 2003, the Executive Board endorsed a United States Animal Health Association resolution to accept the U.S. Animal Identification Plan as a work in progress. The plan would allow the Department of Agriculture and state officials to rapidly trace animals in an animal disease emergency. The June 15 issue of JAVMA will feature an update on the implementation of the plan.

The board also authorized the AVMA to oppose two pieces of legislation that could affect the welfare of horses and commercially bred dogs.

On the recommendation of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the board authorized the AVMA to actively lobby against the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. The bill would prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption, the import or export of horses or horsemeat for human consumption, and trade in horses or horsemeat for human consumption. Horsemeat is not consumed in the United States, but it is considered a delicacy in Europe, Japan, and other parts of the world.

The AVMA and the AAEP oppose the bill, as currently written, because it does not provide guidelines or resources for the long-term humane care of unwanted horses, and could result in abuse or neglect of those horses. According to a memo from the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee to the AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee, there are an estimated 55,000 to 70,000 old, infirm, unmanageable, and otherwise unwanted horses that are disposed of each year by slaughter. The proposed bill does not provide funding for the more than $124 million that would be needed to care for those horses in first year, and has no provisions for the funding the long-term care of these horses. The bill advocates methods of euthanasia that are not consistent with the recommendations of the 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia. It also does not address the safe disposal of carcasses that have been contaminated with euthanasia agents, which can pose an environmental hazard to other animals, including protected species.

The board approved AVMA opposition to the Puppy Protection Act, which would amend the Animal Welfare Act to more strictly regulate commercial dog breeders. The AVMA will not actively fight the passage of the bill, but will make public its opposition to the bill because of flaws in the way it is written. The decision was based on the recommendation of the AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee, and the Animal Welfare Committee supports the recommendation.

"It's a poor piece of legislation," said board member and District II representative Dr. Gregory S. Hammer. "It has a lot of sympathy and support, but it's not a good bill."

The Animal Welfare Committee said the bill, as it is written, is flawed because it sets a dangerous precedent in prescribing whelping frequency without consideration for the professional judgment of a veterinarian, or adequate scientific justification. The bill does not address the issue of unlicensed facilities. Additionally, it establishes a three-strikes rule that would require the USDA to revoke the license of anyone—not just puppy mill dealers—licensed under the Animal Welfare Act who commits three "serious" violations of the Puppy Protection Act. The bill does not define what constitutes a serious violation, however, and that could cause enforcement problems.