Lobbying for animal disease issues

AVMA will aim to advance animal disease research, emergency preparedness and response
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With a go-ahead from the Executive Board, the AVMA Governmental Relations Division will give the highest priority to seeking funding for revamping the U.S. foreign animal disease research and diagnostic laboratory facility, and a number of other legislative items dealing with animal disease research and emergency preparedness.

The AVMA will actively pursue funding that will allow for the upgrading or rebuilding of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the U.S. foreign animal disease research and diagnostic laboratory facility. After 50 years of service as the only facility in North America where foot-and-mouth disease research can be done, Plum Island is in need of renovations and upgrades. A 2001 report commissioned by the Department of Agriculture determined that it would be more cost effective to build a new facility than remodel the old facility.

The AVMA feels it is an opportune time to seek funding for the facility. The Department of Homeland Security took over the management of Plum Island in June 2003, and Homeland Security Presidential Directive-9 requires the secretaries of Agriculture and Homeland Security to develop a plan to provide safe, secure, and state-of-the-art agriculture biocontainment laboratories that conduct research and develop diagnostic capabilities for foreign animal and zoonotic diseases. Plum Island falls within directive-9. In addition, President Bush's budget for 2005 included a request for $178 million to continue the modernization and consolidation project of the USDA laboratories in Ames, Iowa. Congress, however, appropriated $122 million.

The AVMA will also actively lobby for federal funds to increase USDA §1433 Formula Funds for Animal Health from the current $20 million to $100 million. Formula funds are distributed to all states based on animal inventory and research capacity. If the funds are increased, the nation's agriculture experiment stations, colleges of agriculture, and colleges of veterinary medicine will have more resources to improve prevention, surveillance, diagnosis, and control measures for infectious disease such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, avian influenza, and monkeypox. This will improve the ability of states to respond to public and animal health emergencies.

To respond to animal emergencies, the nation needs a system that can identify individual animals or groups of animals, the premises where they are located, and the date of entry to the premises. For this reason, the AVMA will support funding for the Department of Agriculture's National Animal Identification System. To achieve optimal success, the system should have the ability to retrieve information within 48 hours of confirmation of a disease outbreak.

Manpower is another necessary component of protecting public health and responding to an animal emergency. The AVMA will actively lobby for passage of legislation that will address the critical shortage of veterinarians working in public practice areas, such as public health, environmental health, food safety and food security, regulatory medicine, and biomedical research. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has drafted legislative language, called the Veterinary Medical Education and Workforce Development Act, which addresses the funding necessary to augment the nation's veterinary education infrastructure. This includes a competitive grants program to increase the number of veterinarians in public practice, in order to enhance national health preparedness. The grants would expand on existing schools of veterinary medicine, or other academic programs that offer postgraduate training for veterinarians or concurrent training for veterinary students in specific areas of specialization. This expansion would include faculty and programs, as well as infrastructure, such as administrative space, classrooms, teaching laboratories, research laboratories, and BSL-3 laboratories. It could also fund the initial establishment of new veterinary schools.

The AVMA will also actively lobby for funds for the National Veterinary Medical Service Act. The act authorizes educational debt forgiveness for veterinarians who work in underserved areas and veterinarians who join a "national guard" of veterinarians who would assist the USDA in animal and public health emergencies. The National Veterinary Medical Service Act has been passed, but not funded.