Legal remedy for unwanted horses an AVMA priority

Association also backing pet evacuation legislation
Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

The AVMA is stepping up its advocacy for federal laws advancing animal welfare and public health. The Executive Board acted on a slate of recommendations on legislation addressing a range of issues, from southern sea otter recovery and research to Johne's disease control and detection.

Unwanted horses

The board green-lighted a bold initiative for the AVMA to draft legislation, with input from the American Association of Equine Practitioners, addressing welfare concerns relating to the nation's unwanted and retired horse population.

The AVMA has been actively pursuing defeat of The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Sponsored by Rep. John Sweeney of New York, H.R. 503 would prohibit the slaughter of horses for meat exported for human consumption. Approximately 70,000 horses are processed for food at three U.S. slaughter plants annually.

Herd of horses roaming a pasture

Sweeney's bill would also ban transporting live horses from America to countries where they'll be slaughtered for human consumption. Somewhere from 5,000 to 20,000 horses are shipped from the United States to Mexico and Canada for such purposes each year.

Although the measure has lingered in committee since February, Sweeney successfully added an amendment to the 2006 agriculture appropriations bill to halt U.S. exports of horsemeat for human consumption for at least a year (see JAVMA, Nov. 1, 2005).

The AVMA, AAEP, and other equine stakeholders opposing the legislation say the law is flawed and could inadvertently harm thousands of horses whose owners no longer want them yet have few options for disposing of them humanely.

For this reason, the Legislative Advisory Committee recommended that the AVMA write a bill ensuring the humane care and treatment of these animals. "This would mean the AVMA would write the legislation and seek a sponsor. This would be a new piece of legislation," Dr. Michael Chaddock, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division, explained prior to the board vote.

In its recommendation, the LAC identified five areas the unwanted-horse bill should address:

  • Euthanasia: Euthanasia, if necessary, must be done in accordance with approved methods as outlined in the most current Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia.
  • Standards for horse retirement programs: Regulatory oversight must be established for rescue and retirement facilities to assure the proper husbandry, treatment, and welfare of the animals under their care. Additional appropriations must be provided to the regulatory body that will oversee these facilities. Standards of care may be in accordance with the AAEP's Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities.
  • Proper disposal of healthy and discarded carcasses: Additional research is needed on cost effective, environmentally friendly carcass disposal methods. This research could be coordinated by the Department of Agriculture or Environmental Protection Agency. These methods need to be in accordance with all local, state, and federal laws and regulatory policies to prevent public and animal health issues. Any legislation must be accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement.
  • Education: In cooperation with the equine community, the USDA and state departments of agriculture need to develop and implement programs to educate present and future horse owners about the proper care of horses, including disposition options when the horse is no longer wanted or is no longer useful to the owner.

In a related action, the Executive Board voted in favor of a recommendation by District V representative James Cook to pay the $1,000 dues for the AVMA's participation in the Unwanted Horse Coalition. The coalition was organized to bring together key stakeholders to address the issue of unwanted horses.

The coalition met twice in 2005; participating organizations have been asked to pay a $1,000 dues fee. The money will be used to cover the group's start-up costs, including Web site development, meeting costs, and educational material development.

Pet evacuation

The AVMA also strongly supports passage of federal legislation requiring state and local emergency preparedness plans to account for the needs of pet and service animal owners in the wake of a major disaster or emergency.

The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act is essential, considering the number of people refusing to evacuate without their pets during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to the LAC recommendation for the Executive Board to assign H.R. 3858 "Active Pursuit of Passage" on the AVMA Legislative Scoring System.

The Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues supports the LAC proposal, which also noted the legislation—introduced by California Rep. Tom Lantos and supported by 71 co-sponsors—is in keeping with the AVMA's Emergency Management Program Strategic Plan. The plan calls for the inclusion of animals in federal and state emergency operations plans.

Southern sea otters

Executive Board members approved a recommendation supporting passage of The Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr of California. If enacted, Farr's bill, H.R. 2323, would create a recovery program for southern sea otters along the California coast. The federal government has listed the otters as a "threatened" species.

When the legislation was introduced in the 108th Congress, the board had assigned it "Active Pursuit of Passage" at the recommendation of the LAC. But after considering legislative priorities and resources, the committee thought "Support" to be the appropriate category during this 109th Congress.

Steel-jawed traps

The AVMA continues its support for The Inhumane Trapping Prevention Act. Sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, H.R. 3442 would end the use of conventional steel-jawed leghold traps on animals in the United States. In addition, it sets penalties for violators and rewards for persons providing information leading to the conviction of violators.

The AVMA has supported the bill in the 107th and 108th Congresses because, as the LAC and Animal Welfare Committee noted, the legislation is consistent with the AVMA Position Statement on Trapping.

Trapping is useful and necessary for managing wildlife populations, according to the statement. Trapping devices that cause instant death or work on the principle of live capture without pain or injury are acceptable, it continues, but the steel-jawed leghold trap is inhumane.

Random-source cats and dogs

The AVMA has gone on record as not supporting a measure that would prohibit using random-source dogs and cats for research or teaching.

The Pet Safety and Production Act would amend the Animal Welfare Act so that licensed dealers could not sell or otherwise provide random-source dogs and cats to research facilities unless specified certification requirements were met.

Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii introduced S. 451 in February 2005 as a means of ensuring that family pets aren't sold for research.

In their recommendations to the Executive Board, the LAC and Council on Research noted that Akaka's bill is inconsistent with the AVMA Position Statement on Use of Random-Source Dogs and Cats for Research, Testing, and Education, which states the carefully controlled use of random-source dogs and cats contributes greatly to improving the health and welfare of animals and humans.

The COR recommendation also pointed out how the Department of Agriculture's enforcement efforts under the current Animal Welfare Act do provide for the safety of family pets and the welfare of all research animals.

Believing the AVMA should work aggressively against passage of S. 451, the COR recommended "Active Pursuit of Defeat" on the AVMA Legislative Scoring System. The LAC suggested a "Nonsupport" score, however, which the Animal Welfare Committee supported.

Several major biomedical research organizations are actively opposing the bill, the AWC noted. Considering that allocation of resources, a nonsupport approach is advisable. The board agreed and approved the LAC recommendation.

Great cats and rare canids

Legislation to fund conservation programs for exotic felids and canids is being supported by the AVMA.

The Great Cats and Rare Canids Act would set up a fund assisting in the conservation of rare wild cats and dogs that face a variety of threats, including habitat degradation, loss of natural prey, intentional and unintentional takings by humans, and disease transmission.

In November 2004, the Executive Board disapproved an LAC recommendation of "Support" for legislation during the 108th Congress because of concerns that the funds would assist the domestic gray wolf.

Florida Rep. Clay Shaw has reintroduced the legislation—H.R. 1707—in the 109th Congress, and the AVMA Governmental Relations Division has confirmed that it does not cover species native to the United States or Canada, including the domestic wolf.

National laboratory network

The AVMA has made full funding for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network in FY 2007 and beyond a legislative priority.

The primary objective of the network is the utilization of existing federal and state diagnostic laboratories to rapidly and accurately detect and report animal pathogens of national importance, such as the virus causing foot-and-mouth disease and those possibly used in attacks on U.S. animal agriculture.

The American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians strongly supports the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and worries inadequate funding could harm animal health and the nation's animal food supply.

The AAVLD requested the LAC to review the current funding of the network and, if appropriate, make a recommendation to the Executive Board for the AVMA to seek increased funding. Initially, $10 million had been allocated for the network in the FY 2006 Agriculture Appropriations bill but was dropped from the bill Congress passed.

The board approved the LAC recommendation of "Active Pursuit" of $115 million funding—$85 million for infrastructure and $30 million annually for continuing operations.

Johne's disease

The Executive Board approved a recommendation of "Support" for seeking a little more than $25 million in congressional appropriations for the Johne's disease program in FY 2007 and beyond.

The National Bovine Johne's Disease Control Program is a cooperative effort between the USDA, state departments of agriculture, and the U.S. cattle industry. The program's growth during the past four years has resulted in producer participation, strategies to control the disease, and disease detection methods.

The LAC, with the support of the Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine, recommended that the AVMA support the allocation of $25.4 million in the FY 2007 Agriculture Appropriations bill in the following areas: $18.74 million for the National Johne's Disease Control Program; $1.5 million for the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Johne's disease research; $1.2 million for the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service for Johne's Disease Integrated Programs; and $4 million for ARS Food Safety Regional Dairy Quality Management Assurance Program.

Animal fighting

The AVMA is supporting The Animal Fighting Prohibition Act, which would strengthen prohibitions against animal fighting. In addition, violators could be fined, imprisoned up to two years, or both.

After considering the AVMA's legislative priorities and resources, the LAC recommended "Support" for the bill, H.R. 817/S. 382, whereas the Animal Welfare Committee suggested the more proactive "Active Pursuit of Passage." The board voted in favor of the LAC view.

Antifreeze bittering agent

Legislation requiring the addition of denatonium benzoate to antifreeze so as to render it unpalatable would provide some benefits to children and animals, according to the LAC recommendation for The Antifreeze Bittering Act to be classified under "Support" on the AVMA Legislative Scoring System.

The Executive Board approved the proposal, which would apply to engine coolant or antifreeze that is manufactured six months after the enactment of the law and contains more than 10 percent ethylene glycol—including not less than 30 ppm nor more than 50 ppm.

The LAC submitted a similar recommendation in November 2004 during the 108th Congress. Concerns over conflicting scientific evidence regarding the efficacy of denatonium benzoate as a taste deterrent in ethylene glycol prompted the board to ask for additional information about the legislation, however.

After deliberating over the new bill, H.R. 2567/S. 1110, the LAC felt it to be beneficial and that the AVMA should be supportive of the effort.

National health museum

The AVMA has joined a campaign to create a national museum of health and health science in Washington, D.C.

The American Medical Association has requested that the AVMA support passage of The National Health Museum Act authorizing construction of the museum at Independence Avenue and 12th Street. The institute's mission is to educate, engage, and inspire people to understand the past, present, and future of health and health science.

District IV representative Dr. Larry R. CorryThe Executive Board approved the LAC recommendation for "Support" of H.R. 3630 as a means of seeing to it that veterinary medicine is fully, accurately, and prominently in the National Health Museum.

Executive Branch fellow

Starting in 2006, the AVMA Governmental Relations Division will decide with which federal agency the AVMA Executive Branch fellow will spend his or her fellowship, such as the Department of Homeland Security or Department of Health and Human Services.

Since the Executive Board converted one of the three AVMA Congressional Science Fellowships to an Executive Branch Fellowship in 2003, the board has authorized one fellow's placement at that branch: 2005-2006 fellow, Dr. Jeanie Lin, with the Homeland Security Department.

The LAC had recommended placing the 2006-2007 Executive Branch fellow in the DHS. The board approved an amended recommendation that allows the GRD to place the fellow in the agency it considers best.