Taking care of business

HOD acts on dues increase, animal welfare, governance proposals
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Issues ranging from AVMA finances to the acquisition of cats and dogs used for research, testing, and education were on the agenda of the AVMA House of Delegates regular winter session Jan. 9 in Chicago.

Delegates took up five resolutions and three proposed bylaws amendments during the meeting, held in conjunction with the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, including a plan to increase annual dues for members in 2011.

AVMA House of Delegates

Dues increase

With 90 percent support, members of the HOD passed Resolution 2, which will increase dues for regular, associate, and affiliate members to $300 annually, beginning in 2011. This is up from $250 for regular and associate members and $225 for affiliates. Retired, educational, and recent graduate members will pay half as much in dues as will regular members. The $150 annual dues represents an increase of $25 for retired members and $40 for educational and recent graduate members.

The dues increase resolution, which was co-sponsored by the AVMA Executive Board and House Advisory Committee, authorizes an increase in annual dues for all but honor roll members, who will continue receiving free membership. Dues were last raised by $25 in 2004, and they were raised by the same amount in 2002.

The increase is expected to generate $3.5 million yearly for the AVMA. The Executive Board approves the AVMA annual budget, and the House of Delegates controls membership dues amounts.

Dr. Bret D. Marsh, AVMA treasurer, said the AVMA reserves are currently at 72 percent of the budget, and the dues increase will replace lost nondues income and help avoid further depletion of those reserves. The AVMA policy is to maintain reserves of 50 percent to 150 percent of the operating budget. The dues increase will also help the AVMA to maintain member services, including production of JAVMA and the American Journal of Veterinary Research, veterinary school accreditation programs, the AVMA Annual Convention, and government advocacy, as well as help to retain staff.

The measure passed with little comment on the HOD floor, but members of a House reference committee debated the matter prior to the full House vote.

Dr. Richard J. Sullivan, alternate delegate from California, cast the reference committee's lone vote in opposition to the increase. He said veterinarians in his state, particularly recent graduates, are suffering because of income losses.

Dr. Wally K. McCarthy, alternate delegate from New York, said in response that the AVMA cannot wait for good economic conditions to act, and the organization has to take action when the bottom line is hurting.

Dr. Marsh said the Executive Board and staff scrutinized every line item of the 2010 budget to balance income and expenses, and the effort resulted in 113 lines of cut or adjusted figures. Some of those cuts can be sustained for a year, but he warned that maintaining all the cuts could lead to decreased member services.

Random-source dogs and cats

Two competing resolutions recommended revisions to the AVMA policy "Use of Random-Source Dogs and Cats for Research, Testing, and Education."

Resolution 1 suggested amending the policy to state that entities are not to use class B dealers to acquire animals for research, testing, and education. Resolution 4 proposed revising the policy to accept the use of class B dealers only when viable alternatives aren't available. Moreover, Resolution 4 urged active support of efforts to find other sources and ultimately eliminate the need for class B dealers in acquiring animals for research, testing, and education.

Delegates approved both resolutions, but parliamentary procedures dictate that the last action on an issue is the official position of the Association, meaning Resolution 4 is the AVMA policy. The amended policy reads as follows:

Use of Random-Source Dogs and Cats for Research, Testing, and Education

The carefully controlled use of random-source dogs and cats contributes greatly to improving the health and welfare of both animals and human beings. Therefore, the AVMA believes there is ample justification for prudent and humane use of random-source dogs and cats in research, testing, and education, provided that:

  • The institution conducting such research, testing, or education has met all legal requirements and guidelines pertaining to the acquisition, care, and use of dogs and cats for these purposes;
  • The investigators have thoughtfully examined the need for such dogs and cats, appropriately justified the use of the species, and carefully determined the minimum number required to meet the needs of the protocol;
  • Adequate safeguards are used to ensure that only appropriately screened dogs and cats are obtained legally; and preventive measures are taken to optimize the health of dogs and cats used in research, testing, and education;
  • Class B dealers are used to obtain random-source dogs and cats only when viable alternatives do not exist; and
  • Alternative sources are explored and supported that will ultimately eliminate the need for Class B dealers as a source for random-source dogs and cats used in research, testing, and education.

The Executive Board, House Advisory Committee, and Reference Committee 2 recommended the HOD defeat Resolution 1 and pass Resolution 4.

The American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners submitted Resolution 4. Random-source dogs and cats are needed, ASLAP explained, on account of the animals' diverse genetic backgrounds, wide range of ages, variable body sizes, anatomic conformations, and other pre-existing conditions.

Unlike class A dealers, who breed animals specifically for research and teaching, class B dealers obtain animals for research and education from random sources, such as shelters and auctions. Both types of dealers are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and government, academia, and industry use them.

During Reference Committee 2 deliberations, Dr. Stacy L. Pritt, ASLAP alternate delegate, said 10 active class B dealers for dogs and cats currently operate in the United States. Although they supply a small number of animals—4 percent of the dogs and 1 percent of the cats used in research and education—class B dealers are necessary because they meet ongoing and future needs, Dr. Pritt said.

The New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania VMAs sponsored the resolution calling for the AVMA to withdraw its support for class B dealers. When the matter came before the HOD for discussion, New Jersey Alternate Delegate Mark P. Helfat said many class B dealers do not comply with USDA regulations, and animals suffer as a result.

Dr. Helfat called on the AVMA to take a stand and pass Resolution 1. "Do we maintain the status quo, or do we chart new ground?" he asked of the HOD.

Supporters of Resolution 1 referred to a study published in May 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences titled "Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research." The NAS committee recognized the value of random-source animals but concluded it wasn't necessary to obtain random-source dogs and cats from class B dealers for National Institutes of Health-sponsored research provided that alternative sources were available. It also recognized the need to continue to identify and develop such alternative sources.

Dr. Pritt told the HOD that the conclusions of the NAS study were limited to NIH-sponsored research and didn't address the needs of veterinary medical education or research projects not funded by the NIH.

Reference committee changes

The House of Delegates voted in favor of restructuring the HOD reference committees after amending Resolution 3 on the floor. The Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont VMAs co-sponsored the resolution.

Previously, the seven reference committees were divided among the following categories: administration, public matters, education and research, finance, legislative and governmental matters, member services, and scientific activities.

Now the reference committees will be set up to align with the AVMA's strategic goals. Initially, this would create reference committees on advocacy, animal welfare, economic viability, veterinary education, and veterinary workforce, while maintaining the current finance and administration committees. The structure of the reference committees may change as the AVMA's strategic goals do.

Not only do the resolution's provisions give greater flexibility for the HOD, said Dr. John de Jong, Massachusetts VMA delegate, they also make the body more relevant by allowing it to tackle specific issues and, by extension, create a stronger dialogue with constituents.

House Advisory Committee Chair and Kentucky Delegate Barbara A. Schmidt said the details, such as reference committee assignments, should be worked out by the April Executive Board meeting.

Swine disease surveillance

The HOD unanimously voted to support development of a comprehensive disease surveillance plan for the nation's swine.

Resolution 5, proposed by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, sought political support but not financial support as the AASV works with government agencies to develop a plan to monitor emerging, endemic, and foreign diseases.

The AASV, pork industry groups, the Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have participated in meetings and conference calls toward development of a surveillance program.

Drs. Schmidt and Scamahorn
House Advisory Committee Chair and Kentucky Delegate Barbara Schmidt and Executive Board Chair John R. Scamahorn explain to the House of Delegates the reasoning behind the HAC and board recommendations.

Bylaws amendments

Delegates passed an AVMA Bylaws amendment that allows the Student AVMA president to join the AVMA Executive Board as a nonvoting participant. Other nonvoting participants on the board are the treasurer, House Advisory Committee chair, executive vice president, and assistant executive vice president.

The revision was recommended by the Executive Board and supported by the HAC and Reference Committee 1. Having the Student AVMA president on the board will foster improved dialogue between students and AVMA leadership, according to the recommendation background.

"The vice president will continue to speak on student issues and retains his or her vote but the presence of the SAVMA President 'at the table' can improve the Executive Board's understanding of veterinary student issues and recommendations, and also the Student AVMA's understanding of AVMA Executive Board actions," the background stated.

A proposed bylaws amendment attempting to clarify the role of alternate delegates in the HOD failed to pass. The "no" vote was motivated more by a conflict over whether the information would be more appropriately placed in the AVMA Bylaws or HOD Manual than by concerns about the merit of the proposal itself. The amendment, submitted by the HAC, would have added this wording to the bylaws: "The delegate and alternate delegate shall have equal authority and responsibility within the House of Delegates with the exception of voting rights."

Dr. Schmidt, the HAC chair, had said the amendment would mean no changes in responsibilities for alternate delegates but would make clear that they are not substitutes. The HAC thought the "strongest place" to put the amendment was in the bylaws, she said.

Dr. Charlie L. Stoltenow, alternate delegate for North Dakota, disagreed. He helped revise the bylaws from 2003-2006 and said his group's work was meant to create a governing document that was freeing to the organization.

"The idea was that if it wasn't in the bylaws, you're free to do what you want to do," Dr. Stoltenow said. "We specifically took wording (like this) out of the bylaws and put it into the House Manual."

He added that this issue was already addressed in the HOD Manual in Section B6.

The HOD also voted against imposing term limits for delegates and alternate delegates starting in 2010.

The VMAs from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont submitted the proposed bylaws amendment, which would have limited delegates and alternate delegates to two consecutive three-year terms in each of those positions. For example, a veterinarian could have served six years as a delegate and the next six years as an alternate delegate, but that veterinarian would have been ineligible to serve in either position for the following three years.

AVMA Bylaws allow delegates and alternate delegates to serve for four years or until a successor is appointed, but some states have implemented term limits for their own delegates.

In debate on the House floor, representatives alternately spoke of the needs to make room for others to participate in the HOD, the benefits of institutional knowledge, the benefits of fresh perspectives, the differing needs of states and allied groups for filling the positions, the contrasting views of whether it should be the AVMA or veterinarians from each state who decide whether a delegate has served for too long, and the possible appearance of dictating policies to states.