Legislation authorizing what the AVMA believes to be much-needed funding for a national laboratory network safeguarding animal and public health was included in the Farm Bill before both chambers of Congress as of late May.
Earlier in the month, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado introduced The Animal and Public Health Protection Act (S. 859), which would authorize $15 million annually for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network from 2014-2018. Established more than a decade ago, the laboratory network monitors diseases that threaten animal and public health domestically.
“Labs like the ones at (Colorado State University) help support the economic vitality of our livestock industry and protect the public by identifying diseases early and preventing the consequences of potentially devastating outbreaks,” said Bennet, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This common-sense, yet vital, research yields tremendous economic and public health benefits to Colorado and the entire country.”
The NAHLN is a cooperative effort between the Department of Agriculture and the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians and is composed of federal, university, and state veterinary diagnostic laboratories.
The network was established in response to the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, and to the Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-9 of 2004 to “develop nationwide laboratory networks for food, veterinary, plant health and water quality that integrate existing federal and state laboratory resources, are interconnected, and utilize standardized diagnostic protocols and procedures.”
Bennet’s bill is an effort to protect the network against the uncertainty of Congress’ yearly budgeting process.
“In 2010, Congress unexpectedly cut infrastructure funding for the NAHLN, which seriously jeopardized the national disease surveillance work that veterinary diagnostic laboratories throughout the country do to protect our food supply and the public from disease,” said Dr. Tim Baszler, immediate past president of the AAVLD and director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“The Animal and Public Health Protection Act would restore full funding for this vital early-warning system for emerging and high-consequence diseases detrimental to both animal and public health,” Dr. Baszler explained.
The AVMA has long prioritized the NAHLN and the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative, which provides baseline funding for the NAHLN, in its advocacy efforts concerning the Farm Bill and annual appropriations.
“A robust NAHLN will help control any potential catastrophic disease outbreak, limit the spread of disease, and, as a result, limit the diseases’ impact on public health, animal suffering, and interruption of the food supply, and help ensure the financial health of livestock and related industries,” AVMA CEO Ron DeHaven said.
Several other organizations support the Animal and Public Health Protection Act, including the U.S. Animal Health Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.
The Farm Bill is an omnibus piece of legislation that spreads billions of dollars of support across a wide swath of society, including farmers, fruit and vegetable growers, and consumers, and is reauthorized roughly every five years. The 2008 Farm Bill expired in September 2012, but Congress passed a one-year extension.
As of the deadline in late May, the House and Senate were considering the versions of the 2013 Farm Bill passed by their respective agriculture committees.