WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2013 – As the federal government heads into “week two” of the shutdown, USDA changed course and decided that some Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB) employees are now “excepted” and will be allowed to return to work.

“A limited number of Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB) employees have been recalled on a limited basis to address a vaccine shortage, which could endanger animal health,” USDA noted in a statement today. “The majority of the work that the CVB conducts will remain closed due to the government shutdown such as evaluation and testing of new products.”

These recalled CVB employees are responsible for verifying crucial animal vaccines for release into the marketplace, ensuring that veterinarians and farmers have access to the vaccinations they need to keep their flocks and herds healthy.

“In other shutdowns, CVB was considered an essential service,” Ron Phillips, AHI's Vice President for Legislative and Public Affairs told Agri-Pulse. “According to USDA policy, CVB activities certainly belong in the public health exemption.” However, it came to AHI's attention on Oct. 1 that the current USDA interpretation does not include CVB vaccine releases as an “essential service.”

Industry groups mobilized to convince USDA that a different interpretation was needed. Most food-producing companies only hold a one or two-week inventory of major vaccines, meaning that some would have run out of their supply if the CVB was unable to release new batches after a two-week period, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

AVMA sent a letter to USDA Deputy Krysta Harden and leaders of the major poultry organizations, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, National Chicken Council and National Turkey Federation, also sent a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., insisting that animal health vaccine release is an essential activity.

 “We ask that appropriate funding be allocated immediately, so there are no interruptions at CVB,” the letter concluded.

Craig Wallace, North American CEO of Ceva Animal Health also sent a similar letter to Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kans., on the day the shutdown began. 

USDA noted that their decision is consistent with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service shutdown plan, under which a limited number of agency employees may be required to perform excepted activities to protect property, public health and food safety. 

The AVMA – which last week criticized the department for not allowing vaccines to be verified  - applauded Secretary Vilsack for “reevaluating the merits of the program.”

“I would like to express my gratitude to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for his thoughtful action in resuming the approval of batches of vaccines, which are essential to keep food animals and the public healthy,” said Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA’s chief executive officer. “We always emphasize that healthy food starts with healthy animals and allowing veterinarians to have access to critical vaccines is an important preventive measure that must continue even in the midst of the federal government shutdown. I applaud Secretary Vilsack for reevaluating the merits of this program and having the foresight to appreciate its importance to ensuring a safe and affordable food supply for Americans.”



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