By Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, American Veterinary Medication Association President and CEO
As a proud sponsor of National Ag Day on March 25, the AVMA salutes our nation’s farmers and ranchers for the invaluable service they provide so that Americans have access to the highest quality, abundant and most affordable food products available.
At the same time, we’d also like to call attention to the important role that veterinarians play in supporting U.S. agriculture. With nearly 300 billion pounds of meat and dairy products produced in the United States annually, veterinarians serve a crucial role in every step of the process--from caring for animals on the farm to inspecting products before they go to market. Because of their work, veterinarians can spot and treat diseases early, help prevent foodborne illnesses and assist farmers with improving animal production.
Veterinarians are also America’s first line of defense against diseases that could threaten animal and public health and be detrimental to the economy. In fact, since 1892, U.S. veterinarians have lead efforts to eradicate more than 16 diseases in livestock that could have a disastrous effect on the economy and public health. Veterinarians also play an essential role in working with local, state and federal officials to keep America safe from the threats of bio- or agro-terror attacks.
To fully support our agricultural system, veterinarians depend on key programs and federal agencies that allow them to continue researching animal health and diseases, provide vital veterinary services in rural areas and monitor for diseases. AVMA recently commended Congress for its recent passage of the Farm Bill, which supports many of these initiatives.
But, just as a farmer’s work is never done, neither is that of our elected leaders in Washington. We implore lawmakers to move forward with passing the fiscal 2015 spending bills so that our nation’s farmers and veterinarians can continue to have the resources they need to enhance U.S. agriculture.
Of importance, the AVMA is seeking funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which guards our country against 160 foreign animal diseases, and the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, which serves as our nation’s primary animal disease surveillance and emergency response system. The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD), which gives veterinarians and livestock producers information to ensure that milk, meat and eggs are free of drug and chemical residues before entering the food supply, is also vital for U.S. agriculture. In 2013, more than 7.5 million animals were impacted in nearly 2,000 residue avoidance cases handled by FARAD. Without full funding for these critical programs, veterinarians and scientists will not have access to the tools they need to help farmers prevent the spread of harmful diseases before they impact animal or public health.
AVMA is encouraged by Congress’ continued support for two key programs that place veterinarians in areas of the country where there are shortages in livestock and public health veterinary medicine. The Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), now in its fifth year of operation, provides student loan repayment in exchange for veterinarians serving in rural areas. Because of its success, there are currently 216 veterinarians serving throughout the country. Similarly, the Veterinary Services Grant Program addresses other gaps in veterinary medicine. Congress should continue to fund these key programs which are important for protecting food safety and ensuring animal health and welfare.
Congress should also take swift action to allow veterinarians to continue providing complete care in rural areas and on farms. The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act will make it legal for veterinarians to carry and use controlled substances—vital medications used for pain management, anesthesia or euthanasia—beyond their clinics. Without that capability, veterinarians cannot fully do their jobs.
Our nation will never stop needing the people who produce our food or care for our livestock. Let’s reciprocate by supporting essential veterinary and agricultural programs that enhance their ability to do their jobs.
Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA, is the executive vice president and chief executive officer for the American Veterinary Medical Association. He is the former administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
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