Federal legislation that would strengthen laws against animal fighting and horse soring and allow veterinarians to legally administer controlled drugs while on the road are drawing maximum support from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Governmental Relations Division.
The Washington, D.C., office this month updated its 113th Congress Legislative Agenda, which identifies bills that deserve the greatest focus from lobbyists working on behalf of AVMA and about two dozen pieces of legislation that get less attention.
The Governmental Relations Division pushes not only for the passage of selected bills but also the defeat of legislation deemed not in the best interests of veterinary medicine or the public. Two bills vigorously opposed are HR 1150, which would ban the use of antibiotics in food animals for nonmedical reasons, and HR 1094, which would prohibit the sale and transport of horses targeted for slaughter.
Individual bills have the best chance of becoming law if they are attached to the massive Farm Bill, which Congress is under pressure to approve by Sept. 30, said Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, an assistant director in the Governmental Relations Division. Failure to approve the Farm Bill, which Dr. Miller said contains "tons of programs very important to agriculture,” would mean an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, leaving the smaller pieces to fend for themselves.
"The Farm Bill’s a little bit of a mess,” Dr. Miller said. "If they can’t reach an agreement, we’d have to start again.”
Any legislation not acted upon by the 113th Congress, which runs through 2014, is effectively dead and would have to be reintroduced. That’s especially true for veterinary-centric proposals, Miller said.
"It’s hard to pass small niche pieces of legislation,” she said.
Bills garnering the most support, or what AVMA calls "active pursuit of passage,” are:
• The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which would ban people from attending events such as cockfighting and dogfighting.
• The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, which would amend the Horse Protection Act to strengthen penalties and improve enforcement regarding the use of action devices and performance packages. The equipment is designed to inflict pain in Tennessee Walking Horses, spotted saddle horses and racking horses to produce a high-stepping, unnatural gait.
• The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, which would allow veterinarians to transport and dispense controlled substances away from their registered offices. The legislation would fix what one sponsor, U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, has called a "confusing interpretation of existing law” that technically criminalizes the everyday actions of mobile and ambulatory practitioners. Schrader teamed up on the legislation with a fellow veterinarian, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho.
• The Animal and Public Health Protection Act, which would authorize $15 million in funding to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.
• The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, which helps repay the student loans of veterinarians who agree to practice in shortage areas.
The Governmental Relations Division is working in "active pursuit of defeat” of two bills. The first, the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, would amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by prohibiting the sale or transport of equines headed for slaughter as food for people.
AVMA’s stand may be seen as hypocritical for an organization dedicated to animal welfare, but Miller said other factors are in play. While horses have not been slaughtered in the United States since 2007, proposals to resume the practice in New Mexico and Iowa are in legal limbo.
"For us it’s such a nuanced issue and a very emotional issue,” Miller said. "We try to look at it from an objective point of view. The unintended consequence [of a slaughter ban] would be one less option for owners who could no longer take care of their horses.”
The Governmental Relations Division also is working to defeat the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which AVMA argues would eliminate many of the beneficial uses of antimicrobials.
"Animals, and thus our food supply, are kept healthy with judicious use of antimicrobials, vaccinations, parasiticides, good nutrition and good management practices says an AVMA fact sheet on the issue.
Many other bills of interest to the profession receive less time and fewer resources from the Governmental Relations Division for a multitude of reasons. Current examples include the Marine Turtle Conservation Reauthorization Act, which has general support, and the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act, which is opposed.