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AVMA: Lobby your senator to pass the Farm Bill


Washington - 11/20/07 - In an effort to get the bogged down Farm Bill passed with its veterinary-related amendments, the American Veterinary Medical Association's political arm wants DVMs to contact their senators.

Washington - 11/20/07 - In an effort to get the bogged down Farm Bill passed with its veterinary-related amendments, the American Veterinary Medical Association's political arm wants DVMs to contact their senators.

To do the job right, Dr. Mark Lutchaunig, director of AVMA's Governmental Relations Division, offers some grassroots lobbying lessons:

Personal visits and phone calls are most effective, especially while lawmakers are home during the holiday break, he says.

"The best thing to do is visit," Lutschaunig says. "If you call, ask for the staffer in charge of the Farm Bill specifically. If you just leave a message, some people think that does nothing. The same goes for faxes and letters, yet if you do send mail, the key is to personalize it. If they see a bunch of the same letters coming in, they're less apt to take it seriously."

The AVMA's Washington representative also asks DVM constituents to specifically mention the National Veterinary Medical Services Act (NVMSA), included in the Senate's version of the measure.

About the bill:

The Farm Bill, an extensive spending plan for most things agriculture, is expected to cost $288 billion over five years. The House passed its $290-billion version July 27, yet it does not contain many of the veterinary-related measures included in the Senate's version. The two chambers must hammer out a compromise before the appropriations measure goes up for President Bush's signature.

Authorization for the current Farm Bill ran out in September, yet a continuing resolution has kept its programs running at previous funding levels. The Senate, which reconvenes Nov. 26, is rumored to take the issue back up. Here are some amendment highlights in the Senate's version that pertain to veterinary medicine:

- The Veterinary Workforce Grant Program, offers competitive grants to U.S. veterinary medical institutions to increase capacity for students interested in agriculture biosecurity earns a mention. Language in the newly formed Agriculture Security Subtitle does not include a specific dollar amount for funding.

- The near-broke federal Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD)also receives attention, receiving $2.5 million for each fiscal year through 2012. The program was established in 1982 to provide veterinarians information on how to rid livestock of violative drug residues and contaminants. It's the only form of support and information veterinarians can rely upon to control drug and contaminant residues in the nation's food supply, and there is not enough money to staff it, supporters say. If the FARAD language survives debate, Congress must still fund the bill through the appropriations process.

- The National Veterinary Medical Services Act (NVMSA) is the final major veterinary initiative within the Farm Bill's 1,300-plus pages. Language tied to the act, designed to provide education loan-repayment for veterinarians working in the nation's underserved rural areas, demands the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) write rules and regulations to administrate it within 270 days of its enactment. USDA's Cooperative, State, Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) held up the act's implementation, previously passed and authorized by Congress, until this year, when officials used $750,000 of the $1 million appropriated for the program to bolster deficiencies in government's Food Safety and Inspection Service. That program already has rules and regulations in place, officials say. Critics contend such distribution, while lawful, goes against NVMSA's original intent to award funds to private practitioners to work in underserved geographical areas.

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