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Farm Bill enters conference committee; leaders rally behind veterinary measures


Washington - 1/3/08 - Leaders in veterinary medicine are lobbying for several amendments in the Senate's version of the Farm Bill to remain intact.

Washington - 1/3/08 - Leaders in veterinary medicine are lobbying for several amendments in the Senate's version of the Farm Bill to remain intact.

The five-year omnibus package, which the Senate passed by a historic margin on Dec. 14, was referred to a House-Senate conference committee yesterday. Leaders aim to reconcile differences in the legislation by Feb. 1 - a final hurdle before the bill, formally known as The Food and Energy Security Act of 2007, goes to the White House for President Bush's signature.

The Farm Bill represents a massive spending plan that governs U.S. agriculture policy, touching everything from food stamps to farm payments and conservation programs. This year, several DVM initiatives received attention in the Senate's $288 billion spending package. The House passed its $290-billion version on July 27, yet it does not contain many of the Senate's veterinary-related measures.

As the chambers hash out their differences, the profession's leaders rally around the Senate's policy language, especially an amendment appropriating "funds as needed" to jumpstart the Veterinary Workforce Grant Program, known in its standalone form as the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act.

The amendment, outlined in the Farm Bill's newly formed Agriculture Security Subtitle, creates a competitive grants program for universities, which will allow them to build programs that increase their output of DVMs focused on public health. If enacted, the program will be run by the United States Department of Agriculture. If the language survives conference committee debates, Congress must still fund the program through the appropriations process.

"This is major," says Dr. Michael Chaddock, associate executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges . "The slant is to produce more veterinarians working in food safety, food systems, biomedical research and other public health-related areas of veterinary medicine."

Other highlights in the Senate's final package include:

  • $2.5 million in funds for the near-bankrupt federal Food Animal Residue Avoidance Database (FARAD), which will be spread out from 2008 through 2012. The program was established in 1982 to provide veterinarians information on how to rid livestock of drugs and contaminants. It is the only form of support and information veterinarians can rely upon to control drug and contaminant residues in the nation's food supply, supporters say.
  • Language to establish Regional Centers for Excellence in Food Systems Veterinary Medicine creates a grants program for accredited veterinary medical schools to provide comprehensive educational experiences for students who are geared toward food-animal practice, research, food-supply bioterrorism prevention and surveillance, food safety and the improvement of the quality of the environment.
  • 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 the 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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