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Senate to debate Farm Bill today; framework contains veterinary issues

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Washington - 11/6/07 - The Farm Bill is scheduled to hit the U.S. Senate floor this afternoon, opening up a policy debate on farming issues and a handful of topics related to veterinary medicine.

Washington - 11/6/07 - The Farm Bill is scheduled to hit the U.S. Senate floor this afternoon, opening up a policy debate on farming issues and a handful of topics related to veterinary medicine.

True debate and voting likely will begin on Friday, according to Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Governmental Relations Division in Washington.

The entire bill, an extensive spending plan for most things agricultural, 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 by the Senate. The two chambers must hammer out a compromise before the appropriations measure goes up for President Bush's signature.

In the meantime, Senate deliberations, expected to continue for weeks, could include talk on a bill amendment that features the Veterinary Workforce Grant Program, offering competitive grants to U.S. veterinary medical institutions to increase capacity for students interested in agriculture biosecurity. Language in the newly formed Agriculture Security Subtitle does not include a specific dollar amount.

The woefully under-funded federal Food Animal Residue Avoidance Database (FARAD) also receives attention in the measure. The bill authorizes $2.5 million for each fiscal year through 2012. The program, in danger of going bankrupt, was established in 1982 to provide veterinarians information on how to rid livestock of drug 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, insiders add.

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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