AVMA Calls for Increased Veterinary Oversight in Meat Production; Cites USDA Audit Report Initiated After Hallmark/Westland Recall

Saturday, December 13, 2008 General News
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 The American Veterinary MedicalAssociation (AVMA) today cited the release of a U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report on pre-slaughteractivities in U.S. meat plants as additional confirmation that the shortage offood animal veterinarians(http://www.avma.org/press/releases/080208_nvmsa.asp) can have direconsequences on animal welfare.

The OIG report, which was released this week, was the culmination of aninvestigation requested by Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer following theHallmark/Westland recall of beef products earlier this year. The investigationexamined the history of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectionsat Hallmark/Westland and at 10 other facilities which, like the now-closedHallmark, slaughter older dairy or beef cows that are removed from the herdfor various reasons, usually decreased production.

Among the findings of the report is the existence of vulnerabilities, suchas the lack of an adequate number of veterinarians in inspection positions.These findings reaffirm the AVMA's stance -- formalized in a resolution theorganization's governing body approved last July -- that the FSIS hire moreveterinarians to fill current vacancies and create more veterinary positionsto adequately enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The Associationalso encourages greater use of FSIS' authority to provide student debt loanrepayments.

"Americans are concerned about the welfare of farm animals. But withoutenough veterinarians on the farms or at the slaughterhouses to do these jobs,it becomes difficult to meet the standards that we as a society demand," saidDr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA Chief Executive Officer.

"The federal government must take big, bold steps to increase veterinaryoversight in meat processing to prevent the animal welfare violations(http://www.avma.org/press/releases/080131_CA_slaughterhouse.asp) that causedthe Hallmark/Westland recall from repeating themselves," Dr. DeHaven added.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee,issued a statement on Tuesday that also emphasized the report's assessment ofveterinary shortage ramifications.

"This report proves that personnel from the front-line supervisor to thepublic health veterinarian were over-tasked and they could not keep up withall of the inspection procedures they were charged with carrying out," saidHarkin. "The public health veterinarian at the Hallmark/Westland plant was byhimself, where before, there were two veterinarians assigned to the plant. Ifthe Food Safety and Inspection Service does not assign a sufficient numbers ofinspectors, supervisors and veterinarians and provide the training theyrequire, we take a gamble with food safety and the humane treatment andslaughter of animals. These are serious shortcomings in deployment of FSISpersonnel, proper training of them, and utilization and adequacy of USDA foodsafety budget resources."

As a solution to help meet the critical shortage of food animalveterinarians, the AVMA has been actively pursuing funding and implementationof the National Veterinary Medical Service Act, a loan repayment program thatwould place veterinarians in underserved areas of the veterinary profession.The Association is also pursuing the passage of the Veterinary Public HealthWorkforce Expansion Act, a bill that would provide veterinary schools withcompetitive grants to increase capacity in these shortage areas.

"The report makes it obvious that every American should be concerned aboutthe veterinary shortage. We urge you to write your Congressionalrepresentatives in both the House and the Senate and encourage them to fundthe National Veterinary Medical Service Act and pass the Veterinary PublicHealth Workforce Expansion Act," said Dr. DeHaven.

Visit the AVMA Web site at http://www.avma.org for more information.

SOURCE American Veterinary Medical Association

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