Food-safety labs funding restored in federal budget

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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WASHINGTON – An amendment intended to restore funding to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which protects the nation's food supply from foreign animal diseases, was passed on June 16 by unanimous voice vote by the US House of Representatives.

Offered by freshman Rep. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.), the amendment was supported by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD), and other organizations concerned with health and food safety.

Gardner introduced the amendment after the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee proposed eliminating $4.4 million – representing all of NAHLN's funding – from the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative for fiscal year 2012. Cutting the NAHLN funding alarmed the AAVMC, AVMA, AAVLD and other agriculture and food industry experts, who warned that eliminating funding to the 59-member NAHLN laboratory network could put the nation's health at risk.

Many network labs are based at US colleges of veterinary medicine, where they conduct food animal surveillance, respond to food producer's calls and analyze tens of thousands of samples each year for threats, such as E. coli, which has the potential to spread to the human population.

Different labs feature different specialties, helping to protect people from diseases such as avian influenza, swine influenza and bovine spongiform encephalopathy. NAHLN labs also have upgraded facilities that meet bio-containment and physical security requirements in the event of a bioterrorism attack.

"In the event of an emergency, NAHLN can mobilize its network to test large numbers of samples rapidly, process diagnostic tests, and share information," said Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, AAVMC executive director. "We applaud the House, and especially Rep. Gardner, for realizing the critical role NAHLN plays in protecting our nation's food supply."

After funding was eliminated, the AAVMC, AVMA and others worked collaboratively to meet with congressional representatives, educate them about NAHLN's importance, and draft an amendment to restore funding. The AAVMC also urged member colleges of veterinary medicine to call and write their congressional representatives to explain the potentially disastrous consequences of de-funding. "In light of the total federal budget, $4.4 million isn't a lot of money, but that money is put to good use for an important cause," Pappaioanou aid.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, dean of the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine, stressed in a letter to US Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) NAHLN's importance to the nation's health, national security and economic welfare.

"Our laboratory protects the livestock and poultry industries of Oregon through accurate analysis of hundreds of samples every day in order to detect any disease that would have a significant economic impact on our state's and nation's agriculture industries, as well as threaten the safety of our food supply and harm public health," he wrote.

AAVMC will now work collaboratively with its partners to ensure the Senate retains this funding as they consider fiscal year 2012 appropriations for the Department of Agriculture.
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