Whew! That was a close one

Hoard's Dairyman: 

Whew! That was a close one

Date: 
Fri, 07/01/2011

Sanity flickered in Washington D.C. last week that greatly reduces the potential of an animal health catastrophe occurring in U.S. agriculture. It is, however, only the first step in a process that is far from over.

On May 31, the U.S. House of Representatives Ag Subcommittee, in a search for budget dollars to cut, eliminated most programs in the “Integrated Activities” category from the Food and Agricultural Defense Initiative funding proposal for fiscal year 2012. “So what?” you say? Well, “Integrated Activities” included $4.4 million of baseline funding for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), the system of state labs whose mission is to keep foreign animal diseases out of the U.S.

Bluntly put, NAHLN is the front line of daily surveillance in the field that looks for suspicious animals, responds to producer calls, and analyzes tens of thousands of samples each year for things like foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). After the two national animal diagnostic labs in Ames, Iowa, and Plum Island, New York, the only thing standing between U.S. agriculture and a foreign animal disease epidemic are the 59 labs in the NAHLN system.

NAHLN is an incomprehensibly razor-thin line of defense; yet its entire funding was proposed for elimination. It operates on a shoestring anyway – a paltry $4.4 million of base funding that seems more like throw-away change than an actual budget. Last week, thankfully, that funding was put back into the budget proposal, no doubt due in part to strong lobbying efforts by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD).

It cannot be understated how close of a call the proposed funding elimination was for all U.S. livestock producers or how vital it is that NAHLN funding be included in the final budget that is approved.