WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The American Veterinary Medical Association today cited the release of a USDA Office of the Inspector General report on pre-slaughter activities in U.S. meat plants as additional confirmation that the shortage of food animal veterinarians can have dire consequences on animal welfare.



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



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



"Americans are concerned about the welfare of farm animals. But without enough 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," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO.



"The federal government must take big, bold steps to increase veterinary oversight in meat processing to prevent the animal welfare violations that caused the Hallmark/Westland recall from repeating themselves," 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 of veterinary shortage ramifications.



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



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



"The report makes it obvious that every American should be concerned about the veterinary shortage. We urge you to write your Congressional representatives in both the House and the Senate and encourage them to fund the National Veterinary Medical Service Act and pass the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act," said DeHaven.



SOURCE: American Veterinary Medical Association via PR Newswire.