WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Feb. 4 Statement from Acting APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea regarding allegations at Ames, Iowa, Laboratories:

"As Secretary Vilsack indicated in a statement today, based upon information we provided, the Office of Inspector General began conducting an investigation into the alleged actions of employees at the Department's laboratories in Ames, Iowa, involving the use of veterinary credentials to purchase medications for human use so that other employees might be provided with low-cost prescription drugs.

"We appreciate OIG's assistance and their prompt and thorough response to our request for an investigation. We fully recognize the seriousness of this situation and have taken immediate action to address the charges alleged in the investigation. APHIS has met with and placed 17 APHIS employees identified in the investigation as participating in or having knowledge of the alleged improper conduct on administrative leave until a complete review of the evidence provided by OIG is conducted.

"Since APHIS will be conducting a further review and investigation of the information provided by OIG, we are limited in the amount of information we can provide at this time, and we will not be releasing the names of employees due to privacy concerns.

"We want to stress that, while we are extremely concerned with the conduct demonstrated at Ames, there is no evidence any test results or other official laboratory activities were compromised in any way or caused any animal health risk. APHIS is dedicated to protecting American agriculture, and this investigation and its results will by no means prevent us from our critical mission of ensuring animal and plant health.

"As Secretary Vilsack emphasized, laboratory accountability is critical, as is the American public, trading partner and stakeholder trust. In an effort to be fully transparent, we have commissioned two third-party reviews - one of Ames' laboratory processes and the other of the management processes. We expect both reviews to objectively identify any needed enhancements to our laboratory or management processes and systems and provide information on how APHIS can prevent such situations from recurring.

"The laboratory review has been completed, and although we are still in the process of thoroughly evaluating the results, we are gratified to see that it affirmed the laboratory is generally functioning very well and successfully fulfilling its responsibilities. The management review is ready to commence. To the extent permitted by concerns of privacy and security, both the reviews will be made available to the public once they are complete.

"Accountability and responsibility will drive APHIS' efforts as we move forward from today to reinforce with our workforce both at Ames and throughout the Agency our duty as civil servants to uphold the public trust and demonstrate and follow the highest ethical standards. Agency leadership are onsite in Ames meeting with employees to discuss the investigation, Agency policies, and to answer any of their questions and concerns."

AVMA supports USDA investigation

While the American Veterinary Medical Association said it is disheartened by the initial report of alleged abuse of veterinary licenses within the USDA laboratories located in Ames, Iowa, it applauds the transparent and thorough nature of the current investigation.

"Although, it is disappointing to hear of any potential abuse of veterinary medical licenses and the public trust, we applaud Secretary Vilsack, the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Office of the Inspector General on their thorough and rapid action to investigate alleged improper conduct," said AVMA's Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Ron DeHaven, DVM.

"All veterinarians are expected to adhere to a strict professional code of veterinary medical ethics. We are confident that Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and APHIS leadership will ensure that the vital work of the National Veterinary Services Laboratories will continue uninterrupted and that any impropriety will be dealt with appropriately."

DeHaven expressed his confidence in the quality of the work performed at both the National Veterinary Services Laboratory and the Center for Veterinary Biologics and cautioned others not to doubt the integrity and reputation of those laboratories nor the many employees there whose hard work and dedication have helped establish the United States as a world leader in animal health.

SOURCE: USDA; American Veterinary Medical Association.