USDA releases report confirming AVMA's call for more food-animal vets

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USDA releases report confirming AVMA's call for more food-animal vets

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Dec 12, 2008
By dvm360.com staff
Schaumberg, Ill. -- The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is using a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report released this week to reiterate its call for more food-animal veterinarians.

The report, from the USDA Office of the Inspector General, sums up an investigation following a beef recall earlier this year at the Westland and the now-closed Hallmark meat plants.

The investigation looked at the history of Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) inspections at those and 10 other plants that slaughter older dairy or beef cows. It revealed an inadequate number of veterinarians in inspection positions and a call for the FSIS to fill vacancies and create more veterinary positions within its organization.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, released a statement this week, saying that having an inadequate number of veterinary staff takes "a gamble" with safety and the humane treatment of animals. "This report proves that personnel from the front-line supervisor to the public-health veterinarian were overtasked and they could not keep up with all of the inspection procedures they were charged with carrying out," says Harkin. "These are serious shortcomings in deployment of FSIS personnel, proper training of them and utilization and adequacy of USDA food safety budget resources."

The statement also urged quick action of filling out veterinary staff in the FSIS to prevent another incident like the last, which was the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

Other issues cited in the report were non-veterinarians performing ante-mortem inspections without formal training or direct supervision, shortcuts taken by the public-health veterinarian assigned to the plant and non-veterinarian employees being put in charge of the verification process for inspected animals.

The AVMA has for months urged more action on increasing the number of food-animal veterinarians, including offers of student debt-relief programs and other incentives. The group says the report further illustrates that action must be taken soon.