Last week Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell, chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry urged USDA to work with Congress to quickly implement the National Veterinary Medical Service Act. The act, signed into law in 2003, was created to help repay college loans for veterinarians who practice in underserved areas. However, USDA has yet to establish the program. "Having spent most my life involved in animal agriculture and on occasion having had to employ a veterinarian or two, I understand many of the issues that affect the industry first hand," says Boswell. "The National Veterinary Medical Service Act was created to repay loans for veterinarians who practice in underserved areas, and I'm a bit frustrated that USDA has failed to implement the act the way Congress had intended." The subcommittee heard testimony from Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia, Dr. Gail Buchanan, USDA Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics, and Dr. Gregory Hammer, President of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "USDA needs to put the program into operation, and work with Congress to figure out how we get more veterinarians to work in these areas," says Boswell. Witness testimony is available agriculture.house.gov/hearings/index.html and a full transcript of the hearing will be posted on the Committee Web site.
Here is Congressman Boswell's opening statement:
"Good afternoon, I would like to thank everyone for joining us today to discuss a very important issue to rural America and food security across the country. A special thanks to our witness for appearing before the Subcommittee today. I know everyone is very busy with Farm Bill discussions but I think this issue is extremely important and did not wish to delay this hearing further.
"Having spent most my life involved in animal agriculture and on occasion having had to employ a veterinarian, I understand many of the issues that affect the industry first hand. The National Veterinary Medical Service Act was established to address a very specific problem within the animal health field.
With the average veterinary student graduating with over $100,000 in debt they are looking for high paying jobs. The National Veterinary Medical Service Act was created to repay loans for veterinarians who practice in underserved areas.
"As I travel in my district, large animal veterinarians are in short supply. In the 3rd district of Iowa, which I represent, there are just over 1.5 million food animals and just 48 food animal veterinarians. That's over 32,000 animals per veterinarian. This is concerning not only for rural Iowa communities but also for food safety.
"This act will not only increase the veterinarians in certain areas of the country but also will improve the nation's emergency preparedness and response capability in the event of an animal disaster.
"Research has shown that the demand for large animal veterinarians will increase by 13% a year with four in every 100 positions remaining vacant. With just over 250 graduates from veterinary schools going into livestock related fields this is a crisis. These large animal veterinarians are our first line of defense against animal disease outbreaks that can lead to serious health problems.
I see this issue pop up in Iowa's large veterinarian school - Iowa State University. Over the past four years on average just under 17% of their total graduates entered large animal practices.
"In 2003, the National Veterinary Service Act was signed into law with Congress appropriating $500,000 for fiscal year 2006, $500,000 for fiscal year 2007, and $700,000 for this fiscal year but, USDA has yet to use that money to begin the rulemaking process - rendering the program nonfunctional.
"I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today. I am hopeful that we hear what the issues USDA are having with the implementation of this program and how they propose to address the growing need in rural communities."