The U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) reports that the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) may see a reduction in its FY2012 federal funding. The U.S. House of Representatives, Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee initially removed line item funding from within the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Recently, as the US House of Representatives deliberated the FY2012 agriculture appropriations bill, an amendment was approved to restore funding to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network under the NIFA Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative, but this issue is not fully resolved.

Reducing this funding could put animal health and disease surveillance in jeopardy. In a letter to Senators Kohl and Blunt of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, USAHA leadership said: “The NAHLN is a network of veterinary laboratories conducting surveillance and diagnostic testing to protect the US animal agricultural industries. The NAHLN is our nation’s early warning system guarding against emerging and foreign animal diseases. Funding for the NAHLN is essential to preserve this nation’s world-class animal industries and our food supply; any reduction exposes this to enormous risk.” 

Michigan State Veterinarian and USAHA President Steve Halstead, DVM, MS, says we all -- veterinarians, diagnosticians, producers and consumers -- have a significant interest in supporting the NAHLN. “The NAHLN is unquestionably critical infrastructure to animal health through all the surveillance and diagnostic services the member laboratories provide,” he says.

“The network provides routine daily support to farmers and ranchers across the US in cooperation with practitioners and animal health officials,” Halstead continues. “Beyond that, in the instance of a major disease occurrence -- particularly a foreign animal disease -- we all rely heavily on the laboratories to provide specifics of a disease so that proper mitigation can be put in place.  It is well known that the costs of an FMD outbreak would be staggering to the US.  The NAHLN is one of our best firewalls against this, and many other serious diseases. Without the NAHLN, accurate and efficient response to disease is certainly compromised, if not impossible.”

In FY11, the NAHLN experienced a 39% funding reduction from USDA-National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and now further reductions -- down to nothing -- have been considered. “I think it's important that American decision leaders fully understand what the NAHLN does, and what consequences the U.S. might face without this network,” Halstead says. “While the House restored the funding at the severely reduced FY2011 levels in their FY2012 appropriations, it is important to ensure that the money remains with the NAHLN and is not divided across programs or diverted elsewhere.”

American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD) President and Director of the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Craig Carter, DVM, PhD, flew to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with Senators McConnell (Senate Minority Leader) and Rand and Representative Hal Rogers’ (Chair of House Appropriations Committee) legislative staff to discuss the issue of continued NAHLN funding.  AAVLD Vice President Tom McKenna, DVM, PhD, also spent time this week visiting all of the members of Congress from Wisconsin, and met with Senator Kohl. 

“Basically, the AAVLD is doing everything it can to better inform Congress on the importance of the NAHLN as truly the only early warning and monitoring system the U.S. has to aid in preventing/managing devastating animal disease outbreaks,” Carter says. “We are emphasizing that this is not a research program, rather serving more like a ready reserve for the federal laboratories. Also, every dollar invested in our state and university labs provides a direct payback to state revenues, thereby creating jobs and benefiting our struggling economy.”

USAHA has worked closely with the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians for more than 50 years, Halstead adds. “The livestock industry and regulatory officials know the importance of strong laboratory support. AAVLD has truly become a champion for the NAHLN, and USAHA has fully supported this since its inception.”

How you can help
Veterinarians are encouraged to write to their senators and representatives about continuing NAHLN funding. You can download a model letter from the USAHA Web site here.