Farm groups weigh in on animal lab recommendation
Virginia farming groups continue to keep lines of communication open with the state’s agriculture department regarding an outside recommendation to consolidate its animal laboratories.
The recommendation was one of several to come from a review analysis of the lab system last year from a pair of consultants.
One of the study’s recommendations suggests moving to a two-lab system, one in Harrisonburg and one in Blacksburg at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. There are currently four labs operated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
According to the report, the Harrisonburg lab handles about 71 percent of the state’s testing caseload with the other three labs in Lynchburg, Warrenton and Wytheville ranging from 9 to 11 percent of the tests each.
Another recommendation in the report calls for expanding the Harrisonburg lab, which had funding allocated to it in the state’s 2022 budget.
The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation stands ready to help continue the discussion if farmers want to be involved, Stefanie Taillon, VFBF’s senior assistant director of governmental relations, said. Taillon said her organization was hearing from farmers with concerns about services needing to be improved. Understaffing and loss of staff are often mentioned among the contributing factors, she said.
Taillon pointed out that this is not a proposal but a recommendation.
“While it has received a lot of attention, the recommendation to consolidate the lab system is only one of the recommendations in the report,” Taillon stressed. “There are a number of others related to staffing, workflow, and establishing an External Advisory Committee.’’
Farm Bureau is willing to set up more Listening Meetings like those held in some areas before Christmas. She stressed that no meetings are yet scheduled but that they can be if the agricultural community expresses a need for them.
She said the consultants are considered experts in the animal health laboratory field but are not involved with the Virginia system.
In the January edition of The Virginia Cattleman, Brandon Reeves, Virginia Cattlemen’s Association executive director, thanked those who participated in the Listening Meetings.
“VCA worked closely with Virginia Farm Bureau and VDACS to give producers and stakeholders the opportunity to present their thoughts to VDACS about the future of the lab system,” he wrote.
The opposition to the recommendation to consolidate the labs has resulted in suggestions that farmers write Virginia legislators voicing their feelings as the General Assembly begins its 2023 Session. Taillon, however, advised against that.
“While it is important for farmers’ voices to be heard, we are not calling for famers to contact members of the General Assembly specifically regarding this topic prior to the start of the session,” she said. “This is not currently a legislative issue.”
Reeves expressed gratitude to VDACS for its willingness to conduct the Listening Meetings and said VCA supports the formation of the advisory group.
“To VDACS’s credit, I have not personally heard them say that closing labs was a definitive part of any plan and they have pledged to be open-minded,” Reeves wrote.
He also addressed the perception of the lab recommendation.
“The perception from many throughout the report’s rollout has been that VDACS supported closing labs,” he wrote. “Regardless of whether that perception is deserved or not, perception is oftentimes the reality that we all have to deal with. It should come as no surprise that the proposition of closing labs without a plan to fill the potential voids is of no interest to VCA.”
Reeves expressed VCA’s willingness to work with VDACS and industry leaders to find the best path forward.
The consultants’ report is available at https://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/animals-animal-health-laboratory-services.shtml
The laboratories offer a wide range of services in bacteriology, serology, virology, parasitology, pathology, and molecular testing.
Lab staff performs necropsies, bacteriological cultures, identification and sensitivity testing, hematology, parasitology, and histopathological examination of tissues. Consumers are also protected by the testing of raw milk products, meat and cheese, ice cream and water.
Laboratory employees work daily to diagnose livestock and poultry diseases. Keeping in close contact with farmers, veterinarians and state and federal agencies is vital to maintaining surveillance and control of infectious and contagious animal diseases.