All members must reapply by Aug. 2 to remain in voluntary program
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Accreditation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue health certificates for animals is about to require more effort by the nation’s participating veterinarians.
Practitioners already accredited by the National Veterinary Accreditation Program (NVAP) must reapply for accreditation by Aug. 2 and plan to complete three to six hours of training within the next three years to maintain accreditation. There is no cost to apply; the training also is free.
The program revisions affect a large number of veterinarians. The USDA estimates that some 71,000 people are accredited by the NVAP, amounting to more than eight out of 10 practitioners in the country.
Although the new rules do not take effect formally until Feb. 1, participants may renew their accreditation now. Revised application forms were posted online Thursday by the USDA. The forms and information about the changes are posted on the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) Web site
The program is voluntary; veterinarians do not need federal accreditation to practice. However, only accredited practitioners may issue health certificates for animals slated to travel out of state or to other countries.
Accredited practitioners essentially act as agents of the U.S. government when writing health certificates, said Madelaine Fletcher, a spokeswoman for the USDA APHIS, which oversees the NVAP.
“What that (certificate) says ... is that the U.S. certifies this animal to be healthy,” Fletcher said. “If you as a veterinarian ascertain that this animal is healthy, you sign off. That tells the country or state where the animal is going that ... your animal will not introduce disease to the animal population there.”
The program was established in 1921 so that private practitioners could help federal veterinarians control animal diseases. Until now, practitioners who became accredited maintained that designation for life, with no further training required.
The impetus to update the program occurred over the past decade with the appearance of several foreign animal diseases in this country, said Dr. Timothy Cordes, a senior staff veterinarian with USDA APHIS. He cited as examples contagious equine metritis, equine prioplasmosis, exotic Newcastle disease and West Nile virus.
Large animals and birds have not been the only populations affected. “We’ve had a plethora of small-animal incursions as well, such as screw-worm in dogs and cats,” Cordes said. “It’s been a real eye-opener for us.”
The revised accreditation program recognizes that incursions of exotic animal diseases may run the gamut. Whereas in the past, standards focused on livestock, now there are two categories for accreditation, defined as follows:
I: All animals except food and fiber species, horses, birds, farm-raised aquatic animals, all other livestock species; and zoo animals that can transmit exotic animal diseases to livestock.
II: All animals.
There are some caveats associated with the categories. Cordes said the classification of some animals depends on how they’re kept.
For example, he said, rabbits raised for food and fur in a farm environment would be considered Category II animals. But “One rabbit kept by a family in the same way as a dog or cat would be Category I,” Cordes said.
At the same time, not all animals kept as pets can be certified by a Category I accredited veterinarian. Horses, birds and pigs, for example, fall under Category II accreditation because of their ability to transmit diseases to livestock.
The Final Rule on the NVAP published Dec. 9, 2009, in the Federal Register states: “It would be inappropriate to revise the definition of Category I animals to refer to pet, ornamental, display or companion animals. For example, pet birds are not bred for food or fiber, but they can transmit avian diseases such as avian influenza or exotic Newcastle disease to poultry. Similarly, pot-bellied pigs are susceptible to the same diseases as farm-raised swine, such as pseudorabies. Because of this, we believe that veterinarians performing accredited duties on pet birds and livestock species that are raised for purposes other than food or fiber should be required to be accredited under Category II.”
Among comments received by the USDA when the revisions were first proposed were several asking for accreditation categories more specific to certain types of animals. Members of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), in an online discussion
about the new rule, shared the concern that maintaining accreditation would require them to be trained in subjects, such as cattle diseases, that are irrelevant to their practices.
In the Final Rule, the USDA notes that veterinarians will be given a menu of training options. “Some training units that apply across all species — for example, general training regarding the NVAP or training regarding foreign animal diseases — will be required training for all Category II veterinarians,” it states. “However, there will be some species-specific training courses that accredited veterinarians can elect to take — for example, training on exotic avian diseases or international equine health certificates.
“We believe that this method of organizing the training addresses the commenters’ concerns and makes establishing separate, species-specific accreditation categories unnecessary.”
One source of confusion for some VIN members was the old NVAP application form, which listed 16 tasks that accredited veterinarians were expected to be able to perform. Those tasks included recognizing the common breeds of livestock and estimating the age of livestock using a dental formula. Several clinicians said such duties were completely foreign to their small-animal practices.
Under the revised rule, Category I practitioners must be able to perform nine tasks that pertain specifically to Category I animals. Category II practitioners must be able to perform 16 tasks. (See related chart.)
Training will be offered free online, to be completed at practitioners’ convenience, Cordes said. To maintain Category I accreditation, members must complete three units, equal to three hours, of training within three years. Category II accreditation will require six units, equal to six hours, of training during the same period.
To start, some members will be given up to five years to complete their training because the agency is staggering the renewal dates. Cordes said that those who apply for renewal before Aug. 2 will be issued a renewal date three to five years in the future. The applicants will have until their assigned dates to undergo the required training. For every unit completed, the member will be given a certificate to print out as proof of his or her participation.
Those who do not have access to a computer for the online training may request training in other forms. The agency will work with professional organizations to provide training opportunities at conferences, for example.
Dr. Shelley Lenz, a practitioner in North Dakota, said she supports the changes. In a VIN discussion, she wrote: “If (health certifications) are a major issue for biosecurity and disease prevention/control, why should we let just any vet that was accredited whenever have the ability to write a health certificate, and not have some sort of quality control?”
First-time applicants for accreditation also will have to meet more rigorous standards, Cordes said. Starting in 2011, applicants will have to pass specific courses, likely to be offered in veterinary school, as well as complete a “core orientation,” in order to be approved.
Veterinarians already accredited will not receive individual notices that they must reapply for accreditation. Because the agency’s database of members is not up-to-date — owing to the fact that members historically applied for accreditation only once — the USDA determined it would cost less and be equally effective to spread the word through professional organizations and news media.