USDA investigates abuse of veterinary licenses at Ames labs

AVMA calls allegations ‘disheartening’

Published: February 05, 2009
By Jennifer Fiala

Nineteen government employees are on paid administrative leave after allegations surfaced that some used veterinary medical credentials to purchase low-cost medications for their personal use and for relatives.

The names of those involved were not released. The crackdown stems from a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) investigation conducted at its laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

“This is a very serious situation that requires immediate and decisive action,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says in a statement released Wednesday.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued a statement today in support of the investigation, calling the alleged abuse of veterinary licenses “disheartening.”

“All veterinarians are expected to adhere to a strict professional code of ethics,” says Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA's chief executive officer.

Vilsack and others in USDA offices did not return interview requests by press time, but in an exchange with the Associated Press, he maintains that while there is no evidence that the alleged activity interfered with work in the lab, he wants to “send a clear signal” that such actions will not be tolerated.

Further action in the case hinges on a review of the evidence by the Office of the Inspector General. More employees could be identified, the USDA statement says.

“Accountability is of the utmost importance in our laboratories, which are internationally renowned,” Vilsack says. To reaffirm the public’s trust, USDA-APHIS commissioned two third-party reviews, one of the laboratory processes and the other of management processes at Ames facilities. The laboratory review is complete, but results are still being evaluated, the statement explains. The management review, scheduled to soon commence, is expected to suggest corrective actions.

About 900 employees work in three USDA laboratories on the Ames campus. While it is unclear which laboratories housed the workers, only the National Veterinary Services Laboratory and the Center for Veterinary Biologics are part of APHIS. The National Animal Disease Center is a part of the Agricultural Research Service.

“As I said upon arriving at USDA, I have made it a priority to support President Obama’s charge to establish and adhere to rigorous ethical standards that meet the expectations of U.S. citizens and taxpayers. I am committed to this charge and with the support and hard work of all USDA employees, I am confident that we will uphold the American people's trust,” Vilsack says in the statement.

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