Getting to know the Veterinary Medicine Caucus: U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

By: Valerie Goddard, staff assistant, Governmental Relations Division

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) is serving his ninth term in Congress, where he is a member of the House Committees on Agriculture and Rules.He was also recently tapped to be on the Farm Bill conference committee.  Rep. McGovern is a cosponsor of the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA).

Q: What motivated you to join the veterinary caucus?

McGovern: I represent the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, Massachusetts, and I’ve been to the campus a number of times.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the great work that they’re doing, both in Grafton and at Tufts Community Veterinary Clinic, which is at the Worcester Technical High School.  It’s an incredible partnership where high school students in the veterinary program work alongside Tufts veterinary students and faculty to provide affordable veterinary care to low-income families in the Worcester area. For these reasons and more, I thought I would be part of the veterinary caucus.

Q: What concerns do you hear from your constituents related to veterinary medicine?

McGovern: I’ve heard from a number of constituents who are concerned about the cost of their education loans. Many of these people who are going into veterinary medicine sometimes are discouraged from practicing in rural and underserved areas because they wouldn’t make enough money to keep up with their loan repayments.  The need for veterinarians in some of the rural areas where there might not be as much concentrated wealth is also an issue. I’m one of the cosponsors of the VMLRPEA, which would make these loan awards tax-exempt and enable more small communities to have access to high-quality veterinary services.

It’s fine to urge people to get pets and a lot of people want pets, but you also need to make sure there is the healthcare available to take care of these pets when they get sick or whatever they need to keep them healthy. The cost of a veterinary education is something that a number of people have talked to me about over the years.

Q: As a member of the Farm Bill conference committee, are there specific issues that you are championing?

McGovern: I’m also on the Agriculture Committee and, as part of the Farm Bill conference committee, I’ve added an amendment that would strengthen the penalties against those who are observers at animal fighting events. That’s an activity that is cruel and inhumane, yet continues to be a factor here in the United States. It is my amendment in the House, but there is also an amendment in the Senate.

There are other issues regarding how you raise chickens and how we treat our livestock that are important as well. In other words, food safety and the humane ways to treat animals are issues that are directly related to what that the veterinary caucus would deal with, which are included in the Farm Bill.

Q: What legislation would you like to see passed and what problems would it address?

McGovern: One of my passions is fighting against hunger and food insecurity in the United States. There is a relationship between some of the issues that the veterinary caucus might talk about and that issue. There are 50 million Americans who don’t have enough to eat, and of that number, 17 million are kids. What we ought to be doing in Congress is talking about how we solve the problem of hunger. I’ve been urging the White House to do a conference on food, nutrition and health because hunger is a solvable problem; it’s essentially a political condition that could be solved with the political will.

I’m a big supporter of local agriculture—small and medium-sized farms. I believe that we ought to have communities that are self-sustaining and a 50-state farm policy on how agriculture ought to be an important part of our economy in all 50 states. We need to get back to understanding the importance of growing and raising things locally. I’m not opposed to imports from other countries, but I think there’s great value and security in strengthening our food supply here at home.

Q: Do you have any pets?

McGovern: I’ve had dogs all my life. I don’t have pets at this particular point, in part because I’m in Washington five days a week and in Massachusetts two or three days a week. My kids and I are now in the process of trying to figure out whether we can have a pet and try to work around that schedule. But I’m under enormous pressure right now to get a dog. The lobbying effort is intense—I hear about it every time we walk past a cute dog. My daughter is 12 and wants to know why we don’t have a dog. From a practical point of view, if you have a pet, there’s responsibility involved. That means you need to not only take care of that pet, but you need to do what’s fair for that pet. We’re trying to figure out whether we can come to some sort of a combination. Ever since I was born, I have had a dog, so I miss that.

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