"An Act relating to the powers and duties of the commissioner of environmental conservation regarding animals, animal products, agricultural products, and the transportation of animals and animal products; relating to the employment, appointment, and duties of a state veterinarian by the commissioner of environmental conservation; relating to the powers of the commissioner of natural resources regarding agricultural products; relating to animal rabies prevention and control; and providing for an effective date. "
House Bill 380 repeals and reenacts several provisions of Title 3 to modernize the powers of the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation and the State Veterinarian. HB 380 will allow the State Veterinarian to respond accordingly and immediately to potential dangers to Alaskans and our animal populations. Avian influenza is one in a long list of zoonotic diseases that can be devastating to animals and potentially pandemic in human populations. While headlines predict millions of potential deaths from Avian Flu, other immediate issues arising in Alaska are difficult to deal with because of the convoluted authority of the State Veterinarian. The geographic position that makes Alaska a center of air cargo traffic and a critical strategic base for our military forces also puts Alaska at risk from diseases carried across the globe by migratory birds and marine mammals.
The most immediate threat to humans from a zoonotic disease comes from exposure to domestic animals. Yet, The statutes governing Alaska's State Veterinarian were passed prior to statehood in 1949 when the concern of the territorial legislature was on the state of fur farms and animals were considered livestock. Under existing authority, the State Veterinarian would be unable to respond to an outbreak of disease in a backyard bird flock because the birds would not necessarily be considered livestock. To date, all cases of Avian Flu infections in humans have come from exposure to personal bird flocks.
Many of the authorities in this legislation exist today but in a less organized fashion.
By eliminating outdated requirements such as reporting to the legislature on fur farming, and clarifying existing authorities, the State Veterinarian's responsibilities can be focused on what is most important to Alaska - ensuring animal diseases do not spread or harm humans. Through collaboration with the Departments of Health and Social Services, Fish and Game and Natural Resources, the State Veterinarian fills an essential role in this process but needs clearer authority to do so.