September 7, 2017
Most members of Congress and their staff leave town during August for the summer break. This means that there is no legislative action, but some things are happening in preparation for the upcoming action. Here are some recent developments.
While Congress was not in session, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and the Gulf Coast, resulting in major damage and subsequent calls for large federal outlays to aid in the recovery. Action is expected to move quickly as long as it remains a clean bill. Even before action can be considered for Harvey relief and recovery efforts, another major storm (Irma) is heading for Florida. It is likely to cause substantial damage as well and result in new calls for funding to aid in recovery there. As this is taking place, Congress will need to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling in order to keep the government running. Also on tap are efforts to pass a budget for FY18, tax reform efforts, ongoing efforts to renegotiate NAFTA, the Administration’s threat to end the current trade agreement with South Korea, immigration reform, action on DACA, and the need to deal with a backlog of appointments for agency leadership that have not yet been considered or, in some cases, submitted for consideration. As these high visibility and high priority issues are to be considered, efforts will continue to move the 2018 Farm Bill forward. It will be an interesting fall.
On Friday evening, President Trump announced his selections for three crucial USDA posts:
- Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey has been selected to serve as undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC), a position Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue created as part of his reorganization of USDA.
- Gregory Ibach, director of Nebraska's Department of Agriculture, has been picked to serve as undersecretary of agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP). Ibach formerly served as president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
- Stephen Vaden has been selected to serve as USDA's general counsel. Vaden has practiced law at Patton Boggs and Jones Day. He has been the acting general counsel at USDA since January.
The undersecretary for FPAC oversees three critical USDA agencies: the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency. The undersecretary for MRP also oversees three critical agencies: the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the Agricultural Marketing Service; and the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration.
In addition to the three individuals just named, Trump nominees for deputy secretary, Steve Censky, undersecretary for trade, Ted McKinney, and USDA chief scientist, Sam Clovis, have been formally nominated, but none have yet received a Senate confirmation hearing or full Senate vote. It is uncertain when this will happen.
During August, both the House Ag Committee and the Secretary of Agriculture held multiple listening sessions around the country to gather input for upcoming Farm Bill negotiations. Trade, farm prices, farm programs, and insurance have been items of concern for most groups speaking at the sessions. Feedback to date has been positive for research, but there is no language yet proposed to know where it will go. Groups we have met with encourage scientists to speak to their members of congress about the value and importance of publically funded research for the future of agriculture.
The FASS Science Policy Coordinator participated in a webinar titled "Evidence-based policy–The role for agricultural and applied economists." Topics and speakers included
- Improving the Evidence Base for Government Decisions;
Kenneth Troske, commissioner, US Commission on Evidence-Based Policy
- Census-FNS-ERS Next-Generation Data Platform for USDA Food Assistance Program Research;
Dr. Mark Prell, senior economist at the USDA’s Economic Research Service
The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (CEP) was established by the bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016 (P.L. 114-140), jointly sponsored by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and signed by President Barack Obama on March 30, 2016. The law established a 15-member commission that would examine improving federal data used in evaluating spending and tax programs, while protecting the privacy rights of the public from which basic data comes. The members of the commission represent "disciplines relevant to program evaluation and data management, including economics, statistics and data security." The law aims to use existing data to improve how government programs operate. A report from the commission is to be released on September 7.
The FASS Science Policy Coordinator met with several of the organizations and coalitions that FASS has worked with during a recent visit to Washington, DC. We discussed ways to be most effective in working with coalitions to support inclusion of research in the Farm Bill, increase funding for research in the budget, and ensure that animal research funding is treated equitably compared with plant research. The following are a few highlights from the groups and the staff visited as well as some general and consistent feedback from the visits.
AVMA Government relations: Drs. Mark Lutschaunig, Lauren Stump, Ashley Morgan, and Kent McClure.
- They have an action center used to provide grassroots input on issues. They noted it is challenging to get a response, but what is obtained is useful.
- They are interested in the webinars that are in our plans and may be interested in co-hosting them if appropriate.
American Farm Bureau Federation: Dale Moore
- AFBF is interested in and supportive of research; however, farm income, commodity programs, and related issues have a higher legislative priority for them.
- AFBF is a member of the SoAR coalition (with whom we also met).
SoAR (Support of Ag Research): Tim Fink
- SoAR is a coalition working to grow funding for agriculture research. The initial thrust is overall growth of funding, but they are interested in knowing of any specific priorities for research.
- They seek to communicate the value and benefits of agriculture research to the public. They are interested in the JDS press releases being done with Elsevier as well as other sources of information.
- They are currently seeking input on the most effective structure for research in the future.
Animal Ag Coalition (AAC) and NPPC: Bill Davis
- AAC seeks to bring a common voice in support of animal agriculture to farm bill and budget discussions.
- NCBA is not a part of AAC, but is working with the group in support of including a FMD vaccine bank in the farm bill with funding in the budget.
- AAC will be active in proposing items of interest across livestock species in the Farm Bill, so are interested in identifying priority issues.
USDA: Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of NIFA
- Dr. Ramaswamy noted that the first scientific meeting that he attended as the director of NIFA was the JAM. He had found that very useful and he would welcome an opportunity to meet with FASS participants again.
- Dr. Ramaswamy recalled discussions early in his tenure when he promised to address the disparity in research funding between the plant and animal side. He noted that while not yet ideal, good progress has been made.
- NIFA is pushing to include language supporting “tactical science” in the Farm Bill. This is an effort to be able to rapidly address emerging diseases that could be catastrophic to agriculture.
- NIFA is actively seeking to make information on the value of research as easily available as possible. He pointed out that they have a number of infographics available at https://nifa.usda.gov/resources/field_resource_type/infographics-1125. They would appreciate feedback on others that would be of value.
- Their data portal (https://nifa.usda.gov/data) includes a good deal of information, including a breakdown of funding by congressional district that can be of value for talking to legislators.
Before traveling to Washington, we met via conference call with Caron Gala of CFARE. She is also active with NCFAR and FASA. NCFAR is planning a summit to create a vision for Food and Ag research, education, and economics (REE) that will likely be held in early 2018. It is being co-convened by the Riley Memorial Foundation and is intended to build on other complementary efforts.
Some general observations:
- The Farm Bill and budget are priorities for all the groups. Research is supported by all but is a higher priority for some.
- All look forward to including FASS SPC as part of coalition efforts and will welcome input on the identification of issues for advocacy and development of language for letters and other proposals.
- All are interested in any specific priorities we may have.
- All recognize there is interest in Congress in moving the Farm Bill forward, but know it will be challenging. A few feel that the House may be able to put Farm Bill language forward this year, but none felt that the Senate would be able to do it, so there is little chance of a bill before next year.
For additional details, contact
Ken Olson Ph.D., PAS, FASS Science Policy Coordinator
News Update from the FASS Science Policy Committee – August
We hope you have enjoyed both a productive and restful summer. The somewhat seasonal nature of food production as well as education affords us, occasionally, time to both work and reflect upon our opportunities and challenges, always with the goal of providing high-quality abundant food for all of humanity. The fires and smoke in my little corner of the world, the hurricanes in the other corner of our continent, and the reality of weather patterns everywhere remind us of the constant vigilance we need with science-based decision making in all food production.
At this time, with the summer meetings over, changes in FASS management and consultants, and school and Congress back in session, the FASS Science Policy Committee (SPC) renews our commitment to supporting scientific research and science-based decision making at all levels of business, government, and any organization charged with feeding people in the best way possible.
First, we want to thank Lowell Randall and Walt Smith for their long and effective service and support as our go-to people in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, working with policy makers, scientists, elected officials, and people in all walks of food production. We thank them very much for their work and we wish them well in their continued endeavors.
We welcome our colleague Ken Olson, who has served ADSA well as an educator and liaison between scientific and other organizations for a long time. He now represents FASS and the FASS SPC in many aspects of our relationship with government offices and officers.
Please be sure to check out the FASS Science Policy website for our existing statements and for upcoming information on educational webinars. Two webinars are planned for this fall, one on the effects and importance of scientific research in agriculture, and the other on the scientific basis of animal products in the human diet.
If there is anything you think we should address related to food animal agricultural science, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thanks for supporting animal agriculture production of high-quality food!
As the branches of government continue to discuss the best ways forward for our nation and the world, including food production and science policy within the USDA, NIFA, and all government agencies charged with oversight and protection of our environment, food supply, and people, the FASS SPC renews our commitment to support for scientific research in all aspects of food production conducted efficiently and effectively, and integrated throughout the environmental and food production supply chain.
We renew our statements on supporting free and open communication between all parties involved in government and private research and application.
We renew our support for the best scientifically trained and able people, along with policy makers, business managers, NGO leaders, university and private research and educators, and everyone in government service or elected representatives to be hired and to work together to support a safe and effective food supply system.
The SPC has recently and in the past already researched and provided information on several science areas. Some areas upon which FASS SPC has made simple policy statements are Free and Open Communication, Climate Change, and Co-Promotion of Environmental Stewardship and Production Efficiency. A summary is provided here and the full texts can be found at https://www.fass.org/Science-Policy.
We have added the following statement to our website:
The Science Policy Committee of FASS provides science-based information to public policy makers and regulators on issues pertaining to humane, sustainable, safe, and bountiful food animal production. To ensure that sound, peer-reviewed science is available when setting governmental policy and making regulations, it is imperative that the voice of science, be it verbal or written, is not restricted in any way.
As a background, the committee provides this information:
The Science Policy Committee of the FASS represents animal agricultural researchers and educators in many capacities. We provide science-based information on animal agricultural production and supply of high-quality food to anyone. As such, we work with colleagues in the USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA); the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, other federal and state government departments, and many private companies and organizations on a routine basis to obtain and disseminate research published by scientists at the USDA, ARS, and all government agencies. We also work with universities and private research companies and organizations all over the United States, as well as with colleagues all over the world.
It is thus imperative that we have access to free and open communication on all aspects of agricultural research, teaching, and application. We want to let all our membership and the public know that we support free and open communication of all science discussions and decisions, research, procedures, and results from research conducted with taxpayer dollars at our public research departments and universities.
We hope that all professionals involved in agricultural science in private and public entities share our view that with excellent research and education we can continue to best feed our people in the most science-based, effective, and efficient ways possible, using resources wisely and sustaining our planet for future generations. We support and encourage everyone to continue free and open communication in all scientific endeavors in animal agriculture.
Scientific evidence strongly suggests that climate change is occurring and has the potential to affect global food security. Animal agriculture can contribute to climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, and animal production is in turn impacted by climate change and variability. Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved through various techniques including dietary manipulation, improved productivity, and manure management.
FASS supports use of technology to maximize feed efficiency as well as increased public funding for research, extension, and education related to quantification and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and adapting animal production to a changing climate to ensure a safe and abundant food supply.
- FASS supports a multi-faceted approach to climate change solutions that are compatible with other environmental, societal, and economic concerns relating to food systems.
- FASS supports opportunities for the animal production industry to adopt production systems and technologies that reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by improving the efficiency of feed utilization.
- FASS supports increased public funding:
- For research to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture to allow improved accuracy of greenhouse gas emission inventories
- For research to discover greenhouse gas mitigation strategies for animal agriculture
- For research to find effective solutions to adapt animal production systems to a changing and variable climate
- For extension programs to support implementation of these strategies and solutions.
Preservation of the ability of future generations to meet their needs while adequately serving the present population (sustainability) requires control of greenhouse gas (GHG) production and avoiding damage to air, water, and soil. Simultaneously, growing populations and rising purchasing power in developing countries will strain the earth’s finite capacity to produce enough high-quality protein and nutritionally rich foods, demanding efficient production of food. Fortunately, a growing body of evidence related to production of foods of animal origin suggests that production efficiency leads to environmental stewardship.
FASS supports minimization of greenhouse gas production and proper management of manure nutrients to avoid environmental damage from the necessary production of food of animal origin.
- FASS opposes restriction on animal production technology when these restrictions may reduce efficiency and therefore increase environmental degradation.
- FASS supports increased funding for research, extension, and education directed to improving environmental quality by increasing the efficiency of feed use by animals.
We hope that this information is useful to you. If you need any help or support in discussing these topics with interested audiences, please let us know!