December 1, 2009
During the month of November much of the Congressional focus stayed on the issue of healthcare. The House of Representatives narrowly passed its version of the sweeping legislation by the margin of 220 to 215. The vote broke largely along party lines, with one Republican voting for the bill, and 39 Democrats opposing it. On November 21, 2009, the Senate gained the 60 votes necessary to begin debate, but it is uncertain whether there will be sufficient votes to ultimately pass the bill in the Senate.
Amidst the activity on healthcare, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) took action to advance food safety legislation. By a unanimous voice vote, the committee approved S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Of particular interest to FASS was an amendment filed by Senator Reed of Rhode Island that would have curtailed the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Fortunately, Sen. Reed did not force a debate and vote on the amendment, but it is another signal that the issue of antibiotics will continue to be discussed in Congress.
Senator Tom Harkin, Chair of the HELP committee acknowledged the issue of antibiotics use and called for more research on the topic. It is important to have the Chairman recognizing the role and importance of science when considering any changes to current antibiotics policies. FASS Washington Representatives attended the committee meeting and will continue to be engaged on the issue as the bill moves forward in the Senate. Given that healthcare reform has yet to be resolved, it appears unlikely that food safety legislation will be completed in 2009.
On November 10th, President Obama nominated current USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Rajiv Shah to be the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The move from USDA to USAID would allow Shah to focus on international development issues, which fits very nicely with his previous role with the Gate Foundation. A replacement for him at USDA has yet to be named.
November was also the month where FASS officially unveiled its new Science Policy Blog. On November 17th, FASS issued a press release detailing FASS Science Policy activities and announced the blog website. The release was picked up by a number of agriculture related outlets and has also been distributed to key Congressional offices and relevant organizations in Washington, DC. Administered by FASS Washington Representatives, the blog will serve as a forum for highlighting and discussing policy issues impacting animal agriculture. We encourage all members of FASS founding societies to visit the blog at: http://blog.fass.org/SciencePolicy/.
FASS Washington Representatives continue to meet with like-minded organizations in Washington to identify potential areas for partnership. FASS Washington Representatives participated in a recent AFRI Coalition meeting where Roger Beachy, the new Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, discussed his priorities for the agency. We are also currently working with the Institute of Food Technologists regarding a potential white paper addressing agricultural science and food security, as well as the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics on the issue of country of origin labeling.