November 18, 2009
October was a busy month for our colleagues at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Starting October 1, 2009, there was a new agency at the Department responsible for research, extension and education programs. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), established through the 2008 Farm Bill, replaces the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) and is designed to raise the profile of USDA supported science. Dr. Roger Beachy, a prominent plant scientist and founding President of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, was named by President Obama to serve as NIFA Director.
In Congress, work was completed on the Fiscal Year 2010 Agriculture Appropriations bill and the President signed it into law on October 16th. The final version included $262 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which represents an increased investment in competitive grants at USDA. FASS and the founding societies worked with like-minded organizations to support this increase.
On October 22nd, FASS Washington Representatives attended a hearing on food safety held by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). The committee heard testimony on S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which would strengthen FDA’s food safety authorities including: requiring HACCP for all food facilities, increasing reporting requirements, requiring traceability, and authorizing mandatory recalls. Representatives from industry and consumer groups expressed support for the legislation and a bipartisan group of Senators praised the bill. HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin stated his desire to move the bill through committee by the end of the year. However, timing is uncertain, as the HELP Committee is also responsible for health care reform. The House passed similar legislation in the summer of 2009.
The FASS Science Policy Committee held a face-to-face meeting in Washington, DC in October to develop a work plan for the coming months. One of the key accomplishments was the identification of priority areas and the establishment of a process for developing policy statements. Policy statements are currently under development in the areas of food safety, animal welfare, antibiotics, nutrition and health of animal products, and the environment. The committee also recommended adoption of a policy statement on the importance of agricultural research funding and food security, similar to a statement adopted by ASAS earlier in the year. The FASS Board approved the work plan, as well as the policy statement on food security during its fall meeting.
While in Washington, the Science Policy Committee also met with representatives of key animal agriculture and science organizations. These meetings were helpful in solidifying relationships and exchanging information on hot topics impacting animal agriculture and agricultural science in general. FASS is expanding this outreach by looking at ways to partner with like-minded organizations. The FASS Board has approved formally joining the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Coalition, a group of agriculture and science organizations dedicated to increasing competitive research funding. The FASS Board also approved joining the Animal Agriculture Coalition and the Coalition for National Science Funding.