April 6, 2010
March 2010 was an historic month in our nation’s capitol. After a year of debates and controversy, Congress passed sweeping healthcare reforms and President Obama has signed them into law. This could theoretically break the legislative logjam created by the intense focus on healthcare, paving the way for consideration of bills such as food safety, climate change and child nutrition.
There are indications that the Senate may take up their version of food safety legislation after the Easter recess, and that floor time has been set aside. Senate staff continues negotiations to finalize refinements to the bill to ready it for final consideration. On climate change, a bipartisan group of three Senators has been working on a “compromise” bill that might be more palatable to Republicans and moderate Democrats, who had expressed concerns regarding the House passed version and previous Senate drafts. With regard to child nutrition, the Senate Agriculture Committee to the first step towards reauthorization by approving a draft bill on March 24th.
While it appears that there will be attempts to move these and other legislative initiatives, it remains to be seen how aggressive Congress will be in advancing additional issues this year. The recent battle over healthcare, and the impending mid-term elections may mean that little legislation is completed between now and November.
On March 22nd, the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Request for Applications (RFA) for 2010. The announcement outlined the agency’s plans to disperse approximately $262 million in competitive grants across the following five challenge areas:
- Childhood Obesity Prevention
- Climate Change
- Food Safety
- Global Food Security
- Sustainable Bioenergy
Funds will also be available for foundational grants as well as pre and post-doctoral fellowships. It is anticipated that grants awarded under this solicitation will be larger and for a longer duration than previous USDA competitive grant programs, with an emphasis on bringing together multiple institutions and integrating research, extension and education. Some grants could be as large as $45 million over a five year period.
It appears that AFRI will be following a “continuation” funding scheme, meaning that multi-year grants funded by this RFA will be paid each year from Congressional appropriations made for AFRI. Under this system, if there are no increases in AFRI funding next year, there may be very few, if any new projects funded next year. This is similar to how NSF and NIH have funded grants, but does come with some risk, if Congress does not provide increases in subsequent years, or if there are any decreases in funding.
USDA has indicated that the AFRI priority area of “Animal Health and Production and Animal Products” will be addressed under “Climate Change”, Food Safety”, “Global Food Security” and the “Foundational” programs. There is some concern that animal sciences could receive a smaller percentage of funding under the new priorities and program system.
More details on the AFRI announcement can be found at: http://www.nifa.usda.gov/funding/afri/afri.html In addition, NIFA Director Roger Beachy held a webcast on Tuesday, March 23rd, which can be viewed at: http://www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/webcast.html FASS Washington Representatives will be participating in a webinar in April, sponsored by ASAS that will provide additional information on the AFRI RFA. Watch for announcements coming soon.
Also in March, FASS Washington Representatives participated in a joint USDA ARS/NIFA meeting to help set USDA research priorities on animal health. The two day event featured presentations from USDA leadership including Acting Under Secretary Molly John and Chief Scientist and NIFA Director Roger Beachy along with industry representatives from a wide range of animal species. Participants also worked in breakout sessions to identify specific priorities for each species. Several themes emerged from the breakout sessions, including animal welfare, genetics/genomics, antimicrobial resistance, foreign animal disease, emerging and foreign animal diseases and the livestock/wildlife interface. In addition, there was discussion about specific diseases impacting the various species. The results of the workshop will be posted on the ARS and NIFA websites.
At the end of March, the FASS Board of Directors held its spring meeting in Washington. FASS Washington Representatives presented a report to the Board on the efforts of the FASS Science Policy Program, and the FASS Board approved a FASS policy statement on environmental stewardship and production efficiency. Work continues on additional policy statements on topics including antibiotics, animal welfare, and nutrition.
FASS Washington Representatives also organized a meeting for the FASS Board with animal agriculture organization representatives in Washington to discuss the concept of initiating a priority setting process for research in animal agriculture, similar to the FAIR process in 1995 and 2002. The group agreed that it would be helpful to have a collective set of priorities that all of animal agriculture could rally around. It was also agreed that it would be helpful to look for ways to partner with the plant sciences on overall agriculture research priorities. FASS Washington Representatives will be working with partner organizations in Washington to determine next steps.
Throughout March, FASS Washington Representatives continued to participate in FASS and Founding Society meetings and conference calls. One such activity is participating in the selection process of the inaugural ASAS Washington internship, supported by the Hafs and Zimbelman Appreciation Clubs. Other activities include interaction with FASS Scientific Advisory Committees and Founding Society Policy Committees.
ASAS Science Policy Webinar – Details coming soon
Animal Agriculture Coalition – meeting date TBD
National C-FAR - Annual meeting, April 22
Animal Agriculture Alliance – Stakeholders Summit, April 28-29