December 2, 2010
The November 2010 mid-term elections produced an historic shift in power in the House of Representatives. Republicans gained at least 63 seats (one yet to be determined) in the House to retake control of that chamber. Democrats held on to control in the Senate, but Republicans gained six seats, to put the margin of power at 53-47. As a result of the election, there will be a divided government where some are predicting gridlock.
One of the major issues that Republicans used during the campaign was reducing spending. This could impact funding available for agricultural research. Congress has yet to pass the agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2011, and it is possible that another continuing resolution will be approved to move the debate into next calendar year for the new Congress to address. It is also possible that a yearlong continuing resolution will be approved, keeping spending at 2010 levels. No matter the mechanism employed, major increased to agricultural research programs may be difficult to achieve in the current climate.
There is also an effort to eliminate earmarks. Republicans in the House have stated their policy will be a two year moratorium on earmarks. Republican leaders in the Senate have joined in that policy, but Senate Democrats are defending the ability to Congressional direct spending. Should no earmarks be included in the agriculture appropriations bill, it is not clear what would happen with the dollars currently slated for earmark projects. In 2007, when no earmarks were allowed, the funding was allocated to the formula funding accounts for Land Grant Universities. It is not clear whether Congress would follow this precedent, or increase funding to other programs, such as the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
Prospects for the Farm Bill are also impacted by the outcome of the election. Securing additional resources for programs such as farm subsidies will likely be more difficult in this climate of budget cutting. It also appears that the timeline for Farm Bill action will be impacted. Outgoing Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, had hoped to complete action on the Farm Bill during 2011. However, incoming Chairman Frank Lucas has indicated that additional hearings are needed and that action on the Farm Bill will not likely occur until 2012.
On Wednesday, November 17th, the United States Senate voted to proceed with consideration of S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Senators voted 75-24 to invoke cloture on the bill and end a filibuster led by Senator Tom Coburn who has raised concerns about the cost of the legislation. Adding to complications have been amendments such as Senator Diane Feinstein's effort to ban bisphenol-A (BPA), a plastic used in many food containers, and Senator John Tester's desire to exempt small producers from the bill's requirements.
Sen. Feinstein dropped her attempt to add the BPA provision because of industry opposition that threatened to derail the coalition of industry and consumer groups that has been forged to support the bill. Sen. Tester, meanwhile, was able to reach a compromise that would exempt small producers and processors from the regulations provided that the average annual value of all food sold by the facility during the previous 3 year period was less than $500,000, the majority of the food sold by that facility was sold directly to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores (as opposed to 3rd party food brokers) and were in the same state where the facility sold the food or within 275 miles of the facility.
Despite the compromise on the Tester language, and Sen. Feinstein's dropping of her amendment, the Senate was unable to complete action before leaving for Thanksgiving. Several amendments remain for consideration, including an effort by Sen. Coburn to ban all earmarks until 2013. Supporters of the bill are hopeful that the Senate will approve the bill the week after Thanksgiving.
In anticipation of Senate action, the Obama Administration signaled its support for the bill through a Statement of Administration Policy, issued on 16 November. The House passed version of food safety reform, approved in July 2009, has some significant differences from its Senate counterpart. Normally, there would be a conference between the House and Senate to reconcile differences; however, given the short time left in the lame duck session of Congress, it unlikely the House and Senate would have time to complete a traditional conference. Therefore, the House will be under some pressure to accept the Senate passed version "as-is", in order to get the bill to the President for signature before the 111th Congress ends. Current Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman, has signaled that the House may be willing to accept the Senate bill. Should action not be completed this year, the process would have to start over again with the new Congress in 2011.
FASS, along with the Farm Foundation NPF, Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation, Institute of Food Technologists, and the Agronomy, Crop, and Soil Science Societies in collaboration with Research, Education, and Economics Mission Area, USDA, Forest Service, and National Agricultural Research, Education, Extension, and Economics Advisory Board, USDA are hosting a roundtable to showcase exemplary collaborations in agricultural research.
The R&D roundtable will integrate the presentations of exemplary case studies with presentations by science policy officials to assemble information to be used to (1) raise the profile of agriculture, food, and natural resources related R&D throughout the federal government and beyond and (2) highlight the characteristics of highly productive collaborations in order to enhance the collaboration between performers of R&D whether they be associated with universities, federal agencies, or other entities. In addition to the sharing that occurs at the roundtable, a summary of the roundtable and the proceedings will be available on a web site(s) and in print form. Also, the results of the roundtable are expected to be the subject of a series of presentations and briefings.
Nominations of exemplary case studies are to include the following information:
Description of Project
Primary Sources of Funding
Future Plans (if applicable)
Contact (name, address, phone and e-mail)
Completed nominations are to be submitted electronically using the following link to the nomination form: http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22BCW3D8BSZ on or before December 17, 2010. Case studies will address one or more of the following topics: production (e.g., competiveness, markets, crops, livestock, energy, climate change, sustainability, agroforestry), food (e.g., safety, security), nutrition (e.g., childhood obesity, healthy eating, school meals, education), natural resources (e.g., soil, water, air, wildlife, fish, plants, pollinators, forests, rangelands), or rural-urban linkages (e.g., urban agriculture, community supported agriculture, farmers markets, conservation education) and will involve one or more USDA agencies and preferably one or more other federal agencies. The nature of collaborations with state and local organizations and/or user groups will also be a factor in selection of case studies. Results that are expected to have impact and that will benefit a wide spectrum of producers/landowners/managers/educators/communities/citizens are of particular interest.
The principal contacts for the case studies selected for presentation and the principal contacts for outstanding case studies to be distributed in print form at the roundtable will be informed in January, 2011. Assistance with travel will be provided to the presenters of case studies.
On November 9th, FASS Washington Representative, Lowell Randel spoke to the Washington, DC Area Chapter of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists. Lowell provided the group with an update on FASS science policy activities, as well as current issues with Congress and the Administration.
The FASS Science Policy continues work on additional policy statements including: biotechnology, water quality, climate change, international agriculture development, and bioenergy.