September 30, 2010
On September 16, 2010, the United States Senate voted to confirm Dr. Catherine Woteki as the new USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. The position had been vacant for several months, after the previous Under Secretary, Rajiv Shah accepted the position as Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Dr. Woteki was nominated by President Obama on April 22nd and her confirmation has received bi-partisan support. This will be Dr. Woteki's second stint at REE, as she served as REE Deputy Under Secretary during the Clinton Administration. She also served as the first Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA. In addition to her government experience, Dr. Woteki has worked in the university community and the private sector. She most recently held the position of Global Director of Scientific Affairs for Mars, Incorporated and previously served as the Dean of Agriculture at Iowa State University.
In addition to the confirmation of Dr. Woteki, USDA recently named Dr. Ann Bartuska as Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics (REE). Dr. Bartuska had been serving as Acting Under Secretary for REE pending the confirmation of Dr. Woteki.
Before joining the REE Mission Area, Dr. Bartuska served as Deputy Chief for Research & Development at the U.S. Forest Service, a position she held since January 2004. Dr. Bartuska also served as Acting USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment. She also has private sector experience, having been the Executive Director of the Invasive Species Initiative in the Nature Conservancy.
At the same time the Senate confirmed Dr. Catherine Woteki, it also moved to confirm Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. President Obama had given Dr. Hagen a recess appointment in August, but with the Senate's confirmation, that will no longer be needed.
The FASS Board and Science Policy Committee put the finishing touches on three policy statements, which are now available on the FASS website. The new policy statements are entitled Farm Animal Well-Being, Nutrition and Health Provided by Animal Products, and Preserving the Benefits of Antibiotics for People and Animals. With the completion of these policy statements, the Science Policy is now exploring new topics for the development of additional FASS policy statements.
The FASS Science Policy Committee is currently planning a webinar regarding antibiotic use in farm animals. The webinar is tentatively scheduled for October 20, 2010 between 2:00 – 3:00pm EDT. Speakers will include prominent scientists in the area of antibiotics, as well as representatives from the Food and Drug Administration.
FASS has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Farm Foundation, Riley Memorial Foundation, and the Institute of Food Technologists to plan and conduct a forum to showcase exemplary collaborations in agricultural research. FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel will serve as a co-chair of the event's Program Committee. Organizers are targeting for the event to be held in spring 2011.
FASS and the three founding societies, ADSA, ASAS and PSA, all signed recent letters drafted by the AFRI Coalition in support of funding for the AFRI competitive grants program. Letters were sent to the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees expressing appreciation for proposed increases in the AFRI program. The House version of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill includes $312 million for AFRI, while the Senate version has $310 million. Both the House and the Senate versions of the bill represent significant increases over current year funding of $262 million.
While the work of the House and Senate suggests the possibility of increases to the AFRI program, the final outcome of the appropriations process is not clear. Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution that would fund the government at current levels until after the mid-term elections. Depending on the outcomes of the elections in November, there is a possibility that Congress will pass a year-long continuing resolution, which would likely hold all programs to their 2010 funding level.
Comprehensive food safety legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration significant new authorities continues to be stalled in the Senate. The House passed its version of the bill in 2009, but the Senate has not been able to bring its version up for consideration by the full Senate. In the wake of the recent major egg recall, there was a renewed effort to move the legislation. However, even with bipartisan support, the Senate was not able to move the bill.
Several challenges remain to reach final action in the Senate. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had raised concerns about the legislation that prevented consideration of the bill prior to the mid-term elections in November. Coburn's primary concerns are with the cost of the bill.
In addition to Senator Coburn's concerns, there are a number of problematic amendments that further complicate action on the bill. Senator Diane Feinstein of California has been pushing an amendment that would ban bisphenol-A, a common plastic additive known as BPA, from baby products. This amendment has raised concerns by some in industry and has threatened to break up what has been a rare coalition between industry and consumer groups. Senator John Tester of Montana has also been pushing a controversial amendment that would exempt small, local and organic producers from some of the bill's requirements. These two amendments have been the subject of many negotiations over the past several months, but it appears that a compromise on these issues has yet to be reached.
Should Congress not complete work on food safety legislation before the new Congress begins next year, the process would have to start over again in the new Congress.
October 20– FASS webinar on antibiotics (tentative)
October 20– FSIS/FDA/CDC public meeting on food safety in Portland
October 25-26– American Society of Animal Science Executive Committee and Public Policy Committee meetings in Washington, D.C.