August 1, 2011
On July 28th, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing to examine USDA’s research programs. This was the latest in a series of hearings being conducted by the House Agriculture Committee in preparation for development of the 2012 Farm Bill. The witnesses at the hearing were the agency heads for the four USDA Research, Education and Economics agencies. Each of the witnesses discussed the role and structure of their respective agencies and highlighted selected programs. Full copies of witness testimony can be found by clicking the link on each name.
Subcommittee Chair Tim Johnson (IL) talked about the importance of agricultural research in his opening statement and asserted that the only way to meet growing global demands for food is through technological advances. Chairman Johnson also asked some of the more probing questions of the hearing, including whether the Secretary or Under Secretary are involved in the decisions for competitive grants awarded under NIFA. Acting Director Chavonda Jacobs-Young assured the panel that NIFA programs are of high integrity and that awards are based on scientific merit and not politics. He also asked the panel about the federal role in data collection and requested clarification on the relationship between the Economic Research Service and the Office of the Chief Economist and how the roles of each organization differ.
The Ranking Member of the subcommittee, Jim Costa (CA), also spoke about the value of science stating that agricultural research has been a core mission of USDA for 150 years and has helped American farmers thrive. Rep. Costa represents a part of California with significant fruit and vegetable production. As such, many of his questions centered around the need for research on specialty crops and the future of the Specialty Crops Research Initiative. He also questioned ARS Administrator Knipling about the proposed closure of the ARS facility in Shafter, CA.
Other members of the Subcommittee in attendance were Rep. Thompson (PA) and Rep. Kissell (NC). Rep. Thompson spoke about the role of agriculture in helping address environmental challenges in the Chesapeake Bay and expressed concerns of over regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. He also asked about the Department’s activities in the area of agro-forestry and bioenergy. Rep. Kissell talked about the importance of biotechnology and asked the panel about concerns that the regulatory process is causing undue delays in the release of new genetically engineered products.
Other than questions about the Specialty Crops Research Initiative, there was little discussion on the underlying statutory authorities of USDA’s research programs. However, it is anticipated that future discussions about the Research Title of the Farm Bill will more fully examine the transition from the old Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service (CSREES) to the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and policy decisions made by USDA relative to operations of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
FASS Washington Representatives Walt Smith and Lowell Randel participated in a number of activities during the recent Joint Annual Meeting of the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) and American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) and the Poultry Science Association annual meeting. Walt and Lowell met with the Boards of Directors of the respective societies regarding FASS Washington activities. Walt and Lowell also offered a FASS Science Policy Update to interested society members and staffed the FASS booth during JAM. They also gave a presentation during the PSA business meeting. All of these activities served as good opportunities to discuss FASS Washington efforts and answer questions about the FASS Science Policy program.
FASS Washington Representative Walt Smith recently facilitated the scheduling of a symposium for ASAS scientists to discuss animal agriculture issues with EPA representatives. Eight key officials from the EPA Office of Water attended the symposium and heard presentations from Jim Pettigrew, Andy Cole, Ronny Moser and Brian Kerr. Pettigrew kicked off the symposium by providing some context surrounding animal agriculture’s role in meeting global food security needs. Andy Cole then spoke about the evolution of the beef and dairy industries, followed by Ronny Moser who spoke about the pig and poultry industries. Brian Kerr closed the symposium with a presentation on how feed management can help protect the environment. The presentations were well received by EPA staff and elicited thoughtful questions and discussion. EPA representatives indicated an interest in holding additional symposia in the future.
The FASS Science Policy Committee recently identified an opportunity to provide comments to the federal government regarding the participation of federal employees in non-profit organizations. Currently federal employees are able to participate as members of non-profit organizations such as scientific societies, but their ability to take leadership roles such as serving on Boards of Directors is restricted. The federal government has recently published a federal register notice inviting comments on the concept of allowing federal employees to take leadership roles within non-profit organizations. The comments submitted by FASS highlight the value that federal employees can bring to scientific societies and encourages the easing of restrictions to more openly allow federal employees to take leadership roles. Thanks to Deb Hamernik for her assistance and expertise in helping shape the FASS comments.
On July 27th, Lowell Randel participated in the monthly Animal Agriculture Coalition meeting. Lowell spoke to the group about the status of planning for FAIR 2012. There was much interest from AAC members in the progress made by both the FAIR Program and Executive Committees. AAC members unanimously voted to support FAIR 2012 and encourage AAC organizations to participate both in the programming and financing of the effort.
During consideration of the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill in the House of Representatives, an amendment was added that would prohibit the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) from using its science based process to review an application for the approval of genetically engineered salmon. The amendment was added more as a measure to protect the domestic wild caught salmon industry then for concerns over GE salmon. This development is of concern because it restricts FDA’s ability to use science to evaluate GE applications. FASS is joining other AAC members in sending a letter to leaders in the House and Senate expressing concern over this provision. While FASS has not taken a position on the individual application for GE salmon, FASS has approved a policy statement on biotechnology and sent a letter to FDA supporting its science based process for evaluation.