On Thursday, April 26th, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a business meeting to consider Farm Bill legislation. The bill received bipartisan support and was approved by the committee by a vote of 16-5. The bill would save $24.7 billion with significant savings coming from the elimination and restructuring of commodity programs. Those opposing the bill were primarily from southern states and had concerns that changes to commodity support programs would disproportionately harm producers of crops such as rice and peanuts.
The legislation includes a research title and reauthorizes major agricultural research programs such as the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program. While most of the research title provisions related to discretionary authorities, the title does include mandatory funding for the Specialty Crops Research Initiative, Organic Research Initiative and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program. The bill also establishes a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and includes $100 million in mandatory spending to provide seed money. The FFAR would be a private, non-profit foundation, similar to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, and will provide a new mechanism to support and conduct agricultural research. FASS has actively participated in an ad hoc coalition working on the foundation concept and is pleased that the program was included the Senate version of the Farm Bill.
Another significant provision within the research title addresses how USDA provides information to Congress about its annual budget requests. The bill requires USDA and its research agencies to provide very specific information about the nature of programs it intends to fund each fiscal year. For the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), this will require the agency to describe each RFA that is anticipated for the coming fiscal year. The provision is designed to provide detailed information regarding the agencies’ plans, so that Congress may provide better oversight on research priorities and expenditures. It comes as a response to concerns that the agencies have not followed Congressional priorities laid out in statute.
The Senate hopes to bring the Farm Bill to the Senate floor for action prior to Memorial Day. The House Agriculture committee continues to hold Farm Bill hearings.
On Thursday, April 26th, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee met to consider its version of the FY 2013 agriculture appropriations bill. The committee approved the bill by a vote of 28 to 1. The bill provides $20.785 billion in overall discretionary spending. For research, the bill provides $1.239 billion for the National Institute on Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and $1.101 billion for the Agricultural Research Service, both slightly up from last year. Specifically within NIFA, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative is funded at $298 million, an increase of $33.5 million over last year. The Hatch Act and Smith-Lever Sections 3(b) and 3(c) were funded at the same level as last year with $236 million and $294 million, respectively.
On April 11th, the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) released three documents related to antibiotic use in food-producing animals. The action by CVM is the next step in the agency’s effort to promote the judicious use of medically important antibiotics. The three documents are:
- A final guidance for industry, The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals, that recommends phasing out the agricultural production use of medically important drugs and phasing in veterinary oversight of therapeutic uses of these drugs.
- A draft guidance, open for public comment, which will assist drug companies in voluntarily removing production uses of antibiotics from their FDA-approved product labels; adding, where appropriate, scientifically-supported disease prevention, control, and treatment uses; and changing the marketing status to include veterinary oversight.
- A draft proposed Veterinary Feed Directive regulation, open for public comment, that outlines ways that veterinarians can authorize the use of certain animal drugs in feed, which is important to make the needed veterinary oversight feasible and efficient.
It is important to note that this is a voluntary initiative and that while certain antibiotics would not be used for growth promotion or improving feed efficiency, these antibiotics would still be available for disease prevention and control. The CVM announcement was met with mixed reviews from industry and consumer groups. Several industry organizations expressed support for CVM’s collaborative approach and agreed with the importance of involving veterinarians in the administration of antibiotics. Some concerns were raised about the feasibility of requiring veterinary oversight and they disproportionate impact it could have on small producers and those in remote areas. Consumer groups were disappointed that CVM took a voluntary approach would like to see mandated requirements with stronger enforcement mechanisms.
On April 24th, FASS and each of the founding societies joined 24 agriculture organizations in sending a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The letter came in response to reports that several amendments were being considered for inclusion in the committee’s mark-up of the Prescription Drug Fee User Act (PDUFA) that would prohibit FDA from using its science-based review process to evaluate genetically modified products such as genetically enhanced salmon. Many in the agriculture industry believe these policies changes would set a dangerous precedent in the U.S. regulatory system and would elevate market considerations above science when FDA considers future GMO products. The letter to leaders of the committee is similar to a letter FASS and the founding societies supported in 2011 and is consistent with a letter FASS sent to FDA in support of its science-based process for evaluating genetically modified products.
The FASS Scientific Advisory Committee for Food Safety, Animal Drugs and Animal Health will hold its annual symposium on May 21st at the American Farm Bureau Federation offices in Washington, DC from 8:45am – 4:00pm. Registration for the event is free and lunch will be provided. FASS Washington Representatives Lowell Randel and Walt Smith have played an active role in the development of the program agenda and in securing speakers. Participants will hear from FDA and USDA officials on a variety of topics including:
- Antibiotics and Antibiotic Resistance
- Veterinary Feed Directive
- Regulation of New and Existing Feed Ingredients
- Animal Drug User Fee Act
- Food Safety Modernization Act Implementation
- Non-0157 Shiga Toxin-Producing E. Coli Regulation and Testing
- APHIS Modernization
- USDA/REE Action Plan
- 2012 Farm Bill
- FAIR 2012