April 5, 2013
FASS representatives Lowell Randel and Walt Smith met with a number of Members of Congress and staff from the House and Senate Agriculture Committees during the week of March 4th. Given the struggles to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill last year, there is a desire from both the House and Senate to move a Farm Bill through committee as soon as possible this year. However, the uncertainty surrounding the budget and debt ceiling is complicating the timing. It appears that the House Agriculture Committee will wait to see how all of the budget and debt ceiling issues play out before moving a bill in committee. The next debt ceiling limit is expected to be reached in May (although it could be extended to sometime in the summer), so the Farm Bill won't likely move in the House until sometime in the summer.
In the Senate, while Chairwoman Stabenow has reintroduced her version of the Farm Bill from last year, they are also facing some complications with moving forward. Senator Cochran (R-MS) assumed the Ranking Member position on the committee in January and is still working to complete his staffing changes. It is expected that he will want to put his stamp on the bill. He has expressed concerns that the version last year put southern crops at a disadvantage.
A factor that will influence both the House and Senate is the newest CBO scoring of the two Farm Bill proposals from last year. The new score has significantly reduced the estimated savings that would come from the Senate passed version last year. The House bill is impacted less by the new scoring, but it still means that both the House and Senate will have to make adjustments to achieve the same level of savings that were calculated last year.
Finally, FASS joined members of the Animal Agriculture Coalition in sending a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees regarding provisions important to animal agriculture in the Farm Bill. The letter requests support for many research related provisions that were included in the House and Senate versions of the bill last year, along with some animal agriculture related provisions in other areas of the bill.
During the week of March 18th, the House and Senate came to agreement on funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. The Senate passed a continuing resolution on March 20th, which included a new version of the agriculture appropriations bill. The House followed suit by passing the bill on March 21st and President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. The major changes in research funding between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013 are in the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which received an increase of more than $33 million and the Agriculture Research Service which received an increase of $7 million. It is important to note that these numbers do not reflect the spending reductions required by the sequestration, which are approximately five percent for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Funding for USDA programs is also subject to a 2.513 percent rescission.
Below are some key funding levels included continuing resolution along with fiscal year 2012 funding for comparison:
Agriculture and Food Research Initiative
Smith-Lever, Section 3(b) and (c) programs
Agriculture Research Service – Salaries and Expenses
Also included in the continuing resolution is an additional $55 million for the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) intended to avoid potential furloughs of FSIS inspectors. The additional funding for FSIS comes from transfers from existing USDA accounts. The issue of FSIS furloughs created widespread controversy and political pressure to keep inspectors in the field. The economic impact of the threatened furloughs had been estimated to be as high as $10 billion.
Regarding fiscal year 2014, the President’s budget, which is normally released in early February, continues to be delayed. The latest indication is that the President’s budget may be released on April 8th. In preparation for the FY 2014 process, some groups are beginning to circulate letters of support for agriculture research. For example, the Friends of the Agriculture Research Service (FARS) sent a letter to Congress the last week in March. FASS and each of the founding societies signed the letter supporting the overall ARS budget.
The National Academies of Science (NAS) is continuing its preparations for a consensus study on animal science. FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel recently participated in a conference call with representatives from USDA and NAS regarding the status of the study. The major focus right now is on fundraising and NAS and USDA have been in contact with prominent foundations and industry about potential interest in contributing to the study. The goal is to utilize the results from the study to support a budget initiative for the animal sciences. Depending on how quickly the study progresses, the budget initiative may be ready for the fiscal year 2015 budget.
Members of the FASS Science Policy Committee met in Washington, DC on March 4-5, 2013. The committee met with a number of key agencies during the trip including USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, Cathy Woteki regarding the National Academies of Science study on animal science, the recent PCAST report on agriculture preparedness and FAIR 2012. Representatives from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) met with the committee to discuss antibiotics policies and the committee visited the National Science Foundation (NSF) to discuss FAIR 2012, PCAST and funding opportunities for the animal sciences. The committee also met with the new agriculture advisor at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to explore opportunities for partnering and sharing information. The also met with Senate Agriculture Committee staff to get the latest information on the Farm Bill. The trip also provided the committee the opportunity to develop strategies for the remainder of 2013.
FASS Washington Representatives Lowell Randel and Walt Smith gave a presentation to the FASS Board during its meeting on March 15th. Lowell and Walt updated the Board on the latest developments on the Farm Bill, appropriations, and FASS Science Policy activities.
The FASS Science Policy Committee presented a webinar on March 19th addressing climate change. Dr. Sara Place from Oklahoma State University discussed the effect climate change has on animal production and Dr. Judith Capper discussed the effect animal production has on the environment. Over 120 representatives from academia, industry and government participated in the webinar. An archive of the webinar is being prepared and will be posted on the FASS website.
The FASS Science Policy Committee will offer a webinar on April 25th regarding labeling of genetically engineered (GE) products. GE labeling continues to be a hot topic for policy makers in Washington and there are also many states considering GE labeling requirements. Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam from the University of California – Davis and Dr. Bruce Chassy from the University of Illinois will examine the scientific literature associated with the food safety of GE plants and animals and discuss whether the data supports the need for process-based labeling of GE food.