January 6, 2016
On December 16, House and Senate leaders reached agreement on an omnibus appropriations package for fiscal year 2016. The package will fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year and also includes several policy provisions related to agriculture.
The bipartisan debt deal enacted earlier this fall eased spending caps and provided $80 billion in additional funding for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. As a result, Congress was able to improve on the funding level for a number of accounts in the agriculture appropriations bill. For agriculture research, the largest increases were for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and for Agricultural Research Service (ARS) building and facilities. AFRI receives $350 million in the omnibus, a $25 million increase over 2015. ARS building and facilities receives $212 million, up from the $45 million provided in 2015. This funding will allow for the completion of the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory and begin work on other high priority ARS facilities.
From a policy perspective, the omnibus includes language reinforcing the provisions included in the House and Senate versions of the bill regarding animal care at ARS. Congress continues to express concern over the USDA response to allegations of animal mistreatment at the US Meat Animal Research Center. The omnibus withholds $57 million from ARS until the Secretary certifies to Congress that ARS has updated its animal care policies and that all labs conducting animal research have functioning Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCS).
The omnibus includes language related to the updating of dietary guidelines. Much controversy has surrounded the dietary guidelines process as the draft version provided by the Advisory Committee was very critical of the meat industry. The draft moved away from recommending lean meat as a part of a healthy diet and included considerations based on environmental sustainability. The omnibus directs USDA and HHS to focus solely on diet and nutrition and ensure that the guidelines are based on strong scientific evidence.
Congress also responded through the omnibus to repeal the mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements for meat and poultry. The World Trade Organization has ruled that these requirements violated U.S. trade obligations and has authorized Mexico and Canada to retaliate with over $1 billion in tariffs. The repeal will help bring the U.S. back into compliance and avoid retaliation from Mexico and Canada.
Lawmakers debated other labeling provisions while finalizing omnibus. Industry unsuccessfully attempted to include language that would have prohibited states from creating their own GMO labeling requirements. At the same time, language was included to direct FDA in fiscal year not to allow the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of any food that contains genetically engineered salmon until FDA publishes final labeling guidelines for informing consumers of such content.
The following table show the funding levels for selected agricultural research accounts.
FY 2015 – FINAL
FY 2016 – President's Budget
FY 2016 – Omnibus
Agricultural Research Service
ARS Buildings and Facilities
NIFA Research and Education
Expanded Section 1433
NIFA Extension Activities
NIFA Integrated Activities
Congress passed the omnibus shortly before leaving adjourning for the remainder of the year. President Obama signed the bill into law on December 18th. A copy of the omnibus appropriations bill can be found on the House Rules Committee website by clicking here.
On December 9th, the Riley Memorial Foundation (RMF) hosted a meeting with representatives from scientific societies to discuss efforts to develop a unified message in support of agricultural research. The meeting was held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and included a broad group of scientific societies. Representatives from ADSA, ASAS and PSA all participated in the meeting. Washington Representative, Lowell Randel, who serves as a member of the RMF Board, was also in attendance.
The RMF has been working to develop a unified message to bolster support for agricultural research for the last two years. They held a kickoff meeting in December 2014 to announce the effort and also met with university associations earlier in 2015. The goal of the effort is to build broad based support across agriculture, food, and natural resources for a singular message that can be communicated to policy makers in an attempt to increase federal investments. The RMF plans to hold additional meetings in 2016 to further the goal. More information can be found on the RMF website by clicking here.
On December 23rd, the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service announced that it will be standardizing its approach for dealing with meat, poultry and catfish samples that test positive for drugs or other substances that do not have set tolerance levels. Such testing occurs as part of the National Residue Program's (NRP's) Tier 2 exploratory program.
The new policy will apply to substances such as environmental contaminants, heavy metals, industrial chemicals and mycotoxins. FSIS will establish de minimis levels for chemicals. When a residue is found above the set level, FSIS will notify the FDA, EPA, or other appropriate federal partners for possible trace-back investigations and consideration of potential mitigation actions. A copy of the Federal Register notice can be found here.
On December 30th, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service issued a Final Rule entitled: "Exemption of Organic Products from Assessment under a Commodity Promotion Law." The regulation is required by a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill. The rule amends the current regulations to allow persons that produce, handle, market, process, manufacture, feed, or import "organic" and "100 percent organic" products to be exempt from paying assessments associated with commodity promotion activities, regardless of whether the person requesting the exemption also produces, handles, markets, processes, manufactures, feeds, or imports conventional or nonorganic products. Currently, only persons that exclusively produce and market products certified as 100 percent organic are eligible for an exemption from assessments under commodity promotion programs. The rule change will apply to all checkoff programs administered by AMS including those for beef, dairy and eggs. The final rule will become effective in March 2016.