On June 18th, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee met to take action on agriculture appropriations for fiscal year 2016. The bill considered by the subcommittee provides $20.65 billion in discretionary funding, which is $175 million lower than fiscal year 2015. When funding for mandatory programs is included, the overall bill totals $143.9 billion.
For research programs, within the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), funding is largely provided at last year’s levels. The largest increase of any NIFA program is $10 million for AFRI, bumping the program from $325 million to $335 million. The expanded Sec. 1433 program remains at the FY 2015 level of $4 million. Information for selected key accounts can be found in the table below.
FY 2015 - FINAL
FY 2016 – President’s Budget
FY 2016 - House
Agricultural Research Service
ARS Buildings and Facilities
NIFA Research and Education
Expanded Section 1433
NIFA Extension Activities
NIFA Integrated Activities
Also included in the bill are a number of policy provisions related to the administration of agency activities. Two of these are of particular interest to animal science and animal agriculture. First, in response to the allegations of improper animal care at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC), the bill contains language that withholds 5 percent of the ARS budget ($56 million) until the Secretary of Agriculture certifies that ARS has updated its animal care policies and that all of the agency’s facilities at which animal research is conducted have a fully functioning Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee with all appropriate and necessary record keeping. The report language accompanying the bill provides additional information on the committee’s expectations for ARS, including that ARS must: (1) enter into an agreement with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to provide animal care oversight; (2) report to Congress in detail on the allegations made about animal care at USMARC; and, (3) conduct a review of the easy care sheep project. The bill would provide additional resources for APHIS to support its implementation and enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.
Second, the bill includes language that prohibits the release for finalization of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans unless it is demonstrated that all recommendations are based on scientific evidence that has been rated "Grade I: Strong" by the grading rubric developed by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture and are limited in scope to only matters of diet and nutrient intake. This language comes in response to the strong criticism of the draft dietary guidelines from animal agriculture and other industries. The scientific basis for some of the draft recommendations has been strongly questioned and the draft goes well beyond the scope of diet and nutrition by considering environmental sustainability as a factor for making dietary recommendations.
The subcommittee approved the bill on voice vote. The full committee was scheduled to consider the bill during the week of June 22nd, but the proceedings have been postponed until after the 4th of July recess. A copy of the bill language can be found here.
On June 2nd, the Obama Administration convened a “White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship” to bring together key human and animal health constituencies involved in antibiotic stewardship. Representatives from more than 150 food companies, retailers, and human and animal health stakeholders participated in the meeting to discuss commitments to implement changes over the next five years to slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections. Mike Lilburn, Past President of FASS, participated on behalf of FASS and share his perspectives on the role of scientific societies in providing education and outreach on antibiotic stewardship. FASS is listed as one of the organizations making a commitment to address the issue of antibiotic stewardship, which can be found on a White House Fact Sheet entitled “Over 150 Animal and Health Stakeholders Join White House Effort to Combat Antibiotic Resistance”. USDA Under Secretary Cathy Woteki also wrote a blog article on the forum, which can be found here.
In conjunction with the forum, President Obama also signed a memorandum directing Federal departments and agencies to create a preference for meat and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the final Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) regulation, which facilitates bringing the feed-use of antibiotics under the oversight of licensed veterinarians.
On June 11th, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) named Dr. Sally Rockey its first Executive Director to lead the foundation. Dr. Rockey currently serves as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) deputy director for extramural research and will assume her role with FFAR in September 2015. Prior to joining the NIH in 2005, Rockey spent 19 years of at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where she oversaw the competitive research component of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service including the National Research Initiative (NRI). As executive director, Rockey will be charged with steering FFAR’s approach to addressing challenges in food and agriculture through funding cutting edge research, fostering public-private sector collaboration, and supporting young scientists in the agricultural field.
On June 10th, the House of Representatives voted to repeal mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) regulations for meat and poultry. The COOL regulations have been the subject of controversy over the last few years as Canada and Mexico challenged the validity of the regulations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO ruled in May that the regulations violate U.S. trade obligations and that Canada and Mexico would be entitled to take retaliatory action. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) moved the repeal legislation quickly in his committee and successfully through the House floor on a bipartisan vote of 300-131. More information on H.R. 2393 can be found here.
The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing to examine the COOL issue on June 25th and the Ranking Member of the committee, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has proposed draft legislation that would make COOL regulations voluntary. Canada and Mexico have indicated that changing the program to make it voluntary is not acceptable and would still violate WTO obligations.
On June 18th, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to examine H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. The bipartisan legislation was introduced in response to the increasing number of states considering law and regulations that would require the mandatory labeling of food products with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The legislation would preempt states from creating a patchwork of different labeling requirements and create a national policy. Under the legislation, GMO labeling would only be mandatory if there is a material difference between the GMO product and non-GMO products. The bill would also authorize USDA to develop a voluntary non-GMO labeling program. On June 25th, the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research held a hearing to discuss USDA’s ability to develop the voluntary program, which would be administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service.