Fiscal Deadlines and Budget Action
Congressional leaders and the Trump administration have so far failed to strike a deal to raise budget caps and the debt ceiling as fall deadlines approach. At the moment, no meetings are scheduled for July. Even though lawmakers want to avoid a series of automatic spending cuts that will occur without a new two-year budget deal, splits within both caucuses are hampering negotiations. While the House has passed their version of the FY20 budget for agriculture, the Senate has only held hearings. Senate appropriators now say they will not mark up the various spending bills until a broader budget agreement is reached.
Given the other high-profile items on their agenda and the fact that the congressional August recess is officially scheduled to run from August 5 through September 6, there is little time left to come to an agreement. Once they do have their version of the budget, there is the challenge of negotiating differences with the House version and then having a bill the President will sign.
USDA Reorganization and Leadership Nominees
Late last year, Scott Hutchins was nominated to serve as undersecretary for research, education, and economics, Naomi Earp as assistant secretary for civil rights, and Mindy Brashears as undersecretary for food safety. The clock ran out on the last Congress before Senate action was taken on the nominations, so they had to be re-nominated for approval by the new Congress. As a stopgap measure, each is currently serving in deputy roles, which do not require Senate confirmation. Their nominations have been approved by committee and moved forward for action by the full Senate, but new hurdles have now come up. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) sent the secretary a letter last week threatening to place a hold on the nominees unless Secretary Perdue "ceases to be involved" in the ethanol issue, a struggle among oil refineries, corn growers, and biofuel producers over the EPA's waivers for ethanol blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) already has a hold on Hutchins' nomination in protest of Perdue's decision to move NIFA and ERS from the Washington area to Kansas City. This is one of several actions that have been taken by Congress and USDA employees in an effort to stop or delay the move. So far, USDA is pressing on with the plan. According to The Washington Post on June 13, NIFA and ERS employees received a document with two blank boxes on it. Check one, it instructs: Accept the transfer by July 15 or “be separated by adverse action procedures.” Most reports indicate that a very small part of the staff will make the move, which will severely affect the work of the agencies, including the operation of the competitive grants programs. One positive result so far is that it appears the administration has dropped plans at the present time to move ERS out of the research mission area.
Updating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans
The purpose of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to provide advice on what to eat and drink to build a healthy diet that can promote health, help prevent diet-related chronic disease, and meet nutrient needs. The US Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) work together to update and release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines) every five years. A review is now underway. Each edition of the Dietary Guidelines reflects the current body of nutrition science.
The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will meet approximately five times to examine the science related to the topics and questions on nutrition and health identified by the departments. All Committee meetings have been or will be open to the public. The second meeting was held July 10–11, 2019, in Washington, DC. Future meeting are planned for the following:
- October 24–25, 2019 (Washington, DC)
- January 23–24, 2020 (Houston, TX)
- March 12–13, 2020 (Washington, DC)
An ongoing public comment period opened on March 12, 2019, and will remain open until the Committee submits its scientific report to the Secretaries of USDA and HHS in 2020. The public is encouraged to submit written comments to the Committee for review throughout its work. This comment period will allow for public comments on every topic and question the committee covers.
Visit the Dietary Guidelines website to learn more about the process or click here for details on submitting comments for consideration in the development of the guidelines. It is important for the committee to hear from scientists who work in the field as the new guidelines are developed.
USDA Technology Transfer Report
USDA recently released its annual Technology Transfer Report on tech innovation in the ag sector. USDA broadly defines technology transfer as the adoption of research outcomes (i.e., solutions) for public benefit. The publication for fiscal 2018 highlighted discoveries such as a treatment for peanut allergies and a coconut oil-based repellent to ward off blood-sucking insects that cost cattle ranchers $2.4 billion each year.
The report covers technology-transfer activities and metrics for the USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Economic Research Service (ERS), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Food Safety and FY 2018 Annual Report on Technology Transfer Inspection Service (FSIS), Forest Service (FS), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Rural Development (RD). You can find the full 400+-page report by here.
OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2019–2028
The state of the rural economy impacts research priorities and funding. In light of the ongoing pressure on farm income in the United States due to trade wars with major importers, consumer concerns, weather problems, and other issues, it is useful to look at the broader world situation so we can anticipate what may come. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations recently released their outlook for agriculture for the next decade. Key messages from the report included the following:
- Following several years of relatively calm market conditions, world agricultural markets today face mounting risks, including policy uncertainty from trade tensions.
- Productivity is projected to outpace demand growth, which implies declining real food prices. This is good news for poor consumers but will put pressure on farm incomes.
- Global food demand follows population growth as per capita consumption of many food items levels off.
- Open, transparent, and predictable trade is important for global food security; regions experiencing rapid population growth are not those where food production can be increased sustainably.
- This year's edition focuses on the prospects and challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean.
You can find the full report at http://www.agri-outlook.org/.
FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – June 2019
The FASS Science Policy Committee met by conference call on June 10. The primary item of business was action on the review and updating of the FASS Science Policy statements. Updates were approved for three statements for submission to the FASS Board. Work continues on the other statements—all are deemed appropriate to maintain but need to include new information that has become available since they were developed. During the month, we also joined a coalition letter again seeking to stop or delay the move of NIFA and ARS from the DC area.
The FASS SPC was also present at the ADSA Annual Meeting as part of the overall FASS display. Information on the role of the committee, recent coalition letters and testimony, and examples of Science Policy statements were available. Attendees were invited to stop by the display to discuss current policy issues and committee activities.
Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these issues. We will provide additional information as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort. If you are interested in communicating occasionally with members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture, we are looking for FASS science policy advocates. Please contact me for details.
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
FASS Science Policy Coordinator