August 24, 2020
FY2021 Ag Budget and COVID Relief
Although the FY21 budget and Phase 4 COVID Relief are not directly linked, the anticipated relief package does have impacts on budget discussions. The budget will not move forward until the COVID relief package is finalized. Funds for COVID relief are considered emergency spending, so they are separate from the budget, but they may still affect thinking on it. COVID has also revealed areas of need, such as hunger issues, healthcare challenges, broadband issues, and more, that may change budget priorities. The COVID relief package is focused on immediate needs, whereas the budget is slightly longer term, in that it is to cover the period from October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021. The COVID relief package addresses unemployment benefits; rent issues; business protection; agricultural producer support; feeding programs; federal agency, state, and local expenses for testing; personal protective equipment; school reopening; and a wide range of additional items. A challenge is to truly address areas affected by COVID, particularly the human impacts. Senate Republicans have introduced—but, as of this writing, not yet acted on—their Phase 4 COVID-19 relief package, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act, as they continue to try to resolve internal differences. The plan has an estimated price tag of about $1 trillion. The House passed their version about two months ago, called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (the HEROES Act), carrying a price tag of over $3 trillion. Although education funds will likely be in the final package, and they are expected to address some student impacts, effects on research projects are not likely to be addressed. Once the Senate passes a bill, it will need to be conferenced with the House to arrive at a final package to be acted on by both houses and then sent to President Trump for signature. Normally, members of Congress would now be at home on their August recess, but that has been delayed so that action can be taken on the final recovery package, whenever that is negotiated. As discussions have been ongoing, FASS has joined other members of the Animal Agriculture Coalition in a letter to Senate leadership, urging inclusion in the package of support for livestock and poultry producers who have been severely affected by COVID-19. In addition, it supported funding of $300 million for Section 10409A of the Animal Health Protection Act, which includes the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program (NADPRP), and the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank. Many of these laboratories have assisted in human testing for COVID and are seeking coverage for added costs incurred. The letter can be seen at https://www.fass.org/Science-Policy/Coalition-Letters.
Relative to the FY21 budget, some type of action is required by September 30 to avoid a government shutdown. The House has passed their version of the Ag budget, along with the other 11 agency budgets. An overview was included in the June Science Policy Report. The Senate has taken no official action yet. Given the limited time remaining before Election Day, it is expected that a continuing resolution (CR) will be passed to provide funding until just after the election. It is then expected that another CR will pass to provide funding until shortly after the first of the year, when a new Congress will be in control. Stay tuned.
Input on Agricultural Innovation Agenda
The USDA recently sought input from stakeholders on their Agricultural Innovation Agenda (AIA). The overall goal of the AIA is to increase agricultural production by 40% while cutting the environmental footprint of agriculture in half by 2050. The FASS Science Policy Committee (SPC) responded to USDA’s request for input. The comments are focused on the Genome Design cluster and, more specifically, on the regulatory barriers posed by the FDA's plan to regulate intentional genome alterations in food animals as drugs. This severely limits the use of the technology in large animal trials. The comments are available here.
Meet the FASS Science Policy Committee
FASS SPC Member Alison Van Eenennaam was featured in the 7/31/20 CAST Friday Notes.
Catching Up with Alison Van Eenennaam
CAST caught up with Alison Van Eenennaam about her recent research. Van Eenennaam said, "Well, you probably heard about Cosmo from the Wired article. He is a genome-edited bull calf with extra copies of SRY, the gene that is responsible for initiating male development, knocked in or inserted onto chromosome 17. We produced him by embryo-mediated genome editing with the CRISPR/Cas9 system. We predict he will produce 75% male offspring, but only data and experimental outcome can confirm that prediction. Stay tuned for results in a couple of years!"
You can read more about what Van Eenennaam has been up to on CAST's latest blog.
The FASS SPC meets regularly via conference call. We continue to work on updating our science policy statements and planning a science policy seminar for next summer’s ADSA Annual Meeting. Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these issues for the SPC. 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. With Election Day fast approaching, it is important to get to know the candidates who are seeking to represent you in Congress and the state legislature. Although safety restrictions due to COVID will limit face-to-face meetings, you can still learn about candidates’ positions on research and research funding. We need more advocates for science in state and federal government. It is also important to remind them that they are representing scientists who need their support to do the research needed for the future and that we are available to provide expertise on technical matters when they need it.
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
FASS Science Policy Coordinator