by Gina Luke
In the early hours of July 12, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 (H.R. 6083), was marked up and passed (35-11) by the House Agriculture Committee. The bill cuts $35 billion from nutrition and farm programs, compared with the $23 billion in overall cuts across a decade in the Senate’s Farm Bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act (S. 3240), which passed by a vote of 64-35 at the end of June.
Many of AVMA’s priorities are included in both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill, namely extensions from 2012 through 2017 of several important programs – the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, Animal Health and Disease Research/1433 Formula Funding and the Agriculture and Food Research Institute.
Both H.R. 6083 and S. 3240 include a new authorization for what has previously been referred to as the Veterinary Services Investment Act to address needs in rural agricultural areas. This program is the only new authorization included in the House bill. The program will bolster veterinary workforce and food protection needs and will help support practices of veterinarians who are participating in or have successfully completed the federal Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program or other similar federal or state programs.
Both bills would amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit any person from knowingly attending an animal fighting venture or causing a minor to attend such a venture. This provision addresses a practice that is still far too common in our society that has severe consequences for the animals involved, including serious injury and/or death. While most states have recently adopted stricter laws addressing animal fighting, enforcement is a challenge and combined federal and state efforts are most effective. Targeting not only those participating, but those frequenting these events is necessary to put their organizers out of business.
To the delight of the AVMA and other stakeholders, H.R. 6083 includes verbiage outlining priority areas for the Competitive, Special, and Facilities Research Act (Section 7405) to specifically include the research and development of surveillance methods, vaccines, vaccination delivery systems, or diagnostic tests for zoonotic diseases in wildlife reservoirs presenting a potential concern to public health or domestic livestock; as well as the identification of animal drug needs and the generation and dissemination of data for safe and effective therapeutic applications of animal drugs for minor species and minor uses of such drugs in major species. This provision addresses the concerns of the Minor Use Animal Drug Program which has faced challenges since Congress discontinued earmarks in 2010.
Unfortunately, H.R. 6043 does not include a provision to establish a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) which was included in S. 3240. The AVMA advocates for increasing resources for food and agriculture research, specifically with an eye on increasing opportunities for animal health, livestock production, and animal products research. Aside from our efforts to reauthorized AFRI as noted above, we were involved in successful efforts to include a provision to establish FFAR in the Senate farm bill. FFAR has the potential to generate significant outside funding through the development of public-private partnerships. FFAR would supplement the research efforts of USDA by accepting tax-deductible donations to fund agricultural research. Through the FFAR, those donations would be matched by $100 million in Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds, which would then be used to support grants for collaborative public/private partnerships with scientists and entities including USDA, academia, non-profits, and the private sector.
Another difference between the two bills is an amendment sought by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and adopted by voice vote to bar state and local governments from requiring companies and farmers outside their jurisdiction to meet production or manufacturing standards in order to sell agricultural products. The amendment’s supporters oppose California’s Proposition 2 ballot initiative approved by that state’s voters in 2008. Proposition 2, or the Standards for Confining Farm Animals, created a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The California law is set to go into full effect on January 1, 2015. Rep. King was no doubt spurred on by the recent introduction of the “egg bill” in both chambers – H.R. 3798 / S. 3239, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012. AVMA has a taken a position of support for H.R. 3798 / S. 3239 on the basis of advancing animal welfare.
Lawmakers must grapple with these differences and many others when the bills are conferenced. Some Republican members have urged Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to send H.R. 6043 directly to conference with S. 3240 thus bypassing what is certain to be a contentious floor debate over the cuts to nutrition and farm programs as well as the uncertainty whether enough Republicans will vote to pass the bill. Presumably a conferenced package would face a less onerous passage. No matter which path the Speaker choses, time is running short. There are just 5 legislative days left before the House recesses for August. When Congress returns after the Labor Day they will have less than a month to complete their work on the farm bill before it expires on September 30. AVMA continues encourage Congress to complete its work on before the current law governing agriculture policy expires.
For more information contact Gina Luke, Assistant Director Governmental Relations Division, 202-289-3204, gluke@AVMA.org.