President signs omnibus to fund federal agencies, programs for fiscal 2014

By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division

On Jan. 17, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3547, PL 113-73) into law. The measure, which combines all 12 annual appropriations bills into one “omnibus bill” package, funds the federal government for fiscal 2014. AVMA’s legislative priorities fared well thanks to the many veterinarians and stakeholders who spoke to their lawmakers about the programs that are important to the veterinary profession and which directly influence animal health and welfare.

The omnibus legislation includes discretionary funding, which is a term that refers to spending set on a yearly basis at Congress’ discretion, of $20.9 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an increase of $350 million over the enacted 2013 level following the across-the-board spending cuts. In addition to its funding provisions, the legislation reinstated a ban on horse slaughter (see related article) and expressed concerns with the USDA’s Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations. The omnibus legislation also directed resources toward reducing the economic and ecological damages caused by feral swine.

Rural communities that rely on the USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program to fill vacant veterinary slots in their areas will continue to benefit now that Congress allocated $4.79 million to the program. Program participants are selected through a competitive process to provide veterinary services in areas of the country that have demonstrated a need for livestock and public health medicine. In exchange for their service in these designated areas, veterinarians are awarded up to $25,000 of loan repayment for each year that they practice.

The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD) saw a $250,000 increase to $1.25 million for the program. FARAD gives scientists the tools they need to provide vital information to veterinarians and livestock producers to ensure that milk, meat and eggs are free of drug and chemical residues before entering the food supply.

The Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative has been funded at $6.68 million. FADI provides baseline funding for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), the National Plant Diagnostic Network, and the Extension Disaster Education Network. The NAHLN, composed of federal, university and state veterinary diagnostic laboratories, is an established framework that provides critical and ongoing resources for surveillance testing and response to disease outbreaks that could impact human or animal health.

The omnibus package provided $2.6 billion for several agriculture research programs, including $4 million for Animal Health and Disease Research; about $1.1 million for the Agricultural Research Service, and more than $316 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) remained funded at more than $821 million. The AVMA, along with the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, sought to educate lawmakers about the critical role that APHIS plays in protecting American animal agriculture, guarding our borders from foreign animal diseases and protecting the health and value of U.S. agriculture. APHIS is currently working to prevent 160 animal diseases from entering our country and to eradicate harmful and devastating diseases that could impact the economy.

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will receive $404 million for the construction of a new facility in Manhattan, Kan. The funding comes in addition to previous amounts that Congress has allocated toward the facility’s construction, as well as $202 million by the state of Kansas, bringing the total to an expected $1 billion for the facility. Congress also included funding in the legislation to provide infrastructure repairs at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center located in Plum Island, N.Y., to guarantee a smooth transition of research between the facilities.

For more information, see AVMA’s Web page on its agriculture appropriations priorities.

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