Obama administration releases fiscal 2015 budget proposal

By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division

The Obama administration released its $1.014 trillion fiscal 2015 discretionary spending proposal on March 4, a month behind schedule. Regardless of who occupies the White House, the president’s budget is always considered dead on arrival because each chamber of Congress will fashion their own spending priorities. Nevertheless, it marks the beginning of the debate about spending priorities for the country.

A majority of programs of interest to the AVMA fall within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget. One of the association’s top priorities is increasing the funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is a vital federal agency that safeguards U.S. borders from approximately 160 foreign animal diseases. AVMA believes the administration’s request of $834,341,000, a 1.5 percent increase ($12.6 million) over current funding, is insufficient. Under the new budget, all USDA agencies will have to pay rent for the facilities that they are using within their own budget lines. This means that APHIS would be forced to pay $43,076,000, an amount previously absorbed by the Agriculture Secretary’s budget, out of its budget. Therefore, AVMA recommends no less than $877,417,000 for APHIS in fiscal 2015 so that it can carry out its important functions.

The recently passed Farm Bill includes a new budget line item authorizing up to $15 million annually for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which is an important early warning system for emerging and foreign animal diseases. Because it is a new budget line approved in the Farm Bill, it did not make it into the administration’s budget proposal. At the same time, the administration continued funding of $6.7 million for the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative (FADI), which provides a fraction of what is needed to support the NAHLN. FADI funding is shared by the NAHLN, the Extension Disaster Education Network and the National Plant Diagnostic Network. As part of its appropriations request, AVMA seeks the full $15 million for fiscal 2015 for the NAHLN.

AVMA supports the administration’s $4.8 million budget request for the successful Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which is now in its fifth year of operation. The program provides participants with student loan repayment in exchange for practicing in rural areas of the country where there is a need. Because of the VMLRP, 216 veterinarians are currently practicing livestock and public health veterinary medicine in shortage areas around the country.

As anticipated, the Obama administration again seeks to zero out funding for both the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD) and the Animal Health and Disease Research (AHDR). FARAD gives veterinarians and livestock producers information to ensure that milk, meat and eggs are free of drug and chemical residues before entering the food supply. AHDR has traditionally focused on animal health and disease research, but the latest Farm Bill expanded it to also include research on food security, One Health and stewardship. AVMA seeks up to $2.5 million and no less than $1.25 million for FARAD, and $10 million for AHDR in fiscal 2015.

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), USDA’s competitive research program, is slated for $325 million under the president’s budget proposal, and $75 million is also budgeted to fund three new multidisciplinary agricultural research institutes focused on crop science and pollinator health, bio-based product manufacturing, and antibiotic resistance. According to the administration’s budget summary, the idea is to “leverage the best research within the public and private sectors to create opportunities for new business ventures.” Despite these investments, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), which is the USDA’s chief scientific in-house research agency, saw a cut of $18 million to its budget with the administration’s request of $1,104,403,000. ARS would fund new and expanded research initiatives in environmental stewardship; livestock and crop breeding and protection; food safety; human nutrition; and pollinator health. However, money for those initiatives would come almost entirely from scaling back existing research. AVMA’s requests for both AFRI and ARS will be determined in consort with stakeholder partners in the coming days.

The administration cut the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) budget by $9.3 million to $1,001,402,000. FSIS is responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged. The administration’s budget summary indicates that FSIS should focus more on microbial food safety and less on physical inspections. The administration also called for a new “performance-based user fee” that would be charged to production facilities that do not comply with regulations or that require additional FSIS inspections because their meat or poultry samples fail testing for pathogens, such as salmonella. The administration states that the fee would generate an estimated $4 million in fiscal 2015. The budget also included verbiage stipulating that no monies may be used to pay the salaries or expenses of personnel to inspect horses under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

The Food and Drug Administration proposes to impose user fees to pay for ramping up inspections the agency is required to do under the Food Safety Modernization Act (PL 111-353). A fee on imports would raise $169 million to pay for inspecting imported foods, and a fee on food facilities would bring in $60 million to inspect processors. It should be noted that congressional appropriators have routinely rejected such fees.

The president’s budget for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security includes $300 million for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. This bio-containment facility, which is under construction in Manhattan, Kan., will study foreign animal, emerging and zoonotic diseases that could threaten U.S. animal agriculture and public health. AVMA is seeking $310 million in fiscal 2015 for this important facility.

The National Institutes of Health is essentially level-funded at $30.2 billion in the president’s budget, an increase of just $274,000 over fiscal 2014 funding. AVMA supports an increase to $32 billion for the NIH in fiscal 2015 to continue important research that impacts both public and animal health.

For more information on AVMA’s appropriations requests for fiscal 2015, see chart.

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