The AVMA’s priorities were well represented in the $1.15 trillion fiscal 2016 omnibus bill that Congress finally agreed upon and will vote on this week. The bill combines all 12 annual spending measures into one large bill, funding federal agencies and programs important to veterinary medicine through Sept. 30.
The bill funds the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) at $15 million. The NAHLN plays a critical role in responding to animal disease outbreaks such as the highly pathologic avian influenza virus that decimated poultry flocks this past year.
The AVMA places great emphasis on programs that help address barriers to practice in rural areas and/or in areas of veterinary medicine that have unmet needs. To that end, the bill provides the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) with $5 million in funding. It also provides funding for the first time to the new Veterinary Services Grant Program (VSGP), which Congress authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD) and the Animal Health and Disease Research programs get $1.25 million and $4 million, respectively.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is responsible for administering many programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that protect animal health and welfare, has been funded at $894.4 million, a $23 million increase over fiscal 2015. Within APHIS, the program that enforces the Horse Protection Act, will get $697,000 and the Animal Health Program $295.2 million.
USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Institute (AFRI) will receive $350 million while the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) will get $1.143 billion. The omnibus stipulates that $57.1 million within ARS’ budget cannot be obligated until the agriculture secretary certifies in writing that ARS has updated its animal care policies and that all ARS animal research facilities have fully functioning institutional animal care and use committees. Lawmakers are taking this action in response to The New York Times article earlier this year which questioned research practices at ARS’ Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, Neb. In addition, APHIS Animal Welfare will receive $450,000 to provide oversight of animal research facilities at ARS.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which ensures that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe, will get $1.014 billion. The agency is prohibited from using this funding to inspect domestic facilities in which horses are slaughtered.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will receive a total of $4.68 billion, which includes revenue generated from user fees. The discretionary funding for the FDA is $2.72 billion. Within this total is a $104.5 million increase to implement the new rules required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and $8.7 million for the president’s Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria.
While Congress has a long tradition of supporting biomedical research, even during austere budget environments, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will get a $1.77 billion boost, its largest increase in 13 years. The NIH will be funded at $32.084 billion in fiscal 2016, up from $30.311 billion in fiscal 2015. This funding is essential for increasing and maintaining biomedical research that promotes better public and animal health.
The House and Senate are expected to vote on the omnibus before they adjourn on Dec. 18 for the holiday recess. The House will resume Jan. 5 and the Senate will resume Jan. 11. Lawmakers are also negotiating an end-of-year tax package; the AVMA has been working to ensure that tax breaks beneficial to veterinary medicine are included.