Senate and House Committees pass fiscal 2015 agriculture appropriations bills

By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division

In late May, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees approved their fiscal 2015 appropriations bills to fund the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies and programs that are important to veterinary medicine.

Below is a summary of the funding levels approved in the House bill (H.R. 4800) and the Senate bill (S. 2389).

  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – APHIS leads the USDA’s efforts on national disease surveillance, disease traceability, veterinary biologics, veterinary accreditation, animal welfare, and feral swine management. The Senate bill provided the service with $877.4 million, whereas the House provided $867.5 million.
  • The USDA’s Animal Welfare Program – This program mandates that, at the very least, minimum standards of care must be provided to certain animals that are bred for commercial sales, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. The House would fund the program at $28 million, whereas the Senate would provide nearly $29 million. Both chambers of Congress also provided funding to enforce the Horse Protection Act, a key component of the program, at $697,000 and $705,000 respectively.
  • The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) – The Senate bill provided $1.139 billion to the USDA’s noncompetitive research funding program; the House provided $1.120 billion. ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority.
  • The Agriculture and Food Research Institute (AFRI) – Congress funded the USDA’s competitive grant program at $325 million in both bills. AFRI grants are used for research in the following areas: animal health and production and animal products; plant health and production and plant products; food safety, nutrition, and health; renewable energy, natural resources, and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.
  • Animal Health and Disease Research – This grant program provides support to veterinary colleges for research into the prevention and control of animal diseases affecting agricultural production. The House boosted the program to $5 million, whereas the Senate bill continued to fund the program at $4 million.
  • The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) – Since 2010, the VMLRP has supported 205 veterinarians with loan repayment awards in exchange for their service in underserved areas of the country. The House increased funding for the program to $5 million, whereas the Senate continued funding at its current level of $4.8 million. Unfortunately, neither bill granted funding for the new Veterinary Services Grant Program, which would complement the VMLRP.
  • Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative (FADI) – FADI funding is split three ways with 40 percent each going to support plant and animal diagnostic networks and the remaining 20 percent going to the Extension Disaster Education Network. The House version would increase FADI funding to $7 million from $6.68 million and continue the current funding splits. However, the Senate bill takes a different approach, funding the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) at $10 million in a new budget line authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. It does so by eliminating the 40 percent funding within FADI for the NAHLN and combining it with money taken from the Veterinary Diagnostics budget line item.
  • The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD) – Food animal veterinarians and livestock producers rely upon the FARAD for withdrawal times, which helps them ensure that milk, meat and eggs are free of drug or chemical residues. Both bills continue funding for the databank at the current level of $1.25 million.
  • Horse slaughter amendments – Both the Senate and House Committees approved amendments that will bar the use of federal money to go toward USDA inspections of horse slaughter facilities. The same ban was put in place from 2007-2011 and Congress reinstituted it again in January of this year. The amendments will not stop the slaughter of American horses for meat that is exported internationally, but rather will mean that horses will be forced to travel outside of the United States to be slaughtered at facilities that may not meet U.S. humane slaughter requirements. The Government Accountability Office released a report in 2011 that confirmed that since the domestic slaughter of horses has ceased, the welfare of American horses has declined significantly.

The bills will be debated in their respective chambers of Congress in the coming weeks. Once each chamber has approved their bill, a final conference committee will work out the differences between the two bills and create a final version that can be voted on by Congress.

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