Increases to animal disease and food safety programs proposed in 2002 agriculture budget

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In April, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman previewed portions of the Bush administration's agriculture budget for fiscal year 2002, which includes increases for animal disease and food safety programs.

The Agriculture Department has requested appropriations for 2002 totalling $72.7 billion—a reduction of $3.3 billion from the 2001 budget, which included more than $4 billion in emergency appropriations. When this factor is considered, the actual budget for 2002 shows an increase of $883 million, Veneman told a Senate appropriations subcommittee on April 25. Veneman nevertheless called the budget "restrained," saying that the Bush administration is committed "to assuring that the total USDA budget does not exceed the levels recommended to you today."

Earlier that month, Veneman announced that she was authorizing an additional one-time appropriation of $32 million in fiscal years 2001/2002 to increase inspection personnel to protect against the introduction of such foreign animal diseases as foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy at major US ports of entry.

"Given current situations around the world, we need to continue reviewing program needs and take every possible action to strengthen our pest and disease prevention systems," she said at the time. "Increasing personnel at critical ports of entry is an important step that supports additional actions we have already taken to continue protecting US agriculture."

The 2002 budget provides $849 million in salaries and expenses for the USDA-APHIS, up $174 million over 2001. The budget also strengthens the Agriculture Quarantine Inspection Program by requesting $13 million in additional program support.

Veneman authorized the hiring of approximately 350 additional personnel at critical ports and international airports to guard against the introduction of exotic pests and animal diseases. Included in the authorization are 127 permanent officers and technicians, 27 canine officers, 173 temporary inspector positions, and 20 veterinarians.

Another priority in the 2002 agriculture budget is funding the Food Safety Inspection Service at $716 million, an increase of $21 million over 2001. This entails increases in pay and benefits to support the FSIS work force, including 7,600 meat and poultry inspectors.

The department has also requested more than $900 million for the Agricultural Research Service. A portion of ongoing research will be redirected into new key areas and includes funding for additional work to prevent and control exotic diseases and pests, with special emphasis on BSE.

Also proposed in the agriculture budget is maintaining funding for the competitive National Research Initiative at the 2001 level of $106 million. This is a marked decrease from the $119.3 million appropriated for the NRI in the 1999 and 2000 budgets.

Congress is expected to pass the final budget this fall.