Alleviating veterinarians' student loan debt is among the spending priorities President Obama has outlined in his $3.8 trillion 2011 budget.
The president is asking Congress to allocate $5 million for the Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program. Overseen by the Agriculture Department's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the program will help to repay educational loans for veterinarians who agree to work in officially designated geographic and practice areas experiencing a shortage of veterinary services.
Overall, the Obama administration is requesting $148.6 billion for the Agriculture Department in 2011—a nearly 10 percent increase from the 2010 budget. The administration is, however, calling for a 5 percent cut in the USDA's discretionary spending, down from $25 billion in 2010 to $23.9 billion in 2011.
The president is also requesting $14 million for a state-administered livestock traceability system. The project had formerly been known as the National Animal Identification System, but the USDA announced in early February that it was scrapping plans for a national scheme and moving toward a state-run program (see JAVMA, March 15, 2010).
Other budget highlights include a $3 million proposal for livestock and poultry health and disease research at the nation's veterinary colleges and $429 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative—a competitive grants program administered by USDA that supports fundamental and applied research, extension, and education related to food and agricultural sciences.
While the AVMA is pleased with the president's support for the VMLRP, the Association is disappointed—although not surprised—that no funds were allocated for the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, an important food safety program. FARAD traditionally has not been included in the president's budget.
For years the online resource for veterinarians, livestock producers, government regulators, and extension specialists has struggled to secure permanent funding. "It's certainly very familiar territory for us, unfortunately," acknowledged Thomas W. Vickroy, PhD, manager of FARAD at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
FARAD is run by the veterinary institutions at the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, and the University of California-Davis.
Congress appropriated $806,000 for FARAD in March 2009 as part of an omnibus spending package, and $1 million was appropriated in the 2010 budget. Although the program has enough funds to continue operations until August 2011, Dr. Vickroy says it isn't too early to begin looking for support.
"We feel this isn't a priority for the USDA, when it should be," he said. "They're almost ignoring chemical food safety to the extent of favoring almost exclusively microbial food safety—they're worried about bacteria in food, but chemicals in food are just as big a problem."
The AVMA, which has long been a staunch advocate for FARAD, is asking Congress to allocate $2.5 million for the program in the 2011 agriculture appropriations bill. Gina Luke, an assistant director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division, said the Association is "aggressively" seeking the inclusion in the bill of funding for FARAD along with several other AVMA priorities. For instance, in a letter to legislators, the AVMA is asking that $10 million be allocated for Animal Health Research/Section 1433 Formula Funds and that $1 million each be devoted to the Minor Use Animal Drug Program as well as the Department of Homeland Security's Food, Agriculture, and Veterinary Defense Division. The Association has also requested $5 million for the USDA National Veterinary Accreditation Program.