House Republicans narrowly passed a funding bill June 16 allocating $125.5 billion for agriculture programs in FY 2012.
The House bill (H.R. 2112) includes $7 billion less than President Obama's requested agriculture appropriations for 2012. The measure reduces discretionary spending by $2.7 billion from last year's level—a cut of more than $5 billion from the president's proposal—and eliminates earmarks.
"AVMA urges Congress to protect the nation's food safety and security and oppose these funding cuts."
Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division
Jack Kingston, chairman of the House subcommittee on agriculture appropriations, praised the bill. "As the Congress continues the battle to lower spending, cut waste, and create jobs, this bill represents a reduction of 13.4 percent in discretionary funding and makes the tough choices necessary to reduce spending while keeping our bill's basic missions of food production, food and drug safety, rural development, and nutrition programs intact," the Georgia congressman said.
In addition to specific spending cuts laid out in the appropriations bill, H.R. 2112 included an amendment to further reduce by 0.78 percent funding for a wide range of programs, such as agricultural and conservation initiatives, as well as funding for the Food and Drug Administration.
Nineteen Republicans joined all the Democrats in opposing H.R. 2112, but it passed by a vote of 217 to 203. The committee's top Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, called the appropriations bill a congressional "assault" on agriculture.
"I fear that if Congress continues to chip away at farm programs, we will be left without an adequate safety net, and the end result could potentially cost the government more money, not less," Peterson said.
Two Department of Agriculture agencies are slated for deep cuts: the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service budget is reduced by $73 million and the Agricultural Research Service by $88 million.
H.R. 2112 allocates less money for a number of key AVMA-supported programs. By eliminating earmarks, House Republicans left no funding for the Minor Use Animal Drug Program. Spending on the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative is reduced by $35.5 million from 2011 levels for a total of $229.5 million. The AVMA supports President Obama's request for more than $325 million from Congress to support the work of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which funds a broad spectrum of agriculture-related research and education initiatives in such areas as aquaculture, food safety, and animal genomics and diseases.
While the AVMA also supports the president's request of $14.2 million for a national animal disease traceability system, H.R. 2112 instead directs APHIS to continue funding the development of a traceability system in its baseline budget. In FY 2011 that amounted to approximately $5 million.
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program is allocated $4.2 million in 2012, marking a 12.5 percent reduction from 2011. The VMLRP helps pays down student loan debt for veterinarians working in veterinary shortage situations. In 2010, the USDA selected the first 62 veterinarians to participate in the program. The second awards cycle is currently under way, with veterinarians to be selected before the end of the current fiscal year Sept. 30.
H.R. 2112 also proposed eliminating baseline funding of $4.4 million for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. The NAHLN protects the nation's food supply by providing animal disease surveillance and diagnostic testing services.
The AVMA Governmental Relations Division director, Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, wrote the House Appropriations Committee chairman and ranking member, warning that decreased funding to the VMLRP and NAHLN would hinder each program's ability to protect the country's food safety, animal health and welfare, and public health.
"No one can deny that our nation is facing serious fiscal challenges; however, stripping funding from the VMLRP and NAHLN programs is unwise," he stated. "AVMA urges Congress to protect the nation's food safety and security and oppose these funding cuts."
The House later approved an amendment to H.R. 2112 offered by Rep. Corey Gardner of Colorado restoring funding to the NAHLN.
Not every agriculture-related program saw spending reductions, however. Funding for the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank was increased by $2,000 to $1 million. In addition, appropriations for Animal Health and Disease Research/1433 Formula Funds climbed from $2.94 million in 2011 to $4 million in 2012.
At press time in June, H.R. 2112 was being reviewed by the Senate Agriculture Committee and the AVMA GRD was meeting with key appropriators, advising them of the Association's funding priorities.