Deep federal spending cuts to animal programs avoided, for now

Published on December 15, 2011
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columnsPresident Obama signed a $182 billion appropriations package Nov. 18 that provides for animal health and welfare programs, agriculture and wildlife research, livestock production, and food safety in fiscal year 2012.

The spending bill Congress sent the president combined the 2012 budgets of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and a number of other federal departments and programs. The legislation marks the first yearlong appropriations measure enacted this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

Lawmakers designated a total of $136.6 billion for agriculture programs in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Agriculture agencies and programs, including $19.8 billion in regular (budgeted) discretionary funding. Of particular interest to AVMA members is funding for selected USDA agencies that includes $1.094 billion for the Agricultural Research Service, $1 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, $816.5 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and $705.6 million for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Congress appropriated nearly $2.5 billion in discretionary funding for the FDA—a $50 million increase from the previous year. Counting user fees, the agency's 2012 budget totals $3.8 billion, $39 million of which is designated to begin implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The 2012 Agriculture budget was $350 million less than the amount budgeted for 2011, but the AVMA expressed relief that the cuts by Congress weren't more severe. "While we have some victories in this bill, we understand that AVMA must redouble our efforts to help stave off further attacks to the USDA budget in fiscal year 2013," said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, AVMA Governmental Relations Division director.

Also in the spending bill is $264.4 million for NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Institute. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program is funded at $4.8 million, and the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative that supports the National Animal Health Laboratory Network received $5.9 million.

The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank and Animal Health Research and Disease Program Formula Funds each received small boosts, with Congress appropriating $1 million and $4 million for the programs, respectively.

Although APHIS saw its FY 2012 budget cut by $47 million, several key programs were funded at or near the same levels as 2011. Congress appropriated $9 million for zoonotic disease management; $16.4 million for veterinary biologics; $31.6 million for veterinary diagnostics; $2.7 million for the National Veterinary Stockpile; $23 million for swine health; $22 million for equine, cervid, and small ruminant health; $99 million for cattle health; $52 million for avian health; $32.5 million for animal health technical services; $90.5 million for wildlife services; and $27.7 million for animal welfare, including an increase for Horse Protection Act enforcement from $500,000 the previous fiscal year to $696,000.

Gina Luke, an assistant director of the AVMA GRD, says the Agriculture budget cuts "equate to a lot of pain for some programs," but things could have been much worse. Had the House of Representatives' recommendations prevailed, Agriculture would have suffered another $11.1 billion in cuts.

Luke anticipates the onslaught on discretionary programs to intensify, given the recent failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was tasked with identifying steps for obtaining $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction over the next 10 years.

"The assault on USDA's budget will continue especially in light of what happened with the 'super committee,'" she said.

Luke noted that, prior to the joint committee's announcement that it would not reach an agreement, the chairs and ranking members of both the Senate and House agriculture committees had proposed to the joint committee a package of $23 billion in cuts to Agriculture spending over the next decade. Because no deal was reached, across-the-board cuts included in the Budget Control Act of August 2011 will go into effect. This will bring $16 billion in cuts to Agriculture.

"Although fewer cuts are slated for Agriculture through sequestration, pressure will be applied to lawmakers sitting on the agriculture committees. They will be asked to identify additional savings as they write the next Farm Bill, which expires on Oct. 1, 2012," Luke said.