Lawmakers seek to stop bird flu, improve USDA animal care

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 18, 2015 - Lawmakers are taking steps to stop the spread of the bird flu that has ravaged Midwest farms and to ensure improvements in the care of livestock in federal research facilities.

The House's fiscal 2016 appropriations bill for USDA and Food and Drug Administration would provide $3 million for outreach efforts aimed at bolstering biosecurity at poultry operations and an extra $5 million -- a 50 percent increase -- for laboratories burdened with testing for the avian influenza.

“We have to fix this and be ready to address this disease if it moves south later in the year,” said the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Robert Aderholt, R-Ala. Approximately 47 million birds, mainly laying hens and turkeys, have been destroyed due to the outbreak.

Lets Talk Food

The bill, which the subcommittee approved on a voice vote Thursday, also includes a provision that would withhold 5 percent of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) funding for 2016, or $56 million, until the agency takes certain steps in the wake of reports of past abuse at the Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, including certifying that it has implemented improvements in care.

The legislation also would require that any ARS facility that handles animals have a properly functioning animal care and use committee along with “all appropriate and necessary record keeping.”

As an additional measure, money was added to the budget for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to provide oversight for the ARS facilities, Aderholt said. 

Democrats attacked the spending levels in the bill as inadequate and singled out some of the policy provisions for criticism, including one that would restrict what the Obama administration could say in the 2015 federal dietary guidelines.

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The bill would bar the administration from using environmental factors in making recommendations for meat consumption and mandate that the dietary guidelines be based on scientific evidence considered “Grade I: Strong” under a USDA rating system.

Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the full Appropriations Committee, called the provision an attempt to “politicize science.”

Aderholt told reporters the provision is seeking to ensure that the new guidelines are based on "sound science."

Margo Wootan, a nutrition policy specialist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, said the provision would prevent the administration from updating “any of its advice about physical activity, despite a growing body of evidence about its disease-reducing benefits. It would gag the government from pointing to a reduced risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes as a rationale for its core dietary recommendation to eat diets rich in fruits, vegetables, or whole grains.”

In a move that raised widespread concern in the meat industry, the scientific advisory panel assigned to recommend changes to the currrent guidelines said that factoring sustainability into the dietary guidelines was “essential to ensure a healthy food supply will be available for future generations.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this year the 2015 guidelines would be kept focused narrowly on nutrition.

The bill, which the full committee will consider next Thursday, also would delay for as much as a year a new FDA rule requiring restaurants, supermarket delis and convenience stores to put calorie counts on menus and menu boards. The rule is set to take effect Dec. 1. Under the bill, the requirement would be put off until Dec. 1, 2016, or until one year after FDA issues guidance to industry on following the rule.

The bill, which also covers the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, would cut spending on discretionary programs by $175 million from fiscal 2015 to $20.65 billion. That would be $1.1 billion below what President Obama requested. Spending on farm programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school meals and other mandatory programs, would bring the total spending for fiscal 2016 to an estimated $143.9 billion. 



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