U.S. Department of Agriculture - FY 2010 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is pleased to submit the following testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 appropriation for The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) research and education programs. The ASM is the largest single life science organization in the world with more than 40,000 members. The ASM mission is to enhance the science of microbiology, to gain a better understanding of life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health and environmental well-being.

The science based missions of the USDA, fueled by its research and education programs, are essential to human, environmental and animal health. The ASM strongly urges Congress to appropriate at least $1.24 billion for the Agriculture Research Service in FY 2010, $1.24 billion for the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, and to provide $300 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

Agriculture research plays an important role in the improvement of food safety, the environment, and animal and plant health but also contributes to the economic well-being of the nation. In a September 2007 report entitled: “Economic Returns to Public Agriculture Research,” the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) found that the average rate of return from public investment in agriculture research is an impressive 45 percent on the dollar. In reviewing more than thirty-five economic studies on the social rate of return, the ERS also found that such a high rate of return is shared by all levels of the agricultural continuum, from the producer to the consumer.

The Agriculture Research Service (ARS)

The core research arm of the USDA, the ARS is divided into four National Programs that focus on critically important areas of agricultural research:

  • Nutrition, Food Safety/Quality
  • Animal Production and Protection
  • Natural Resources and Sustainable Agricultural Systems
  • Crop Production and Protection

Agricultural research is critically important to human and animal health. The ARS has funded a number of cooperative research projects related to zoonotic viruses including a study evaluating influenza vaccines in pigs and the establishment of a pig model from the 1930 H1N1 swine influenza. The ARS works to understand the biology of animal pathogens including the H1N1 swine virus to combat such outbreaks at the animal level and reduce the risk to humans. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) also works extensively with zoonotic virus monitoring which contributes to the knowledge base of the ARS.

The ASM urges Congress to fund the ARS with $1.24 billion in FY 2010, a 4 percent increase from the FY2008 level.

Food Safety

The ASM supports the Administration’s pledge to increase funding for food safety. The first step to ensuring a safe and plentiful national food source is to maintain a successful research platform.

Despite advances, food safety remains a serious and complex issue. Recent outbreaks of Salmonella Saintpaul demonstrate how quickly and severely pathogens can spread through the population. Understanding the cause of foodborne illness is an important step towards a better understanding of the ways to treat and prevent future outbreaks. According to the CDC, in the United States there are an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness each year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Agricultural research is an irreplaceable tool in the fight against foodborne illness as researchers supported by the USDA work to understand and prevent the transference of some types of bacteria from the food supply.

Recently, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report stated that: “None of the Healthy People 2010 targets for reduction of foodborne pathogens were reached in 2008. The lack of recent progress points to gaps in the current food safety system and the need to continue to develop and evaluate food safety practices as food moves from the farm to the table.” Increased funding for the ARS is critical to the prevention, treatment and understanding of foodborne illness, both current and future outbreaks.

Antimicrobial Resistance

The prevalence of antimicrobial resistance remains a threat to human and animal health as foodborne and other bacterial pathogens are increasingly changing and evolving to adapt to new antimicrobial agents. The USDA has supported a number of important research projects that bring together basic and applied research to combat this very real threat. Adequate funding for the USDA is vital to ensure such research continues as the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance increases.

Climate Change

The ARS supports projects that work to ensure the effects of global change on agriculture are understood and ways to mitigate risks are developed. The impact of global climate change and global warming trends on agricultural yields could be severe. Without adequate funding for the ARS, the impact of climate change on food production and plant health could be neglected, with disastrous results. Current research projects related to climate change include:

  • Crop and Weed Responses to Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
  • Evaluating Effects of Nitrogen Deposition and Ambient Ozone on an Invasive Plant in the National Capitol Region
  • Soil Carbon in Urban Environments

The ARS’s Global Change National Program conducted a five year cycle of study from 2002 – 2007 to explore the effects of Global Change in depth. The programs’ accomplishment report, conducted by non-ARS scientists, released in 2008 stated: “The ARS is poised as a leader in the field of global change research to help understand the impacts of global change on agriculture, enable agriculture to adapt to global change and reduce the impact of agriculture on factors affecting global change.” The report also emphasized the need for continued and future research to combat the evolving and complex problems that arise with climate change. Continued and sustainable funding for the ARS will help to ensure that other such crucial research can be completed to further the understanding of climate change.

Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES)

Soon to become the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), CSREES works with land-grant universities, public and private organizations and supports research that increases understanding and knowledge of the unique link between the environment, agriculture and human health. Supporting research at the local and state level allows the CSREES to fund programs that impact not only scientific research, but local economies as well.The ASM urges Congress to appropriate at least $1.24 billion for the CSREES in FY 2010, a 4 percent increase from the FY2008 level.

CSREES supports a number of important areas of interest categorized as National Emphasis Areas:

  • Agricultural Systems 
  • Animals 
  • Biotechnology & Genomics 
  • Economics & Community Development
  • Education 
  • Families, Youth & Communities 
  • Food, Nutrition & Health 
  • International
  • Natural Resources & Environment 
  • Pest Management 
  • Plants 
  • Technology & Engineering

Climate Change

The effects of climate change are almost guaranteed to impact all life forms, and the research funded by the CSREES works to ensure that the best science is presented to offset such impacts. Supporting universities as well as public and private organizations lends opportunity for the best science and research to become a part of the larger solution.

The buildup of C02 in the atmosphere has caused considerable concern as the negative effects of climate change are studied and understood. The Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases, funded by the CSREES, is working to develop the technologies and strategies to successfully implement soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction programs. Such initiatives are at the forefront of the race to find ways to combat the negative effects of global climate change. The CSREES support of such successful programs sends the message that climate change is an issue that needs collaboration from all science concentrations, especially from agricultural research.

Biofuels

Proven to be the most resourceful and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, biofuels bring the promise of a cleaner and more efficient source of energy. Much like fossil fuels however, biofuels create a substantial amount of waste called Glycerin that is difficult to break down. The creation of waste has slowed the implementation of biofuels as a mainstream, alternative to traditional fossil fuels. A project funded by the CSREES however, has developed a fermentation technology that combines E. coliwith glycerin to create a high value chemical reducing the existence of waste, as the chemical created can be used as a commodity on the domestic market. Such projects, as supported by the CSREES, are providing real-life solutions to problems once considered too daunting to tackle.

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)

AFRI was established in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 as a competitive grants program aimed to support research, education and the extension of our nation’s food and agricultural systems. Formerly operating as the National Research Initiative program (NRI), AFRI is the foundation of competitive grants within the USDA, supporting a focus on six core areas within the food and agricultural sciences:

  • Plant Heath and Production
  • Animal Health
  • Food Safety, Nutrition and Health
  • Renewable Energy, Natural Resources and Environment
  • Agriculture Systems and technology
  • Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities

AFRI moves the work of scientists past research and into development, implementation, education, and extension. Investments by the NRI in this type of research have resulted in a number of advances in critical issue areas such as, food safety, food security, sustainable fuel production and ecosystem health services. The importance of these programs on the overall health of the Nation cannot be underestimated. AFRI supports essential research with far reaching impacts into human, environmental and plant health, the basis of life.

Currently authorized at $700 million per year, the ASM strongly urges Congress to fund AFRI with at least $300 million for FY 2010.

Education and Workforce

Investing in research at the USDA ensures that coming generations of researchers, educators and students have the opportunity to stay within the agricultural sciences and keep the Nation competitive on a global scale. Reduced or stagnant funding sends the detrimental message to the nation’s students and research scientists that agricultural and biological research is not a worthwhile field to pursue. This risks a very real and problematic ‘brain drain’ compromising the status of the United States as a world leader in cutting edge scientific research. Ensuring funding for competitive grants programs and basic research will help to send the positive message that investing in agricultural and biological sciences is worthwhile.

Conclusion

The ASM urges Congress to increase research and education funding in the USDA budget, and provide at least $1.24 billion for the ARS, $1.24 billion for the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, and $300 million for AFRI in FY 2010. Research in the agricultural and biological sciences is imperative to combat current and future threats to human, environmental, plant and animal health. The research supported by the USDA should be a priority that deserves steady, predictable and sustainable funding by the federal government. The future of our agricultural systems, a basis for human health, relies on it.

The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers the FY 2010 appropriation for the USDA.

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