U.S. Department of Agriculture - FY 2000 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2000 budgets for the research and education programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The ASM is the largest single life science organization in the world with more than 42,000 members who are scientists and administrators working in academic, governmental and industrial institutions worldwide. ASM members are involved in research on problems related to human health, the environment, agriculture and energy. Microbiological research is directly related to food and agriculture in the areas of foodborne diseases, new and emerging plant and animal diseases, soil erosion and soil biology, agricultural biotechnology, and the development of new agricultural products and processes. The mission of ASM is to enhance the science of microbiology to better understand basic life processes and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health and for economic and environmental well-being.

Agricultural research provides one of the best returns on investment of federal dollars. It is often stated that American citizens have access to the safest, most nutritious and affordable food and the highest-quality fiber than anywhere else in the world. Research in agriculture has played a large role in making that statement possible. The agricultural industry, however, continues to face an array of challenges, including the threats of new and emerging diseases, public concern about food safety and the industry's impact on the environment, not to mention an increasing global population. It is critical that research provide assistance in responding to these challenges. Congress provided a measurable increase in funding to agricultural research in FY 1999-the first such increase in years-and we encourage you to build upon that support. The investment into agricultural research not only benefits the agricultural industry but also the health and well-being of every American citizen.

As a member of the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM), a coalition of professional societies and organizations involved in formulating research directions and needs for agricultural research, the ASM supports its funding recommendations for USDA Research, Education and Economics (REE). CoFARM's recommended increases over FY 1999 appropriations for each agency within REE are: 1) a $112 million increase in discretionary funding for the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service; 2) a $58 million increase for the Agricultural Research Service; and 3) a $6 million increase for the Economics Research Service.

Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service

The ASM strongly supports competitive research and believes that the federal government should provide more opportunities for scientists to compete for federal research dollars across all agencies. The National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRI) within the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) supports fundamental research on key agricultural problems including food safety, plant and animal genetics, and water quality. The ASM urges the Subcommittee to support the President's request of $200 million for the NRI. This is a significant increase in funding for the NRI, but it still is far short of the authorized amount of $500 million.

The ASM is also pleased to see the President's continued support for the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems (IFAFS). This competitive grants program was created in Section 401 of the Agricultural Research Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998. IFAFS differs from the NRI in that it provides $120 million in fully offset mandatory funding for research and extension projects that are multi-disciplinary and applied in scope and target critical and emerging agriculture issues. ASM urges the Congress to support this critically needed infusion of research money.

While ASM is pleased to see the substantial increase for the NRI and the support for IFAFS, we are disappointed in the President's recommendation to significantly cut formula funds. Formula funds provide the foundation for research and extension programs at land-grant universities. It is through formula funds that the land-grant system can respond immediately to unanticipated disasters such as a disease outbreak in plants or animals. Therefore, we support CoFARM's recommendation to increase funding for research formula funds by $13 million (6%) and for extension formula funds by $24 million (8%) over FY 1999 appropriations.

Agricultural Research Service

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the in-house physical and biological science research agency within USDA. The ASM supports CoFARM's recommendation to increase funding for ARS by 7 percent in FY 1999.

The threat of new and emerging infectious diseases requires immediate attention. U.S. agriculture is experiencing severe problems caused by new and reemerging infectious diseases in plants and animals. Changes in agricultural practices, population growth, climate, microbial evolution, animal migration, and international trade and travel are all factors in the threat of introducing new plant and animal diseases into the U.S. agriculture system. The lack of knowledge to effectively manage and control new and reemerging infectious disease often leads to serious consequences such as reduced crop yield and unacceptable quality. Billions of dollars are lost through trade embargoes, quarantines, and the destruction of agricultural fields to control the spread of disease. The President's budget requests $8.1 million for ARS to address infectious diseases in plants and animals. The ASM encourages the Congress to provide $30 million to the research of infectious diseases. We believe this amount is still below the level actually needed to enable an adequate response to infectious disease threats against plants, animals, and ultimately, human health.

Additional research is needed on emerging diseases in the area of plants made transgenic for resistance to an insect (Bt) and/or resistant to herbicides. Plants have been showing susceptibility to diseases, especially viruses, which may not be in their non-transgenic counterparts. Identifying, managing and understanding the transmission of these diseases are essential to ensuring the viability of agriculture.

USDA Food Safety Initiative

Within the President's budget, there is an increase of $34.8 million for the food safety initiative. The ASM is encouraged to see that the President has recommended an increase of more than $25 million between ARS and CSREES for food safety research and education. Much of this money is targeted toward research to prevent, detect and control microbial pathogens. This research is vital to ensuring the health and well-being of American consumers, and the ASM urges the Congress to match or exceed the President's support for food safety research.

USDA's National Food Genome Strategy

Microbes are involved in all aspects of agriculture-from beneficial uses of microbes in food (i.e. yogurt, cheese, bread, beer and wine) to pest controls to the spread of disease in plants and animals and the contamination of the food supply. Studying the genomes of agricultural microbes could lead to the development of new technologies to provide improved foods and better pest control to protect the nation's crops, to reduce the incidence of plant and animal disease, and to ensure a safer food supply. While the USDA plans to use some of the funds from the NRI to study microbes, the ASM recommends that greater federal resources be allocated to study microbial genomes.

In addition, the USDA should collaborate with other agencies such as the Department of Energy's microbial genome program which looks into energy-related microbes and does not study human pathogens. This interagency effort will provide a comprehensive study of microbial genomes maximizing efficiency without duplicating scientific effort.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

The Animal Care Unit within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is mandated by law to regulate and enforce laboratory animal care. APHIS must be in a position to verify that it has conducted adequate and timely inspections of research facilities involved in animal research to ensure the health of laboratory animals and to allay public concern.

Animal Care is currently being challenged to expand their responsibilities for enforcing laboratory animal care for additional species. However, due to current, inadequate levels of funding, the number of field inspectors has declined from 88 in 1991 to 70 by the end of FY1999. Funding for Animal Care has been stagnant since 1991. The ASM urges the Congress to provide $13 million for the FY2000 appropriation for Animal Care. This increase of $3.8 million simply allows Animal Care to increase its field inspectors to 100, which is the essential number of personnel to ensure compliance at more than 10,000 animal facilities. It also allows adequate training of inspectors, follow-up inspections for non-compliance, and upgrading equipment to improve and expedite inspections.