By Lowell Randel and Walt Smith, ASAS D.C. Representatives
Washington Roundup – November 2017
Clovis Withdraws Nomination
Sam Clovis, President Trump’s selection as REE Under Secretary and Chief Scientist at USDA withdrew his name from consideration in early November. Clovis was a controversial selection for the post due to his lack of direct experience with agricultural research. He had also come under fire for a wide range of comments made on his radio program dealing with sensitive issues outside of agriculture. However, it was his connection to the investigation of Russian ties to the Trump campaign that ultimately drove the withdrawal of his nomination. Clovis is expected to retain his current position as the liaison between the White House and USDA. The Trump Administration has yet to name a new nominee for REE Under Secretary and Chief Scientist. In the meantime, ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young is serving as the Acting Under Secretary and Chief Scientist for USDA.
SoAR Foundation Publishes New Edition of “Retaking the Field”
The Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation released its third volume of the Retaking the Field publication. The report is designed to highlight agricultural research success stories and help make the case for increased federal investments in agricultural science. The latest edition focuses on empowering agricultural sciences for health and includes sections related to zoonotic diseases, nutrition and food safety. Of the eleven highlighted projects, three were focused on animal science. A copy of the report can be found here.
USDA Withdraws Biotech Proposal
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced on November 6th that he would withdraw an Obama era proposal that would update the way the federal government regulates biotech products including genetically modified organisms. As a part of the announcement, USDA stated that it “will re-engage with stakeholders to determine the most effective, science-based approach for regulating the products of modern biotechnology while protecting plant health.” This was welcomed by many in industry and Congress who had called on the Administration to rework the proposal.
Biotech policies are led at USDA by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which oversees the importation, interstate movement and environmental release of genetically engineered organisms to ensure they do not pose a plant pest risk. USDA partners with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to administered policies related to biotech products. A copy of the news release and the federal register notice are available through the APHIS website.
USDA Responds to WHO Guidelines on Antibiotics
On November 7th, the World Health Organization released new guidelines regarding agricultural use of antibiotics. The guidelines recommend the reduction in use of antibiotics for agricultural animals, including halting the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. While consumer groups responded favorably to the WHO guidelines, USDA’s Acting Chief Scientist and industry groups expressed concerns over the publication. Chavonda Jacobs-Young issued a release in response to the WHO guidelines that stated, “The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science. The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals." The release goes on to state that the WHO guidelines were not issued as part of a transparent process through CODEX and were based on “low quality evidence”. Industry echoed concerns that the WHO guidelines are overly restrictive and that veterinarians must retain the ability to use their medical judgment in determining treatment for animals.
USDA Delays Implementation of Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Final Rule
On November 9th, USDA published a Federal Register notice delaying the effective date of the Final Rule on Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices which was issued late in the Obama Administration. In USDA’s announcement of the delay, it stated that “During the course of reviewing the OLPP Rule, in addition to a question about the scope of the statutory authority, a material error in the record was discovered. USDA is delaying the rule so that important questions, such as the likely costs and benefits, can be more fully assessed through the notice and comment process prior to making a final decision on the direction of the rule.” The Final Rule, which adds new restrictions for livestock handling and transport for slaughter, addresses avian living conditions; and expands existing requirements covering livestock care and production practices, has been met with mixed reactions from industry.
Farm Journal Foundation Commissions Report on Agricultural Research
The Farm Journal Foundation commissioned a recently released report entitled “Revitalizing Agricultural Research and Development to Sustain US Competitiveness.” The report analyzes recent trends in federal funding for agricultural research and argues that investments should be doubled in the next 8 to 10 years. Recommendations highlighted in the report include:
• Federal funding: Refocus Farm Bill priorities.
• State funding: Reengage state government support.
• Enhance private support for publicly performed research.
• Improve interagency collaboration in science spending with food and agricultural implications.
• Facilitate greater international engagement in the agricultural sciences.
In addition to the report, the Foundation, along with several international agriculture organizations are calling for new authority in the Farm Bill to increase international research collaboration. The groups argue that increased focused on international research partnerships will leverage U.S. research dollars with those from other countries.
Read more science policy news in this Taking Stock article.