USDA seeks more funds for food defense

Feb 13, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture is proposing a big increase in spending to protect the US food and agriculture system from terrorist threats and other disasters in fiscal year 2009, while seeking somewhat less money for avian influenza.

The Bush administration's proposed 2009 budget calls for $277 million for the various programs in its Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative, a $91 million increase from estimated spending of $186 million in fiscal year 2007, which ends Sep 30.

The USDA budget summary lists $60 million for avian influenza control efforts by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), down from $67 million in estimated spending this year. The cut reflects savings from a planned merger of the agency's programs on highly pathogenic and low-pathogenic avian flu and after some one-time spending items this year, officials say.

Also, the administration is proposing $1.09 billion for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a $22 million increase from this year's estimated spending. At the same time, the budget report says the agency will seek congressional authorization to collect new fees worth $96 million a year from the food-processing plants it inspects. The FSIS monitors the safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products.

Final budgeting decisions require congressional action, which often is delayed until the new fiscal year is well under way. In addition, USDA Secretary Ed Schafer said on Feb 4 that the budget proposal is likely to require some changes after Congress enacts a new farm bill.

"The President's 2009 recommended budget for USDA is based on the provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill and reflects the administration's proposals for change," Schafer said at a briefing. "We expect some changes will need to be made to the budget estimates when a new farm bill is enacted, and I must say I am increasingly confident that that will happen."

Food defense funding
The Food Safety and Defense Initiative is the collective name for various activities under the FSIS, APHIS, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). Activities targeted for increases in the budget proposal include:

  • ARS food defense research, from $9 million this year to $23 million
  • ARS agriculture defense research, from $25 million to $39 million
  • Surveillance by APHIS for plant pests and animal diseases, from $63 million to $98 million
  • APHIS's National Veterinary Stockpile of vaccines, personal protective equipment, and other supplies, from $4 million to $8 million
  • APHIS efforts related to plant and animal "select agents" [dangerous pathogens] from $4 million to $6 million

In addition, the ARS proposes to spend $13 million (up from $3 million this year) for planning and design of a major poultry health laboratory in Athens, Ga. At a Feb 4 news briefing, Scott Steele of the USDA said the lab will be comparable to the agency's livestock health laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

Avian flu spending
The budget proposal says USDA is spending an estimated $51 million on highly pathogenic avian flu and $16 million on low-pathogenic avian flu this year, for a total of $67 million. The plan calls for combining the two efforts in 2009 and providing $60 million for them.

Rachel Iadicicco, an APHIS spokeswoman in Riverdale, Md., said the reduced request reflects expected savings from combining the activities and also from the completion of several one-time expenditures this year. The latter included costs for disease modeling, staff recruiting, and purchase of supplies for the National Veterinary Stockpile, she said.

"We're working to eliminate duplication of efforts," Iadicicco said. For example, "Instead of testing one bird for low-pathogenic and another for highly pathogenic, we'll test for both" in the same bird, she said.

Iadicicco said there are no plans to reduce testing or surveillance for avian flu in poultry and wild birds or to cut back on staff.

FSIS proposes new user fees
The $1.09 billion proposed for the FSIS includes $140 million from existing user fees and trust funds, leaving $952 million in expected appropriations. This year the agency estimates its spending of appropriated money at $930 million.

The budget summary says the existing user fees are charged for providing overtime, holiday, and voluntary inspection services. "Separately, FSIS will submit a legislative proposal that will permit expansion of user fee charges for certain additional activities in 2009, with total collections estimated at $96 million," the summary states. "The proposal would generate fees that will reduce appropriation needs in future years.

"A total of $92 million would be collected through a licensing fee from all inspected establishments. An additional $4 million would be collected from plants that require additional inspection activities for performance failures such as retesting, recalls, or inspection activities linked to an outbreak."

Goals for foodborne pathogens
The budget summary also lists goals for reducing the prevalence of three leading foodborne pathogens—Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli O157:H7—in meat, poultry, and egg products.

For Salmonella, the FSIS wants to raise the percentage of broiler chicken plants that achieve "category 1" status, meaning no more than 10% of tested product samples are contaminated. The budget summary says 71% of broiler plants achieved that in 2007; the agency wants to increase that to 80% this year and 85% in 2009.

For Listeria, 0.31% of ready-to-eat product samples tested positive in 2007, the summary says. The goal is to reduce that to 0.29% in 2008 and 0.28% in 2009.

The prevalence of E coli O157 in ground beef samples was up in 2007, reaching 0.23%, versus 0.16% in 2006, the summary reports. The increase came as ground beef recalls and E coli outbreaks surged. The FSIS projects a prevalence rate of 0.24% for this year but sets a goal of reducing it to 0.20% in 2009, according to the summary.

See also:

USDA fiscal year 2009 budget summary
http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY09budsum.pdf

Transcript of USDA's Feb 4 budget briefing
http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1RD?printable=true&contentidonly=true&contentid=2008/02/0031.xml

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