Export promotion is in, but testing produce for pathogens is out, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Unveiling a lean budget that sees cuts in traditional farm programs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Feb. 13 that the Obama administration was committed to full $200 million funding of the Market Access Program for fiscal year 2013.
“Every dollar invested (in export promotion) generates $35 in trade activity,” Vilsack said in support of the program in a Feb. 13 teleconference.
In 2010 and 2011, the Obama administration targeted the USDA’s MAP for a 20% reduction.
Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, said the export-oriented Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops was also fully funded at $9 million in the White House budget.
Vilsack said the USDA budget also invests in research and development.
“The budget makes a 23% increase in funding for our premier competitive grants program to support the most worthy projects and continues support for in-house research and the land grant universities,” he said in a news release.
Quarles said the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program was left intact at $55 million in the White House budget request.
Vilsack also said the budget provides full funding for expected requirements for the USDA’s nutrition assistance programs. In particular, it includes funding to cover an increase in the Women, Infants and Children fruit and vegetable vouchers for children from the current $8 to $10, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine.
Quarles said USDA’s Microbiological Data Program was targeted for elimination in the White House budget.
That program, a federal-state effort to collect samples and report on foodborne pathogens on raw agricultural commodities, had been controversial with produce advocates since its introduction in 2002. Critics said the USDA’s sampling program was not reliable or fast enough to be the basis of produce recalls and that the program duplicated Food and Drug Administration sampling work for pathogens.
In a document identifying the budget’s “Cuts, Consolidations and Savings,” the Office of Management and Budget revealed the fiscal 2013 budget eliminated $5 million for the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service program. The USDA AMS Pesticide Reporting Program was also eliminated, saving $2 million.
In total, the White House’s proposed 2013 budget for the USDA provides $23 billion in discretionary funds, a decrease of 3% from 2012. The budget seeks to reduce the deficit by $32 billion over 10 years by eliminating direct farm payments, decreasing subsidies to crop insurance companies and better targeting conservation funding for high-priority areas.