An Early Look At USDA’s Budget For 2012

Articles
April 05, 2012

An Early Look At USDA’s Budget For 2012

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack headlined a hearing by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies on the Department’s budget request for fiscal 2013. The hearing served as an overview of USDA’s budget request. The year will also mark USDA’s 150th anniversary notes The Food Institute.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack headlined a hearing by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies on the Department’s budget request for fiscal 2013. The hearing served as an overview of USDA’s budget request. The year will also mark USDA’s 150th anniversary notes The Food Institute.

For 2013 USDA is requesting a total of $141 billion, $6.9 billion or 5% more FY 2012. Some $6.4 billion of the increase is for mandatory programs, however, with virtually all of this increase due to growth in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program SNAP, formerly Food Stamps. Discretionary spending will be $478 million above the FY 2012 level. The majority of this increase is due to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and agricultural research.

Senator Roy Blunt of Wisconsin stated that farm income this past year was the best it since the 1970’s and that it was also a record year for agricultural exports, which were responsible for one billion jobs. The Senator mentioned that global food demand will double by 2050 and that there is a $20 return for every dollar spent on agricultural research thus he is pleased with the increases proposed for agricultural research since more research will be needed to meet this food demand.

Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) asked how Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would meet its responsibilities with the proposed 7% reduction and elimination of 151 employees. Secretary Vilsack said APHIS is working to improve its efficiencies of operation. They are looking at appropriate strategies for dealing with the pests and diseases being managed by APHIS. He also said that 50% of the APHIS workforce is within five to 10 years of retirement, and that APHIS must prepare for dealing with a smaller workforce.

Senator Thad Cochran requested a status report on catfish inspection, noting that the Farm Bill may be an opportunity for further action. Secretary Vilsack said that it would help greatly if the Farm Bill were to define “catfish” because there are 39 known varieties that were identified as part of the comment process. The comments are being evaluated, and it is quite difficult because final action is likely to have a great impact.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) said that if Lean Fine Textured Beef is no longer available, there will need to be an additional 1.5 million head of cattle to replace LFTB. He quoted Secretary Vilsack’s comments at a press conference with Iowa Governor Branstad on Wednesday, Mar. 28, when Secretary Vilsack talked about the safety of LFTB, asking the Secretary if, in the end, isn’t it just beef? Secretary Vilsack says LFTB is beef and it is safe, repeating assurances he provided in Iowa. He also did repeat that USDA has to respond to school customers who want choice, saying that when they examine the facts about the product and its cost that they should choose to continue to use LFTB.

Chairman Kohl asked about the $13 million reduction due to new poultry inspection methods, which also will result in 500 fewer employees. He focused on the safety for inspectors and sufficiency of inspection with bird lines moving five times faster than currently, as well as the training that inspectors will need. Secretary Vilsack said he believes the new program will make food safer, and is projected to reduce foodborne illnesses by 5,200 cases. USDA wants companies to focus on cosmetic inspection. He said that inspectors are currently looking at cosmetic matters – how will the chicken look in the package to the consumer – and will instead spend more time on true safety concerns. Over time, there will be 500 to 800 fewer people. But 1,000 people will actually get higher paying jobs. He also said that USDA will do a study of safety for workers with beginning benchmarks to determine if there are indeed any safety problems. He stated that the system being recommended by USDA is the result of a peer review process, giving him confidence in the system.

Chairman Kohl also asked about the integrity of the SNAP program. Secretary Vilsack said that waste, fraud, and abuse in the program are at historic lows. USDA has increased efforts to check death and social security records to be sure that there are not fraudulent claims resulting from stealing the identities of people who have deceased. Increased efforts are being made to deal with the potential for people who live near state borders trying to claim benefits in multiple states. FNS reviewed 15,000 vendors last year, analyzing data that helps identify fraudulent claims such as “no cent” transactions, i.e. claims coming in whole dollar amounts which, in fact, are an extreme rarity in retail transactions. They have also examined transfers of ownership to make certain that disqualified vendors are not trying to continue operations under new business structures.

The Food Institute will be following the news from Washington as it breaks at www.foodinstitute.com.