Permanent FEMA-like Reserve Fund Needed For Pests and Diseases in Agriculture
Before Congress adjourned for its annual August district work period and respective political party nomination conventions, on July 14 the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations adopted its final (12th) FY 2017 appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services (Labor-HHS).
Contained in the annual Labor-HHS discretionary appropriations bill is a $300 million reserve fund dubbed, “FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for Public Health,” that creates an emergency fund for public health crises. While the idea has been discussed in recent years the current deadlock over funding to fight the Zika virus between the legislative and executive branches has increased interest in the legislation.
We applaud the bipartisan efforts of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy
This meaningful legislation has broad appeal and can also be used to support adequate funding for the handful of federal government agencies with responsibilities to protect the public, property and industries from the harmful effects of biological pests and diseases. For the agricultural industry biological pest and disease management provisions are administered by the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). As one of these critical agencies, APHIS administers programs that deliver a public benefit of ensuring an abundant, affordable and safe food and fiber supply for the U.S. and the world. Moreover, APHIS facilitates U.S. agricultural trade by assessing plant and animal health risks and working to eliminate trade barriers by ensuring trade decisions involving biological pests are made based on science.
Yet, over 90% of APHIS’ total annual budget is discretionary and the level is set by Congress each year in the annual appropriations process. Since FY 2006 the total APHIS discretionary budget for critical biological programs have fluctuated. In FY 2016 the APHIS budget will barely surpass a funding level last witnessed in FY 2007.
Such budget fluctuations and cuts for biological programs hinder needed consistencies in combating known and unanticipated threats to the food and fiber production in the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thinks It’s a Good Idea
In an interview with The Hill, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said he’s talked at length over the idea with Tom Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I’ve talked to him again about this, along with the leader in the house, and we were all in agreement that we need to have this type of fund.” Rogers said.
Frieden, who has mentioned the idea multiple times in public appearances this year, said in a statement to The Hill that he applauded the GOP’s efforts. “Having funds readily available for public health emergencies, analogous to what FEMA has for natural disasters, would better protect the health security of Americans,” he said in a statement, underscoring the need for a “rapid response.”
Dealing With Pests and Disease in the U.S.
The birth of this FEMA-like reserve fund legislation is the result of how U.S. public health officials have had to deal quickly with two epidemics, Ebola and Zika in the past two years.
Ron Klain, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden who was appointed as White House Ebola Response Coordinator in October 2014 said in an article in NY Mag, “We’ve got to make sure that the preparations we’ve done over the last few months are funded and built into the system in a sustainable way, so after people forget about Ebola in a few months and the next thing comes we’re not starting this all over again.”
And, more recently Klain penned an Op-Ed in the Washington Post on May 22 of this year saying, “From now on, dangerous epidemics are going to be a regular fact of life. We can no longer accept surprise as an excuse for a response that is slow out of the gate.”
Similarly for the agricultural plant industry, now more than ever, due to increased international trade and travel, early pest detection is important to prevent significant economic and environmental damage throughout the U.S. Once a pest becomes established or spreads significantly, the cost to eradicate, suppress, or manage it can be in the millions of dollars—not to mention the economic costs in lost crops and damage to native ecosystems.
For animal agriculture the industry has already experienced the devastation caused by a disease. The first presumptive diagnosis of bovine spongiform encepholopathy (BSE) was announced on December 23, 2003, by APHIS in an adult Holstein cow from Washington State. In an analysis by the US Meat Export Federation in 2014 they estimate lost export sales for the U.S. beef industry at $16 billion from 2004-2012. In addition, the meat packing industry that handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of animals came under new US Department of Agriculture regulations that according to a 2005 study conducted by Kansas State University cost the industry $200 million to comply.
Without question agricultural trade is, and will continue to be a significant economic driver for the U.S. industry. In FY 2015 U.S. agricultural exports totaled $139.7 billion. U.S. agricultural imports are estimated at a record $122 billion.
The recent lesson learned from dealing with programs to combat harmful biological pests and diseases to humans, animals and plants is that there is great need to have available permanent federal funding to support biological efforts for mutual goals including but not limited to:
- Mitigating pests and diseases offshore and eliminate pathways of introduction into the U.S.;
- Prepare for the potential introduction of certain pests and diseases;
- Rapidly and effectively respond to introductions when they occur;
- Protect U.S. agricultural trade interests.
Thank you to our forward-thinking federal lawmakers for timely acting on a discretionary FEMA for Public Health. Now let’s expand the idea to the biological threats to the production of food, fuel and fiber for the U.S. and the world that includes a more permanent and sustaining long-term level of authorization in the upcoming farm bill.