Sonny Perdue being sworn in during his confirmation hearing to be Donald Trump's secretary of agriculture. Getty Images/Drew Angerer

Perdue confirmation awaits full Senate consideration

Legislative Watch: Perdue is one step closer; GAO says more work needed on antibiotic resistance; Heritage Foundation for USDA cuts; strong ag safety net urged.

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is one step closer to being the next secretary of agriculture. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved his nomination yesterday. His nomination now goes before the full Senate for consideration. No announcements have been made yet regarding timing for floor consideration in the Senate, but the goal is to have Perdue confirmed by the Congressional Easter recess which begins April 10.

If the Senate does not vote on Perdue’s nomination next week it could be the end of April or early May before he is confirmed. Perdue has received wide spread support from the agriculture community. Six former secretaries of agriculture who served in the Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations sent a letter of support to the Senate.

GAO says USDA and HHS need to do more on antibiotic resistance
USDA and the Food and Drug Administration need to develop more specific guidelines and increase data collection on the use of medically important antibiotics in food animals according to the latest Government Accountability Office’s report. GAO says progress had been made since 2011 but there are still gaps in the FDA’s oversight and USDA’s data collection.

According to the GAO, the agencies lack farm-specific data, do not have metrics to assess their actions to manage antibiotics use, and have not conducted on-farm investigations during foodborne illness outbreaks.

The GAO recommends the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services:

• Develop a process which may include timeframes to establish appropriate durations of use for medically important antibiotics in food animals.
• Establish steps to increase veterinary oversight of medically important antibiotics administered in routes other than feed and water, such as injections and tablets.
• Develop performance measures and target for actions to manage use of antibiotics, such as revising the veterinary feed directive and developing guidance documents on judicious use.
• Develop performance targets for collecting farm-specific data on antibiotic use and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food animals.
• Develop a framework for deciding when on-farm investigations are warranted during outbreaks.

The issue of use antibiotics in food animals will continue to be an issue during the 115th Congress.

Heritage Foundation calls for cuts in USDA programs
The Heritage Foundation released its “Blueprint for Balance — A Federal Budget for Fiscal Year 2018” in which it makes recommendations to eliminate, reduce funding or make changes to various federal programs.

Heritage recommends a number of USDA programs be eliminated or repealed. They include:

• Eliminate revenue-based crop insurance policies
• Eliminate the Market Access Program
• Eliminate the sugar program
• Repeal the USDA catfish inspection program
• Repeal the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs
• Eliminate the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Technical Assistance Program

The administration’s earlier proposal to cut various discretionary spending programs reflected many of the Heritage Foundation’s recommendations. The administration will be sending to Congress its proposed cuts for mandatory programs in May and the agriculture community will be watching closely to see if any of Heritage’s recommendations are contained in the budget.

Ag needs strong safety net
With U.S. agriculture currently in a “severe economic slump” with no end in sight, farmers and ranchers need a strong farm safety net in the next farm bill is the message a coalition of farm organizations sent to Congress.

In a letter to the Senate and House Budget and Appropriations committees, the coalition asks Congress to increase funding for farm programs in the 2018 farm bill. The group says, “While we do not yet have a full-fledged financial crisis in rural America, a good many farmers and ranchers are not going to be able to cash-flow in 2017. With USDA projecting continued low prices in 2018 and beyond, this situation threatens to quickly and vastly expand with each and every crop year.”

A strong safety net in the next farm bill will help producers until market conditions improve. The coalition reminded the committees that agriculture contributed to deficit reduction with the 2014 farm bill, which was estimated to reduce the deficit by $23 billion over 10 years.

Those signing the letter include the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Milk Producers Federation, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Farmers Union, and USA Rice Federation.

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