ASM Proposes Increased Support for Research at USDA

May 10, 2024

Testimony Prepared by the American Society for Microbiology 
FY 2025 Appropriations for Agriculture Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture 
Submitted for the Record to the United States House of Representatives
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies 

May 10, 2024
Submitted on behalf of: Amalia Corby, Federal Affairs Director
American Society for Microbiology  

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) urges Congress to increase funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at USDA to at least $500 million in fiscal year (FY) 2025. This is consistent with the AFRI Coalition, of which ASM is a member. We also request $1.95 billion for the Agricultural Research Service and at least $50 million for the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA). The President's FY25 Budget Request proposes $126 million for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). ASM requests at least $126 million for the NBAF for FY25. ASM also requests $1.386 billion for the Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS), consistent with the FY25 Budget Request. ASM also requests an increase of $85 million for antimicrobial resistance priorities at USDA.

ASM appreciates the opportunity to submit outside witness testimony for the Fiscal Year 2025 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Established in 1899, ASM is the home for microbial scientists from around the globe to connect, learn, discover and prepare for the future. ASM is one of the oldest and largest single life science societies with 36,000 members in the U.S. and around the world, whose mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences. We connect with millions of experts and harness their science to serve humanity to solve the world's most pressing problems, including agricultural production, climate change and combatting antimicrobial resistance.  

A Strong Investment in Microbial Research Pays Dividends 

We thank Congress for its bipartisan support of agriculture research and for its commitment to foundational microbiology research at USDA. For every dollar invested in agriculture research, there is a return on investment of $20. At one point in time, agriculture research represented 4.3% of the overall non-defense research allocations and appropriations for the federal government. Today, it is nearly half that amount, which is concerning, considering agricultural research is the underpinning of all titles within the Farm Bill.  
ASM appreciates USDA’s commitment to environmentally sound and economically viable agricultural practices. As noted in the National Academies report Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030, further understanding of animal, soil and plant microbiomes will provide opportunities to improve crop production, transform feed efficiency and increase resilience to stress and disease. To support these innovative technologies and practices, USDA must increase investments in microbial sciences.

Robust funding for AFRI is needed to invest in crucial areas aimed at addressing our nation’s most urgent and pressing food, agriculture and public health challenges. Agricultural research enabled by AFRI has a direct impact on producers’ bottom lines. In an era of rapidly evolving challenges, such as climate change, pests and diseases, investing in research becomes imperative for farmers to adapt and thrive in a constantly changing agricultural landscape. This includes continued support for sustainable production agriculture, soil health, agricultural biosecurity, food and agricultural microbiomes, nanotechnology, food safety, water quality, food loss and waste and pollinator health with AFRI. 

USDA-Funded Research is Needed to Address Climate Change, Antimicrobial Resistance and Food Security

The challenges facing our nation’s producers and consumers are growing, including the rising problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). In 2023, ASM released a policy paper titled Policy Pathways to Combat the Global Crisis of Antimicrobial Resistance. The paper includes multi-faceted approaches consistent with the One Health model, recognizing that the health of people, animals and the environment are interdependent. Microbiologists have significant roles to play in addressing these gaps by conducting research at the basic, translational and clinical levels; developing diagnostics and vaccines; strengthening infrastructure for the surveillance of resistance development and antibiotic use; and promoting the responsible use of antimicrobials.
To combat AMR, we recommend an increase of $85 million for antimicrobial resistance priorities at USDA. With most emerging diseases and pandemics originating from animals, USDA needs more resources to support work on biodefense to protect from resistant infections that are transmitted between humans and animals. We request increased support for APHIS to strengthen the Zoonotic Disease Management program and to support the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN). Increased research funding on AMR will enable USDA investigators and scientists to better understand the factors driving the emergence of resistant pathogens, as well as help find new vaccines, antibiotic alternatives and improved animal management and husbandry practices that can be shared directly with farmers and livestock growers.

Tackling AMR will require increased investment in basic and applied research into why microbes become resistant and how they persist in ecological niches, as well as developing novel countermeasures, including continued support for Invasive Pest Emergencies and the National Animal and Disease Preparedness and Response programs. Expanded funding for agricultural research, including the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, will enable USDA investigators and scientists to better protect the nation’s agriculture sector against the threat of serious animal diseases, as well as understand the factors driving the emergence of resistant pathogens, which are expected to become even more common due to climate change. If we are to seize the current scientific opportunities that exist in microbial research, Congress must also support the deployment and use of technology and practices to enhance microbial research data collection and utilization to make our food and agricultural systems more efficient, resilient and sustainable.  

As in human health, applications of the microbiome in animal health are expanding rapidly, with exciting prospects for application in domestic pets, farm animals and conservation. Food production depends on healthy microbiomes. Microbiome innovation can support the agricultural sector as it works to meet the needs of a growing population. To date, many studies have identified associations between the microbiome, productivity and management practices in various food animal species; however, the specific organisms and metabolic pathways involved remain to be determined. A coordinated effort to fully understand the microbiome in the main food-producing animals could enhance agriculture production and support the pressing concerns of feeding the planet and combating antimicrobial resistance. The USDA's most recent Strategy to Address Antimicrobial Resistance 2023 even calls for an increased understanding of the microbiome in animals and various environments and production systems as imperative for staying ahead of the disease curve. ASM requests the following report language be included in the final FY25 Ag-FDA report for a study on food animal microbiomes:
  • Animal Microbiome Study—The Committee recognizes persistent gaps on research on the food animal microbiome. To address these gaps, the Commitee includes $1 million within USDA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to conduct a study on a federal research agenda to advance the understanding of food animal microbiomes. Specifically, the study should evaluate research at agencies on food animal microbiomes, assess the needs to have a fuller understanding of functional components of the microbiome and estimate the impact on animal health, food safety and agricultural production of a fuller understanding of the animal microbiome. The Committee requests the Academies to, no later than 18 months after the date on which the agreement is entered, submit to Congress a report containing the findings of the study and the recommendations to advance the federal research agenda on food animal microbiomes. 
Our nation’s ability to meet the 21st century challenges of human nutrition and food security, conservation of our nation’s resources and antimicrobial resistance will only be possible if Congress continues its commitment to robust and sustained funding increases for microbial, food and agricultural research through AFRI, AgARDA and other USDA-funded research, education and extension programs. ASM strongly believes that funding cutting-edge agricultural research, including prioritizing microbial sciences research, will help our nation’s farmers and ranchers succeed in the 21st century.

Author: ASM Advocacy

ASM Advocacy
ASM Advocacy is making it easy and providing opportunities for members to advocate for evidence-based scientific policy.