ASM Letter Supports Increased AFRI Funding

Feb. 19, 2016


The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is writing to ask your strong support for agriculture research by approving the President’s FY 2017 budget request for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The $700 million included for AFRI is a needed boost for the nation’s leading farm research program and would increase the competitive grants awarded for leading edge research and development. 

Agriculture is a major contributor to the nation’s economic sector, generating $1.5 trillion annually. It represents one sixth of the nation’s GDP and supports 17 percent of U.S. jobs. Agriculture is vital to sustaining the nation’s health and well being. Yet agricultural research accounts for only 2 percent of federal R&D spending, despite its importance to innovation, productivity, public health and market value.  Underfunded in previous years, the AFRI program has been able to award grants to less than a quarter of submitted proposals approved by reviewers.

Research funded by AFRI is discovering new knowledge in widely diverse areas, including foodborne illnesses, safer food supply systems, plant and animal health, and enhanced productivity in the face of challenges like drought and increasing food imports.  Although the number of US farms keeps declining, science based advances have made it possible for just 2.1 million farms to feed the nation and otherwise provide massive amounts of consumer goods.

AFRI is important to our food safety and food security.  Each year, there are new reminders of the importance of food safety and the potentially serious consequences of contaminated food supply systems.  The USDA routinely relies upon agriculture R&D supported by AFRI when writing its food guidelines and rules actions. For example, the USDA just announced the finalization of new federal standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in certain poultry products. Based on scientific risk assessments, the agency estimates that implementation will lead to an average of 50,000 prevented illnesses annually.

Preparing against foot and mouth disease (FMD) and its potential arrival to the United States showcases the economic importance of robust agricultural research funding. This highly contagious viral disease is considered the most important animal disease in the world, capable of devastating agriculture sectors. A 2001 outbreak in the United Kingdom cost an estimated $6 billion. FMD in the United States would shut down our exports of fresh beef, pork and dairy products. When U.S. beef exports dropped in 2003 due to a single case of mad cow disease, the cumulative loss to the economy was an estimated $16 billion. Some estimates of the possible economic impact from an uncontrolled FMD outbreak approach $200 billion.

The ASM urges Congress to fully fund USDA’s AFRI program at the requested level of $700 million. It is crucial that AFRI funding be increased to ensure the R&D capabilities needed to innovate tomorrow’s successful agriculture.

Sincerely,

Lynn Enquist, Ph.D., President, American Society for Microbiology
Ronald M. Atlas, Ph.D., Chair, Public and Scientific Affairs Board, American Society for Microbiology
Stefano Bertuzzi, Ph.D., CEO, American Society for Microbiology