ASM Requests Increased Funding for USDA Agricultural Research Programs

March 29, 2023

ASM submitted the following public witness testimony to both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittees on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

Public Witness Testimony for the record from the 
American Society for Microbiology 
FY 2024 Appropriations for Agriculture Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture 
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies 
Committee on Appropriations, United States Senate 

March 27, 2023 

Submitted on behalf of: Allen Segal, Chief Advocacy Officer 
American Society for Microbiology, 1752 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) appreciates the opportunity to submit outside witness testimony for the Fiscal Year 2024 Agriculture appropriations bill in support of increased funding for the Research, Education, and Economics research area.  

ASM respectfully requests that Congress provide $4 billion for research, education and outreach at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Fiscal Year (FY) 2024. Specifically, we recommend:
  • $700 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).  
  • $1.9 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). 
  • $112 million for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). 
  • $100 million for the Advanced Agriculture Research and Development Authority (AgARDA). and an increase of $85 million for antimicrobial resistance priorities at USDA.
  • $2.2 billion for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

ASM is one of the oldest and largest life science societies with 30,000 members in the U.S. and around the world. Our mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences, including programs and initiatives funded by federal government departments and agencies, by virtue of the integral role microorganisms play in human health and society. Microbial science is a cross-cutting endeavor, and our members’ federally funded research is fundamental to advances in human health, agriculture, energy and the environment. 

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 $17. At one point in time, agriculture research represented 4.3 percent 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 the microbial sciences.

Thanks to past investments in microbiology research through AFRI, scientists are: 
  • Developing a voluntary framework for antimicrobial stewardship in animals. This addresses a critical need, as widespread use of antibiotics in animals and humans has led to increased resistance and could render these medicines ineffective.
  • Learning more about how soil and root microbiome can be altered to improve plant productivity and soil health. This knowledge will help ensure crop viability over the longer term.  
  • Studying the connection of the soil microbiome to human gut health and related outcomes. This promising area of research will become increasingly important as climate change alters crop production and food availability. 
  • Learning more about the role that the bovine gut microbiome plays in how cattle process feed. By deepening our understanding of this complex ecosystem, scientists hope that better strategies for sustainable beef production can be developed. 

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. World food demand is expected to double in the next 25 years, increasing the stress on the U.S. food and agricultural enterprise. In addition, we continue to face a rapidly changing climate and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), while recovering from the ongoing pandemic and preparing for the next one. AMR is one of the most daunting public health challenges facing the U.S. and the world. ASM and its members are tackling AMR from a variety of angles—from health care and clinical laboratory settings to agricultural and environmental microbial research perspectives, in the U.S. and around the world. A problem as complex as AMR requires multi-faceted approaches consistent with the One Health model, recognizing that the health of people, animals and the environment are interdependent. Likewise, policy solutions must be comprehensive and address AMR from multiple angles and, when possible, with integrated strategies. 

To combat AMR, we recommend an increase of at least $85 million for antimicrobial resistance priorities at USDA, including a $25 million increase in funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN). This funding allows the agency to continue to promote agricultural stewardship, including gathering and evaluating valuable information on antibiotic use practices and identifying and characterizing injudicious use on farms and other agricultural settings through the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) and other initiatives.  

Tackling AMR will require increased investment in basic and applied research into why microbes become resistant, how they persist in ecological niches and to develop novel countermeasures, including continued support for Invasive Pest Emergencies and the National Animal and Disease Preparedness and Response programs. This work also will entail public-private partnerships through entities such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health and ideally its USDA equivalent, AGARDA. Other policy approaches that are critical to success include those that bolster AMR surveillance and laboratory capacity, support programs dedicated to infection prevention and control in healthcare and non-healthcare settings, policies to promote access to AMR tools in low and middle resource countries that improve diagnostics, microbiome modulators and antibiotic stewardship and broader application and integration of pathogen genomic sequencing technologies. 

Expanded funding for agricultural research including the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility through ARS will enable USDA investigators and scientists to better protect the nation’s agriculture, farmers and citizens against the threat and potential impact of serious animal diseases and to 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, unparalleled 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 and 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 do so in the main food producing animals could propel the industry to the next level and support the pressing concerns of feeding the planet and combating antimicrobial resistance. 

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 recognizes the challenges facing our nation and the difficult decisions that must be made to ensure our nation’s fiscal health, and we believe that funding cutting edge agricultural research will help our nation’s farmers and ranchers succeed in the 21st century. Targeted acceleration of innovative research through funding AgARDA, combined with meaningful increases for USDA-funded research and FDA budget authority in FY 2024 are essential for supporting microbial research to benefit animal, human, and environmental health.

Author: ASM Advocacy

ASM Advocacy
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