The Congressional Conference Committee tasked with reconciling the different House and Senate versions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) appropriations bill has completed its work on a compromise version of the bill. It is expected this bill will be passed by both the House and the Senate in the next few days and then signed by the President. This bill will provide funding for the USDA for the 2012 fiscal year (October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012) and contains several provisions of interest to the horse industry.
The bill also includes a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund other government activities through December 16 and contains a provision concerning a new H-2B temporary worker program wage rule opposed by the AHC.
Equine Disease Control and Eradication
Earlier this year the AHC requested the House Appropriation Committee make combating contagious equine disease a priority in this USDA appropriations bill. The committee responded by including language in its committee report accompanying the House version of the bill that highlights the threat of contagious equine disease to the horse industry and directs USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to make responding to such outbreaks a priority. The final Conference Committee Report retained the following language from the House report:
The Committee is aware of equine disease outbreaks that have occurred with increased frequency over the last several years. These outbreaks threaten the health and welfare of U.S. horses and the economic viability of the $102 billion horse industry. APHIS is encouraged to quickly respond to such threats through the use of its authorities. APHIS is directed to report to the Committee by July 1, 2011, on the estimated funds allocated for equine disease in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, as well as the range and degree of equine diseases currently existing within the U.S
The language was included through the efforts of Congressmen Hal Rogers (R-KY), the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Jack Kingston (R-GA), Chair of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, and Tom Latham (R-IA), a member of the Subcommittee. The AHC very much appreciates their support.
USDA Inspection at Plants
The bill does not include a prohibition on funding for USDA inspections at U.S. horse processing facilities. A prohibition on funding for USDA inspection has been in place since 2005 and essentially barred any facility from operating in the U.S. With the prohibition on funding removed horses processing facilities could resume operation in the U.S.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
The bill sets overall funding for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at $816.5 million. APHIS is the agency responsible for responding to equine disease outbreaks. This is $47 million less for APHIS than was appropriated in FY2011 and $ 20.5 million less than the President's FY2012 budget request.
The bill sets funding for equine, cervid, and small ruminant health at $22 million in accordance with the President's request.
Agricultural Research Service
The bill funds the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at $1.0946 billion. ARS is USDA's chief scientific research agency and has played a critical role in mitigating the health and economic impacts equine infectious diseases, such as Equine Piroplasmosis, have had on the horse industry. This is $38.6 million less than FY2011 and is $43 million below the President's FY2012 budget request.
Horse Protection Act
The bill provides $696,000 for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, an increase of $196,000 from FY2011. This increase was supported by the AHC.
Animal Disease Traceability System
The bill also provides $7 million for the new Animal Disease Traceability System (ADTS). USDA proposed a new rule outlining ADTS in August 2011. The AHC's explanation on how the new ADTS program would affect the horse industry can be viewed here.
H-2B Wage Rule
The bill prohibits the Department of Labor (DOL) from implementing a new wage rule for the H-2B program prior to January 1, 2012. The wage rule was scheduled to go into effect on November 30, 2012.
The wage rule, in most instances, will increase the hourly wage that must be paid to all currently employed H-2B workers and American workers recruited in connection with an H-2B job application and is opposed by the AHC. More information on the wage rule can be found here and here.
This bill will now have to be passed by both the House and Senate. It is expected this will happen in the next few days and then signed by President Obama.
If you have any questions regarding this, please call the AHC.