WASHINGTON, Jan 30 (Reuters) – The Bush administration is responding to the first U.S. case of mad cow disease with a quarter-billion dollar boost in spending on laboratories, testing and a cattle trace-back system.
The outlays will be part of the fiscal 2005 budget to be released on Monday by the White House. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman disclosed the USDA’s major points in recent days.
They are $178 million to complete a renovation of the National Centers for Animal Health, $33 million to speed up the crafting of a national animal identification system and $17 million to enable the USDA to double the number of mad cow tests done to 40,000 a year.
An additional $10 million would be spent on improving BSE tests and to check compliance among meatpackers on more stringent rules on handling cattle brains, spinal columns and other “specified risk materials” and on use of so-called advanced meat recovery machinery to strip meat from bones.Many nations cut off imports of U.S. beef following the Dec. 23 announcement that a Holstein dairy cow in Washington state had mad cow disease, formally named bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Domestic demand for beef remains strong.
Congress appropriated roughly $78 billion for USDA in fiscal 2004, which ends Sept. 30. Sixty percent of it went to public nutrition programs such as food stamps and school lunches.
Analysts and farm lobbyists said they expected few USDA initiatives in the fiscal 2005 budget because of fiscal belt-tightening throughout the government. “There just isn’t room for it,” said private consultant Randy Russell.
But nor were spending cuts likely before 2006, said Russell and others.
Environmentalists said they expected the fiscal 2005 budget to show more funding for the new Conservation Security Program, the first program to offer “green” payments to farmers who make soil, water and wildlife stewardship part of their daily operations. It was given a nominal $41 million for writing rules and preparing to enroll farmers.
Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the impact of increased funding for CSP may hinge on how USDA counts expenditures in the program. USDA could count only the amount that would actually be spent in fiscal 2005 or it could subtract all the money promised to growers over several years for a contract signed in fiscal 2005.