Washington D.C. — In response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement of a list of finalists for the proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), members of the Safe Food Coalition called on Congress to stop the efforts to diminish the impact of these key research agencies and their efforts to improve America’s agricultural production and ensure the safety of our food supply.
The Trump Administration has repeatedly proposed dramatic budget cuts to research budgets.The president’s 2020 budget goes so far as to eliminate the entire ERS budget for food safety research, which was $2.1 million. Congress, however, has maintained its funding for ERS’agricultural and food safety research, and it continues to support NIFA’s research agenda.
“When Congress stood up to these budget proposals, the administration came out with an alternative plan to diminish objective research and policy analysis by moving NIFA and ERS outside of the Washington, D.C. area.” said Pat Buck, Executive Director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention. “This is an attempt to weaken these institutions, and Congress should use its power to block the proposal.”
Secretary Perdue announced the plan to move the research agencies in the summer of 2018. USDA has not conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the moves. Since the plan was announced, morale at the research agencies has plummeted and veteran staff has left in droves. This state of affairs has food advocates worried because the agencies play an important role in informing food safety policies. ERS researchers study how consumers react to food safety outbreaks and recalls, and examine how private markets and government regulation connect to create the U.S. safety net for meat and poultry products. NIFA is a leading funder of research aimed at advancing agriculture-related sciences, finding innovative solutions to the most pressing local and global agricultural issues, and ensuring the long-term viability of agriculture.
“Economic policy analysis and research on the prevention of foodborne illness is vital to protecting consumers from foodborne illness,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Federation of America. “Both ERS and NIFA play a critical role in the translation of food safety science into policy and practice, and Congress should not allow the Trump Administration to devalue the role of these agencies through its ill-conceived relocation scheme.”
“There is no credible justification for moving these two agencies,” said Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist at Food & Water Watch. “Members of Congress have even pointed out that there is space at existing USDA facilities in the Washington, DC metropolitan area that could accommodate the agencies.”
“World-wide, USDA’s Economic Research Service is highly regarded and the research projects conducted by NIFA have greatly improved farming technologies and disease preventive measures both locally and globally,” said Buck. “Moving these agencies is an unwarranted disruption that will come at the cost of a degraded food safety research and analysis, making it much more difficult to develop and implement farming/processing innovations and much-need disease prevention strategies.”