USDA budget cuts

The Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 budget, the ‘America First’ Blueprint, cuts discretionary spending for the USDA by $4.7 billion to $17.9 billion. Let’s look at the details, how people are reacting, and what the food industry can expect next.

Budget details

Last week, the Trump Administration released its 2018 budget proposal. In it, the USDA loses about one-fifth of its discretionary budget.

Overall, the proposal represents mixed news for the food industry.                                                          

Let’s start with the positive. Trump’s 2018 Blueprint currently shows full funding for the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS). This is good news, because food safety regulation keeps consumers safe and healthy.

On the flip side, the biggest cut will be to programs that support rural development and conservation funding. Specifically, the budget eliminates funding for certain rural clean water and business initiatives. The budget also reduces funding for the USDA’s statistical capabilities and some staff.

Also on the chopping block is the $200 million McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which helps reduce hunger and improve literacy around the world, especially for girls. Meanwhile, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition assistance program won’t be eliminated completely. But it will see a reduction in funding from $6.4 billion to $6.2 billion.

Opposition growing across party lines

Leaders and lawmakers in both parties have criticized the budget, saying that the cuts may affect the very rural communities that helped Trump get elected in 2016.

Some leaders expressed concern for American farmers. House Agriculture Committee Chairman and Republican Michael Conaway told Reuters that America’s farmers and ranchers are already struggling. “We need to be extremely careful not to exacerbate these conditions,” he said.

John Newton, American Farm Bureau Federation director of market intelligence, added that reducing the USDA budget can hurt members. He noted that access to the USDA’s statistical capabilities helps farmers make risk management and planting decisions.

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow commented that she strongly opposed the plans. “It’s deeply troubling that the Trump administration targets the Department of Agriculture for cuts averaging 21 percent — the third largest cut to any federal agency.”

The science community, as well, has come out against the budget.

Part of Trump’s Blueprint cuts research, and Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, told Forbes that this would be a big mistake. He notes that you can’t simply cut funding, disrupt R&D for a few years, and pick it back up later. The development part of that R&D would be lost.

And Michael Jacobson, President of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) stated that reducing the budgets of both the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services will result in more foodborne illness, obesity, and diabetes.

What’s to come

Once again, we face uncertain times under a Trump Administration. So what’s next? The White House is slated to release the traditional full budget plan in mid-May. Until then, we won’t know exactly what to expect. However, with a Republican House and Senate, it’s likely that the final bill will look very similar to proposal.

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