House Ag appropriators united on USMARC concerns | TSLN.com

House Ag appropriators united on USMARC concerns

As the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee staff begins to prepare the fiscal year 2016 Agriculture appropriations bill, the subcommittee is united on a bipartisan basis on concerns about how the Agriculture Department has handled the allegations of animal abuse at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb.

At a hearing last Tuesday on the Agriculture Department's budget request for the Research, Education and Economics division, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., the subcommittee chairman, noted that he and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., would be asking questions about the January article in The New York Times that alleged animal abuse at the center.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics Catherine Woteki explained that a team sent to the center by USDA found no current abuses.

The Agricultural Research Service, which is in charge of the facility, is also planning some changes in its procedures for approving animal research activities, Woteki said.

Woteki also noted that the USDA Office of the Inspector General is conducting an audit of the situation.

The OIG is independent of the USDA administration. A spokesman said the office initiated the audit on March 10, that the objectives are are "to review MARC's research practices and operations, to evaluate animal welfare-related concerns expressed by Congress and reported publicly."

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"OIG will also also examine the Agricultural Research Service's oversight and monitoring of MARC, as it relates to animal welfare," the spokesman said, adding that an estimated completion date for the audit is not available.

During the hearing, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said he was worried that the meat producers in his district might be criticized for what had happened at the research center.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., asked what actions USDA was planning, and Woteki replied that an action plan has been prepared for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's consideration.

DeLauro asked if Woteki would send that plan to the subcommittee, but Woteki said she would have to discuss that with the secretary.

At the end of the hearing, Aderholt said the subcommittee would need more information on how USDA intends to handle animal welfare issues before it proceeds with the budget for the Agricultural Research Service for fiscal year 2016.

–The Hagstrom Report