Virginia Pork for Crabs and Sheep

WASHINGTON-The 2009 federal budget will include funding for some strange animals if one Virginia lawmaker has his way. 

Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat from southwest Virginia, has requested $744,325 to study the horseshoe crab and $250,000 for hair sheep – a unique bread of short-haired sheep that does not require shearing. 

Both requests would go to Virginia Tech, which already has efforts to establish a “hair sheep research center” to study the genetics of the sheep and improve the animal’s resistance to parasites, and get more people to buy the lamb’s meat. 

“These are very expensive projects and our local governments simply don’t have the resources to fund them on their own,” said Boucher, speaking about his appropriation requests in general. 

Boucher was one of only three Virginians to release funding requests submitted to congressional appropriators Monday. 

Critics of earmarks, like David Williams, a vice president at Citizens Against Government Waste, laughed at the requests. 

“Would it be inappropriate to say, ‘This is baaaad,'” Williams joked. “Those are ridiculous local projects that should not be paid for by taxpayers across the country.” 

But the Scott County Hair Sheep Association sees earmarks differently. Citing American dependence on imported lamb meat from New Zealand, adviser Scott Jerrell said American consumers are beholden to the safety of imported food. 

“What I see is a pending (global) food crisis that will hit,” said the sheep association adviser Scott Jerrell. “If we can do more locally grown, local produced, that’s just going to help us buffer the impact from some of these worldwide pressures.” 

Boucher’s request would also fund Virginia Tech research into the taste of local sheep – said to be “a more mild flavor” – to make the meat more marketable. 

The crab request shows government pork is in the eye of the beholder. 

Funding research of the horseshoe crab population may seem dubious to Williams, but the crab’s blood is useful in intravenous medications and has cancer-fighting properties. 

The crab population “is medically, economically, and ecologically important to the nation,” Boucher said in his letter seeking the funds.

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