Remarks by Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman, 47th Annual Conference of the National Chicken Council | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0196.01
 
Printable VersionPrintable Version
 
Contact:
USDA Office of Communication (202) 720-4623
 

by
Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman 47th Annual Conference of the National Chicken Council
October 11, 2001
Washington, D.C.

(As Prepared)

"It's a pleasure to be with you today to talk about future directions in food and agricultural policy.

"One month ago today, on September 11th , all of us were witness to a series of cowardly acts committed by terrorists. We knew then, that it would take a long time for the country to heal. Now, with the President authorizing military actions this week, we must continue to be strong and united as a nation. This will be a long effort - and, as the President has said, we must be patient in our response.

"Our country is more unified than ever. We've seen first-hand the overwhelming support, the bravery, the many heroes, and the kindness and compassion of the American people. This spirit has helped provide solace to our nation during this very difficult time.

"In the wake of the September 11th tragedies, the President established the office of homeland security. This week, Governor Ridge began what will be a very challenging task - to work with all government agencies to ensure the protection of our people, our resources, and our way of life.

"USDA is committed to doing our part as it relates to homeland protection. We must stand ready - make sure that we are prepared, coordinated, and able to respond should we ever face an emergency.

"Yesterday I met with Governor Ridge. He understands clearly the programs we have in place here at USDA and is committed to examining and strengthening programs as they relate to agriculture and food safety.

"During the last few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about biosecurity issues. Secretary Thompson has been working with his team to ensure the health concerns are addressed appropriately and responsibly. As well, USDA has taken the necessary steps to ensure our programs and services are responsive to potential threats.

"Our inspectors are on heightened awareness at ports of entry and in food processing plants. We have stepped up security at appropriate USDA facilities. We are coordinating with other federal agencies such as the FDA, CDC, Customs and law enforcement agencies on biosecurity issues. And, we are examining our responsibilities -- looking at our short and long term needs to ensure we continue to protect America's food supply and agriculture against pests and disease of any kind.

"For many of you, this talk might sound familiar. Since taking office in January, many of my public appearances and testimony before the Congress, has focused on the need to strengthen our agricultural infrastructure - the programs, the research, the coordination and resources - to ensure we have the ability to prevent pests and diseases from harming agriculture and our food system. And, it is extremely critical that we are prepared in case we ever faced an emergency situation - regardless of whether it is a plant pest, animal disease or food safety issue.

"Earlier this year, we began an intense review of such programs, given the devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that hit the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. As a result, by the end of this fiscal year, we will have increased our inspection personnel at our ports of entry by nearly forty percent and will double our inspection dog teams from levels two years ago. We approved additional resources, above what was called for in our budget, -- $40 million total - to also improve coordination, communication, and our technological capabilities.

"Today, we are announcing grants of approximately $1.8 million to more than thirty states. These grants will help these states better prepare and coordinate emergency preparedness activities and protection against animal diseases.

"These grants will augment programs to strengthen training, purchase equipment, test emergency programs and response mechanisms, and examine new technologies to assist in detecting and combating animal diseases.

"Our states are our first line of defense in protecting agriculture. That's why we feel strongly that we continue to strengthen our state-federal partnerships. And, that is why we are investing in these programs.

"However the need goes beyond grants to our states. It calls for a much greater emphasis on our infrastructure policies as they relate to our food and agriculture system and the world we live and compete in today.

"That's why when the Administration released our farm policy principles in a report entitled, "Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock in the 21st Century," we called for a more constructive look at our infrastructure programs.

"Lets face it, the programs that protect the very core infrastructure of agriculture - our animal and plant inspection services, food safety inspection services, and agricultural research are not programs that we typically look at in a farm bill.

"Usually the major thrust of farm programs is for traditional crop support and safety net programs. But in years before when we debated farm policy, issues such as BSE, strains of e-coli, and salmonella, were not household names, and concerns about biosecurity were not of top priority.

"Today, we live in a different world. And, as our farm policy report indicates, we must take a different look at how we structure farm policy. We cannot afford to risk our food and agriculture system by failing to adequately address these - and other critical issues. We cannot expect the farm bills of the past to protect agriculture from the many concerns of today - and the issues we will face in the future.

"That's why the next Farm Bill should establish a permanent agriculture infrastructure investment fund. A fund that takes a more proactive approach to the infrastructure needs of our producers - the pest and animal disease protection systems, our labs, research - and food safety programs.

"Last week, the House of Representatives passed a Farm Bill. Chairman Combest and the House Agriculture Committee put a great deal of work into its development. However, we believe the next farm bill should have a broader focus.

It" should help more farmers in need; it should better equip the U.S. to expand trade opportunities; it should give our farmers more conservation and environmental tools; and it desperately needs to address the critical infrastructure needs in research, pest and disease prevention and food safety - that are vital to protecting our farmers and our food supply.

"I've traveled to more than twenty states this year - along side with many of our House and Senate Agriculture Committee members - and I've listened to what our producers have said. They have stressed the need to assist with a market-oriented safety net when times are tough, but take a stronger leadership role in some of the other areas that are also important to their future.

"Now the Senate has an opportunity. It is our hope that Chairman Harkin, along with Senator Lugar and other members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, will examine some of these issues closely. We are committed to working with the Senate Agriculture Committee - and our team is assisting as they draft specific farm bill language.

"Our hope is that we can address our concerns and come together with both the Senate and House to forge policy that best meets the most critical needs - of a broad range of farmers and producers - and that will best prepare them to compete in the global marketplace.

"During the past few weeks, I've talked about our farm policy and principles report that we released last month. I certainly hope you'll take a look at it - it's a good publication - and it can be downloaded from USDA's website at www.usda.gov .

"The report talks a lot about change, and if there's any industry that's a prime example of adapting to change, it's the poultry industry. You are innovators and give consumers the convenience they want. And you serve as a model in finding new opportunities and new markets around the world.

"Since taking office earlier this year, the President has made clear that one of his top priorities has been to advance a strong trade agenda. In much of my testimony before the Congress and in speeches, I too have talked about how crucial trade is to the future of our industry.

"Today, we hear a great deal of what trade agreements don't do. We hear the naysayers talk about all the barriers. We have heard many talk about the glass half empty - rather than the glass that is half full. The truth is that our farmers cannot survive without trade.

"Global markets are what have kept our farmers prosperous when we've faced difficult times here at home. Examine the facts. We export about twenty-five percent of what our farmers produce in this country. Agriculture is one of the areas where we have a trade surplus. Poultry is a significant part of that success with more than $2 billion in poultry exports so far this year. Next year, we are expecting total food and agricultural exports to surpass $57 billion - the highest level in five years.

"And we must seize new opportunities. As incomes rise in countries around the world, so too does their ability to purchase food...and we want them to buy food and agricultural products from the United States.

"Now granted, there is work to be done. We need to make sure trade agreements are enforced. We need to reduce tariffs around the world so our farmers can gain greater market access. This administration is committed to aggressively pursuing these goals.

"That's not just talk - we've put those words in action. Every time the President talks about trade, he talks about agriculture. And, everytime he talks about agriculture, he talks about trade. Ambassador Zoellick has been a strong advocate of advancing agriculture in future trade agreements. And he's been working with USDA to break down barriers.

"Some have suggested that the answer to fixing trade agreements is to stop negotiating...to throw the cards on the table and fold our hand. They couldn't be more wrong. The U.S. needs to regain its leadership position at the international trade-negotiating table. With this new administration, we have new opportunities to better help our farmers through trade negotiations.

"The Congress needs to grant the President Trade Promotion Authority. Compromise language just passed out of Committee this week, which is good news. The Congress should approve this legislation. We need to send a strong message to our trading partners around the world that the U.S. is committed to free trade and opening markets.

"Before I conclude today, I want to come back to food safety, because it is a priority for this Administration and I know it is of interest to your industry.

"Just two weeks ago, Dr. Elsa Murano was confirmed as the new Under Secretary for Food Safety. She brings a wealth of expertise to this new position.

"As you know, when the position of Under Secretary was created in 1996, Congress directed that an individual hold the position with expertise in public health. Dr. Murano is enormously qualified. She is a microbiologist by profession and has been a researcher and teacher in the field of food safety for many years. Her appointment is important as we move forward on a number of food safety issues. I know you will enjoy working with her.

"We have a good team at FSIS - We've certainly appreciated all the hard work of Tom Billy and Maggie Glavin over the last several months. Their commitment has been phenomenal and deserves praise. As we move forward, Mr. Billy's leadership on CODEX is critical, which is why he is now spending full time on these important issues. Maggie Glavin is serving as our Acting Administrator, and I know that already has been a tremendous help to Dr. Murano.

"And with Dr. Murano in this leadership position, I can assure you that we will continue to take a science-based approach to food safety. Policies must be based on sound scientific principles-not on speculative or incomplete scientific research. This science-based approach will be especially important as we deal with emerging pathogens and other hazards.

"Our food safety systems must be continually reassessed and updated. Risk assessments will become increasingly important as a way of ensuring that our food safety resources are well spent. They help us to set priorities.

"Education also will figure prominently and we're looking at more effective ways to help deliver food safety messages. A well-educated public will hold more realistic views of the safety of the food supply and therefore be more confident in the food they buy and eat.

"The public also needs to know it has a responsibility to handle and prepare food safely. This goes for consumers in the home as well as food preparers in restaurants, schools, and hospitals. Education is a farm-to-table endeavor.

"We are continuing to develop our food safety policies in a transparent manner so that the public has an opportunity to provide input and be fully involved. We will continue to hold public meetings as a way to solicit input. Public involvement, particularly hearing the views of consumers, is a necessary component to creating effective policies.

"It is also critical that we continue to encourage public-private partnerships in the food safety arena. We established several such programs in California, which have been very beneficial. There are opportunities to strengthen and expand these with the leadership of federal partners, working together with states and the food industry across the country.

"Finally, we must break down barriers among agencies with food safety responsibilities. We are working more closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency than ever before. Close coordination across agencies is the best way to ensure our various programs and services are best protecting consumers and meeting the needs of producers and industry that require our assistance and guidance.

"There is no doubt that we have some exciting times ahead of us, and some unique opportunities. We look forward to working together to advance many of the issues outlined today, in a thoughtful and deliberative manner.

Thank you."