Statement by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman Regarding the National Academy of Sciences Report on Bioterrorism September 19, 2002 | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0391.02
Printable VersionPrintable Version
USDA Office of Communication (202) 720-4623
Alisa Harrison (202) 720-4623

Embargoed Until 4 p.m.

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman Regarding the National Academy of Sciences Report on Bioterrorism
September 19, 2002

"Protecting the American food and agriculture system against intentional threats continues to be a top priority for the Bush Administration. In a very short period of time, the President has bolstered food safety, pest and disease protection systems and research programs, thus strengthening an already strong infrastructure.

"The NAS report recognizes the nation has a strong infrastructure in place and, as we have acknowledged for some time, our nation must remain vigilant and be prepared to face bioterrorism and other potential threats. Particularly since September 11th of last year, USDA has worked aggressively with the Office of Homeland Security and other federal, state and local agencies to strengthen our infrastructure, better prepare in the event of an emergency, and improve coordination and response mechanisms.

"The Administration hasn't just talked about improving these important programs, we have dedicated significant resources to this cause. Our actions have included providing an additional $328 million for homeland security protections this year and requesting a $143 million increase for these programs in the President's FY 2003 budget. This will bring spending on these critical programs to record levels, including supporting more than 7,500 food safety inspectors and doubling port of entry inspectors to nearly 4,000.

"USDA has also invested significantly in research programs and the acceleration of construction and renovation of key laboratory systems. As well, the Department of Health and Human Services and its Food and Drug Administration have worked to improve its homeland security programs related to protecting the food system. And, the USDA has worked with these and other federal agencies, state and local governments, as well as the food and agriculture sector to enhance preparedness, response mechanisms and coordination in the event our nation ever faced an emergency.

"Many of these efforts identified in the NAS report are already underway. As well, the report discusses other priorities already in progress at USDA. For instance, USDA has identified a priority list of threat agents and provided resources to increase research in this area. USDA has been working to strengthen its network of accredited laboratories for detection, identification and diagnosis. USDA has increased research programs related to various biological agents and technology that could be utilized for early detection. This includes providing $43 million this year to states and land grant universities. And, USDA has been working with other federal agencies in conducting various interagency, intergovernmental exercises to further test our systems. A comprehensive exercise will take place later this month in a continued effort to strengthen this type of planning and coordination.

"As the NAS report indicates, the U.S. has a strong foundation that has served the nation well for accidental introductions of foreign plant and animal diseases. However, as I have said many times, we must continuously improve and strengthen these systems to reflect changing threats and challenges. This is one reason why the Administration advocated enhancing these and other critical infrastructure protection systems throughout the recent farm bill debate. It is why the Administration has invested significantly in these programs during the past two years. And, it is why the President has advocated the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security to better protect and coordinate the nation's programs in this regard.

"Because of these aggressive efforts, our nation's food and agriculture infrastructure is stronger today than a year ago. However, threats remain and we must work in a responsible and aggressive manner to continue strengthening these programs. The President has taken bold steps to ensure that these protection systems get even stronger in the future. Now, the Congress needs to follow the President's lead and pass legislation to create a new Department of Homeland Security."

For more information, go to USDA's homeland security website at .