Transcript Of Remarks by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns At the International Symposium on Agro-Terrorism Kansas City, Missouri - May 3, 2005
SEC. MIKE JOHANNS: "Well, thank you very much, Jerry. What a great voice! If I had a voice like that, I'd be in radio or something. So.
"Well again, thank you. Let me offer my appreciation to Jerry. Thank you for that nice introduction. And to Special Agent Stafford thank you. And thanks to all the organizers of this event.
"I look across this room, and I have to tell you, just by the presence of so many people I'm going to tell you what I think you know already. And it looks to me like this conference is a resounding success. So to all of you who have been a part of it --
"This is one of those conferences I get to do this a lot in my role as Secretary of Agriculture, and before as governor and before that as mayor I would go to a lot of events a do a welcome. Every once in awhile I would look down to the conference agenda and say to myself, you know I wish my schedule was such that I could be at this conference from start to finish. Ladies and gentlemen, I looked at your schedule; I wish I could be at this conference from start to finish. But as you might expect, the schedule doesn't permit that.
"So today my role is to only offer a few words and offer some thoughts about the topic that brings you together, and then unfortunately I have to move on down the road. But I wish I could be with you.
"As Jerry was going through that list of things that I have done in my life, it reminds me of something that happened to me awhile back. We were at an event, and my wife Stephanie was there. And the person who was introducing me did just what Jerry did, kind of detailed all of the things that I've done in my life. And about in the middle of that, my wife Stephanie leaned over and she whispered in my ear, 'Mike, all this proves is that you've had a tough time holding a job!'
"So she's probably right about that.
"It is a privilege to join you, and I want to extend a very special welcome. I know we have some people from overseas that are here. We're glad you're here. Thanks to the many distinguished speakers and guests who are here from so many different disciplines to take a look, a comprehensive look at agro-terrorism.
"There probably isn't anyone here who doesn't wish that this conference just would not have to be held. I think we all wish that terrorism was not a part of our life. Of course we all wish that the events of 9/11 had never occurred.
"We think about conferences like this, and we think back four or five years if someone suggested we get together and talk about the topics that are here today we might have had a much smaller crowd. But the reality is that conferences like this are necessary. Terrorism is real, whether it's domestic or foreign, and we need to do everything we can to be prepared.
"We may bring different perspectives to this discussion, and as I looked through your agenda that was obvious. But we also bring one common understanding, and that is that agro-terrorism definitely has the potential to harm our food and agriculture system, our economies, and in some cases the health of our people.
"Now I grew up on a dairy farm in northern Iowa. I look out there and there's puzzled expressions. You're thinking, where in Iowa? Well, Osage. I grew up in Osage, Iowa. Now I see puzzled expressions; you're wondering, where is Osage? Well, let me clear that up because you know if I don't do that you're going to be focused on that burning question while I'm trying to say something.
"So I will clear that up. Osage is south of St. Ansgar and Stacyville, straight east of Manly. So now we've got that cleared up.
"I was also governor of the state of Nebraska. I loved that job too, just like I love this one. Agriculture in our state, the state I came from, was big. By any definition, no matter what statistic you looked at, agriculture was big.
"So I'm passionate about agriculture. I'm passionate about American producers, farmers and ranchers, because that's where my heart is at.
"I'm enormously proud of their contributions to the nation and in so many ways their contributions to our world. And so I'm just as deeply committed to protecting America's food and ag systems as I know you are.
"So what I'd like to do today is give you a sense of the scope of our work at USDA working in securing those systems. But first I want to touch briefly on the scope of the issue.
"America's farm and food production system serves us well. Think about it-- in this system we have abundance, we have choice, and we have safety. What an amazing contribution.
"U.S. agriculture and the American economy have a tremendous stake in trade and the vitality of foreign agriculture. Agriculture exports this year should reach, we believe, about $59 billion, billion with a B, making 2005 the third highest export sales year ever in our history-- which is tremendously important to our balance of trade.
"Our nation's farmers and ranchers are at the starting gate for a food and fiber system that contributes -- get this number -- $1.24 trillion dollars, over 12 percent, to our gross domestic product. And it employs about 17 percent of our entire workforce. It is a big deal.
"Agribusiness is not constrained by political boundaries, and as we all know diseases and pathogens do not respect national or state borders or international borders. The interconnected nature of the global food system, that's our strength, but it's also a weakness in the event of attack or natural disease outbreak.
"One of agricultural sector's greatest contributions to the quality of life is the fact that products flow quickly through interstate commerce. One of our greatest assets is also one of our greatest vulnerabilities.
"And 9/11 galvanized action and change. In the past three and a half years USDA's homeland security agenda has evolved tremendously. What has not changed is our conviction that the threat to agriculture is a very real threat. USDA has worked with the Department of Homeland Security on the strategy of preparedness and prevention, surveillance, response and recovery.
"Out of necessity we are moving beyond our traditional partnerships to nontraditional partners such as law enforcement agencies and intelligence communities. In fact, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will soon sign a memorandum of agreement with the FBI. This will strengthen our relationship, especially in investigating intentional acts against U.S. agriculture and give employees the opportunity, the important opportunity for cross-training.
"We also have a senior intelligence advisor who is now working on USDA's Homeland Security staff. Our advisor will work primarily on information sharing between the intelligence community and USDA, bolstering that vital connection. Even 10 years ago who would have thought of this?
"I would like to outline now USDA's Homeland Security strategy in greater detail. The key to this strategy is our partnerships. USDA has formed what we call "sector coordinating councils" to bring together the private sector and regulatory communities to address important security issues.
"As one current objective for example, the councils are developing infrastructure protection plans. Government and industry will work together on the steps that are critical to protecting our vital food and agricultural assets.
"To prevent an attack, we're expanding our longstanding program to test for harmful chemical, biological, and physical hazards in meat, poultry and in egg products. We've opened a new biosafety level 3 lab that will conduct analysis on potential biological threat agents.
"We're educating producers and veterinarians on livestock biosecurity so that they can be prepared to identify and to diagnose infectious diseases.
"We've held a series of exercises that simulate disease outbreaks and attacks on our food supply system. We're also stepping up research and in critical areas that include development of vaccines and rapid diagnostic tests for a variety of diseases.
Partnerships, again they are the key to our surveillance. Among other measures we put into place a national system to monitor and track food-related consumer complaints. This is a real-time, early-warning system of a potential attack on our food supply.
"Because our labs are key to both food-borne illness and the homeland security, we've set up a national network of federal and state laboratories with the capacity to test foods for threat agents in the event of a terrorist attack.
"Along with our state and industry partners, we're moving forward on a national identification system. This will help us quickly trace infected or exposed animals during an outbreak, whether that outbreak would be intentional or unintentional.
"Critical…Critical to our readiness is the ability to respond and to mobilize quickly. We're setting up National Animal and Plant Health Laboratory Networks, working with university systems to support a wealth of expertise and increase our ability to respond to agro-terrorism emergencies.
"We're also sharpening USDA's readiness for the Incident Command System. This is a part of a command approach that gives the federal, the state and local governments a unified strategy for working together to prepare for, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents.
"Recovery begins with our response to an incident. We're working with federal partners to address recovery in a range of ways that includes decontamination and disposal plans as well as systems that prepare us for pest or disease outbreaks.
"That's just a brief overview of our actions. If there is one common theme, ladies and gentlemen, it's what Tom Ridge, the former Homeland Security director, called our, 'shared responsibility, our shared leadership, and shared accountability.
"I would add that what we also share is the need for proactive, voluntary action by our many partners. As one example, the trucking industry came to us awhile ago asking us to work with them to develop voluntary security guidelines.
"To the trucking industry, thank you for your leadership. The way I see it, those who transport our ag and food products carry with them across almost 4 million miles of highway the strength of our economy and the health and the well-being of our nation.
"To encourage this kind of voluntary action in protecting the food supply against all threats, we've recently released four model food security plans. These plans will guide producers and importers in developing their own security measures to deter international contamination of our food supply.
"The plans are tailored to major components of the American food supply system including meat and poultry slaughter and processing facilities, egg processing plants, and import facilities.
"To help industry adopt the plans, USDA will reach out to all target establishments emphasizing smaller companies that might not have the resources to develop their own independent security plans. While these guidelines are voluntary, we are strongly urging all establishments operating under federal and state inspection programs to incorporate these security procedures.
"In many ways, these kinds of partnerships and forward thinking, not just on a national scale but on a global scale, is what this conference is all about. It is what brings us together today. Our lands and their bounties and the systems that support them, that's what is at stake in this war relative to agro-terrorism. And they are what we must do to work together to defend and protect our world.
"Ladies and gentlemen, my final comment-- thank you so much for being here. To have everybody on the same page working together is truly exciting. God bless you all."