Testimony of of The Honorable Ann M. Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture
Before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and
The Honorable Ann M.
Secretary of Agriculture
Before the United States Senate
Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
July 17, 2002
Chairman Harkin, Senator Lugar
and distinguished members of this Committee, thank you for the opportunity to
be here today before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and
Forestry to discuss with you the Presidents proposal for a new Department of
Homeland Security and the integral role of agriculture in that new agency.
The President appreciates the
timely manner and bipartisan approach in which this Committee and the Senate
have considered this proposal.And, I
certainly appreciate the continued cooperative relationship USDA continues to
have with you and your staff on the important issues facing our food and
agriculture sector, particularly as it relates to the subject at hand today,
and that is the security and protection of our homeland.
I would also like to thank
Governor Ridge for his participation at this hearing today.During the past several months, I have
enjoyed a strong working relationship with the Governor and I can tell you he
understands clearly the importance of USDAs role in homeland security.As the Presidents advisor on these issues,
I have grown to appreciate his knowledge and understanding of the complex
issues throughout federal government.
As well, it is good to see
Alfonso Torres, USDAs former APHIS Deputy Administrator for Veterinary
Services, who is now at Cornell University.He is someone in which the Department has a great deal of respect and
Im glad to see him here to offer the Committee his perspective on this
homeland security proposal.
The plan that President Bush
has put forth is bold and historic, aimed at better protecting our nation from
potential terrorist threats in the future.The Presidents approach is to bring together agencies currently with
missions related to the protection of our homeland and merge them into a single
agency that will better protect, better prepare and better coordinate this
This requires extraordinary
vision, new thinking and the ability to look at the much larger issue at hand
and that is again, the protection of our citizens against potential
We have seen the devastation,
destruction and lives lost by the events of September 11.It is something that nobody ever wants to
see repeated.It is why all of us here
today are discussing the important issues of homeland security and how we best
prepare and plan to prevent any future attacks from happening.But, if there ever were an emergency, how do
we best prepare this nation and the infrastructure which supports it to
respond in the case of an emergency.
That is why yesterday, the
President unveiled the nations first-ever National Strategy for Homeland
This strategy takes an
important look at not just the Department of Homeland Security, but lays out a
forward-looking approach to secure the nation from terrorist threats.It builds on the many reinforcements to our
federal, state and local structure that the Administration, Congress and
related stakeholders have worked so hard to strengthen since September 11.
And, during the past several
months, our mission at the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken on new
context and different missions.
In the past, the focus of most
of our efforts has been to prevent and deter the unintentional introduction of
pests and diseases from entering our country.
To better protect agriculture
and our food supply, we have worked closely with other federal agencies, state
departments of agriculture, academia, and the food and agriculture sector on
many fronts to secure and strengthen planning and preparedness.Simply put, we are working together to
better protect agriculture, our food supply and consumers from potential
For example, we have expedited
work with U.S. Customs Service to implement an automated inspection targeting
system.We have collaborated with
research universities and state agriculture departments to step up the
development of rapid detection systems, expand our network of diagnostic
laboratories, strengthen pest and disease surveillance, better secure and
strengthen laboratories, and improve emergency preparedness capabilities.
Through the Presidents FY 2003
budget proposal and supplemental appropriations by the Congress, we will
continue those efforts.Border
protection personnel levels will be at their highest levels ever, and
investments in the areas of research, laboratory upgrades, security, have
enhanced our ability to prepare and respond to potential threats to American
While a great deal of work has
been done in a very short amount of time, the job is far from over.We cannot let down our guard.When it comes to protecting U.S. agriculture
and our food supply, we must continuously improve and strengthen our protection
why the President proposed including USDAs Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS)- the agency that prevents and manages outbreaks of pests and
diseases- and the Plum Island Disease Facility in the new Department.
In the past few weeks, the House Agriculture Committee has worked
with the Administration to refine the President's proposal. The result of that
work appears in the Committee's amendment that moves the specialized border
inspection and enforcement functions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as
well as the Plum Island Disease Facility, to the new Department.
The Administration supports the
amendment.And, we look forward to
working with Congress so that the final bill provides the Secretary of Homeland
Security the coordinating authorities required to ensure integrated plans to
address the threat of agro-terrorism.
House Agriculture Committees amendment is consistent with the Presidents goal
of unifying the border and transportation security functions of many Federal
agencies.It affirms the critical role
played by inspections of agricultural cargo, conveyances, and international
passengers.It acknowledges the close
partnerships USDA inspection personnel have developed with the U.S. Customs
Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the U.S. Border
homeland security inspection personnel involved in examining cargo, passengers,
and trade in food and agricultural products.
enacted Public Health Security and Bio-terrorism Preparedness and Response Act
of 2002 authorized the Department of Human Services (HHS) and the Department of
Agriculture (USDA) to promulgate and enforce regulations concerning the
possession and use of Select Agents - certain hazardous biological organisms
and toxins widely used in over 300 research laboratories across America.
Examples include the bacterium that causes anthrax, the bacterium that causes
Plague, and the virus that causes Ebola, a lethal hemorrhagic fever. Select
Agents are prime candidates for use by would-be bio-terrorists and thus, when
used in research, must be kept constantly under safe and secure conditions.
Administration believes that the new Department, with its strong multi-purpose
security infrastructure, will be best suited to prevent nefarious or other
irresponsible uses of Select Agents. The Administration proposes that the
Secretary of Homeland Security would administer the select agents program in
consultation with the Secretaries of HHS and USDA with these agencies
continuing to make key medical and scientific decisions, such as which
biological agents should be included in the select agents list.
In short, the transfer of
APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection personnel and the Plum Island Animal
Disease Center to the Department of Homeland Security is the right step to take
to protect our Nations security and agricultural health.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar and
Members of this Committee, again let me thank you for the opportunity to appear
before you today.This nations food
and agriculture sector is such a critical part of our economy and way of
life.A potential attack against any
component of our food and agriculture sector could cause great harm, including
the loss of jobs and confidence in our food system.
A Department of Homeland
Security will strengthen our ability to protect our food and agriculture sector
from potential threats.And, it will
continue to promote and invite cooperation, planning and preparedness among
federal, state and local agencies, in a coordinated and integrated manner.
I appreciate the leadership
from this Committee in addressing the important issues related to homeland
security, particularly as it relates to the protection of agriculture and our
food supply.I look forward to
answering your questions and for a continued dialogue on these and other
important issues in the future.