U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry

09/29/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/29/2020 11:52

Chairman Roberts Keynotes Agri-Pulse Security Summit

09.29.20

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, recently was the keynote speaker at the 2020 Agri-Pulse Ag & Food Policy Summit DC.

'This has been quite a year for American agriculture, and, certainly so for American consumers. Perhaps for the first time since the Great Depression, the significance of food security has resonated throughout the entire agriculture and food value chain, impacting nearly every kitchen table around the country and the world,' said Roberts.

'Today, we find ourselves in a brave new world. We must take a fresh look at what agricultural security means in terms of the defense of the agriculture sector and food supply.'

'During my time in public service, national security - especially as it relates to agricultural security - has become an increasingly important priority. Over the years, we have worked to try to meet this challenge by identifying vulnerabilities and enacting policy that allows the agriculture sector to be better prepared.'

'The United States must continue to play an active role in feeding a troubled and hungry world. There is no greater threat to national security than food insecurity.'

Click here to watch Roberts' remarks, titled 'Agriculture and Food Security - A Constantly Evolving Battle.' Prepared remarks are below.

Thank you to Sara and the entire Agri-Pulse team for the invitation to join you today.

The theme of this year's summit, 'The Critical Links Between Food Security and National Security,' is timely and important.

My perspective on this topic has been shaped by my time as a Marine, the first Chairman of the newly-formed Emerging Threats Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and of course, my time as the Chairman of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.

This has been quite a year for American agriculture, and, certainly so for American consumers. Perhaps for the first time since the Great Depression, the significance of food security has resonated throughout the entire agriculture and food value chain, impacting nearly every kitchen table around the country and the world.

We continue to learn hard and much-needed lessons about safety and security as we persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the public health battle is being waged against COVID-19, we have faced severe economic blows as businesses have been shuttered, and people experience job uncertainty.

Almost immediately, we encountered supply chain challenges as food processing and handling facilities were impacted, restaurant demand changed drastically, and global impacts were felt.

COVID-19 did not impact animal health. It is a human health crisis that has had a tremendous impact on food supply chains and systems that few anticipated.

Today, we find ourselves in a brave new world.

We must take a fresh look at what agricultural security means in terms of the defense of the agriculture sector and food supply.

As COVID-19 has demonstrated, if any singular component in that food supply chain is vulnerable or harmed-the seeds, plants, feed, animals, workers, or infrastructure - significant challenges can result.

While we continue to adapt and respond to this new and unique crisis, the idea that food security is directly linked to national security has become more apparent. Though, this fact is certainly not new.

During my time in public service, national security - especially as it relates to agricultural security - has become an increasingly important priority.

I know many of you have also devoted energy to the threat of animal and plant disease. You understand the impact it can have on the economic and national security of the country.

Over the years, we have worked to try to meet this challenge by identifying vulnerabilities and enacting policy that allows the agriculture sector to be better prepared.

We have taken significant and important steps in agricultural security, especially as it relates to animal disease preparedness.

In the 2018 Farm Bill, we invested in our animal health infrastructure.

We directed $300 million dollars in mandatory funding to a new animal health program. It builds off the existing National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

We also created the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank and a new cooperative agreement program with states, universities and other partners to bolster our animal health infrastructure.

The 2018 Farm Bill established the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority or AGARDA.

Similar to authorities at other agencies like DARPA and BARDA, this advanced research and development authority prioritizes efforts to prevent, protect against, and prepare for intentional and unintentional threats to agriculture and food.

In 2019, I was pleased to cosponsor the Protecting America's Food and Agriculture Act. It passed Congress earlier this year, and President Trump signed it into law in March 2020.

The law will improve the safety of U.S. agriculture and the food supply by increasing the resources directed to our ports of entry and our Customs and Borders Patrol inspector force. It will help prevent the introduction of dangerous pathogens, biological threats, and illegal agricultural goods from entering the U.S.

With the movement of goods around the world and the complex threats posed by animal and plant diseases, this is an investment well made.

The Departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security, along with many other agencies tasked with protecting our nation, must be coordinated. And, they must continue the commitment to remain vigilant against emerging threats, whether intentional or naturally occurring.

Even with the immense focus and work that has focused on preparing for a catastrophic animal or plant disease outbreak, we are learning in real time that less direct threats can have just as severe and lasting impact on American agriculture.

Most of the viral diseases in the world have animal origins. Those diseases can be devastating to animals, our food supply, and even people.

Of significant importance is the establishment and construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or 'NBAF', which will soon be operating in Kansas.

This facility will be a vital national security laboratory asset that will provide for critical research and development. And, it will have diagnostic and training capabilities for emerging, zoonotic, and foreign animal diseases.

As has always been the case, coordination is paramount.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture must work hand in hand with relevant agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the Department of Homeland Security.

COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, most likely originating from animals, which became a human pandemic.

USDA has a critical role supporting HHS in responding to this crisis. And, the agencies must work together to prepare for potential future pandemics.

It will also take a coordinated effort between the federal family, the partnership of our state governments, universities, and the private sector.

We are in a better place today to react to zoonotic disease and further scientific understanding of such diseases. But, it is clear we still have a great deal of work to do, especially as it relates to human health and disease preparedness.

We must take a hard look at the challenges we have been facing over the last year and thoughtfully determine how to apply the lessons learned moving forward.

These lessons are not limited to our country. COVID-19 is having an impact on global food security as well.

The pandemic has further strained food security around the world, especially in regions that already face food shortages due to economic factors, weather, political unrest, and other hardships.

I'm sure many of you have heard me state several times before, 'Show me a nation that cannot feed itself, and I will show you a nation in chaos.'

The United States must continue to play an active role in feeding a troubled and hungry world.

There is no greater threat to national security than food insecurity.

Despite the incredible challenges we have faced over the last year, and will continue to face for quite some time, I am optimistic that we will come out of this stronger than before.

We must all commit to work together to ensure that we continue to build a vibrant, safe, and secure future for generations to come.

I want to thank you all for your support on these efforts over the years.

Thank you for having me today. I'd be glad to take any questions.

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Press Contact

Meghan Cline