USDA Biosecurity Programs and Authorities Reviewed

Nov 15, 2001

USDA Biosecurity Programs and Authorities Reviewed

November 15, 2001 –Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) and members of the House Agriculture Committee convened today to review the biosecurity programs and authorities of the United States Department of Agriculture. (USDA). The September 11th attacks have reinforced the Committee's desire to ensure that the nation's food supply is protected from potential terrorist attacks.

"Obviously, the events of September 11th have caused the agencies of USDA to increase their vigilance, but we are very fortunate to have them," said Chairman Combest. "Not unlike our firefighters and police, they do a difficult job every day—a job we appreciate even more during these troubled times."

Deputy Secretary James R. Mosley testified on behalf of USDA. "It is important to realize that the Department of Agriculture has been in the food safety business for almost 100 years since the passage of the original federal meat inspection legislation in 1906," explained Deputy Secretary Mosley. "Over the course of that time, our responsibilities have been expanded and our systems have improved."

Since September 11th, USDA has been working to increase border protection. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is in charge of monitoring U.S. borders, has worked within the veterinarian community to increase awareness of security issues to ensure the prevention of harmful plant and animal diseases from entering our country. Further, the USDA has recently organized the Food Threat Preparedness Network, which links the FDA, CDC, FSIS, and others to focus on activities that would proactively protect our nation's food supply.

USDA also has a Food Emergency Rapid Response and Evaluation Team (FERRET) in place as a result of legislation Chairman Combest shepherded through Congress, the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998. FERRET is very active in ensuring the necessary USDA-wide coordination of food safety activities.

"Since September 11, our nation has rightly focused increased attention toward efforts to secure our agricultural industry from terrorist threats. Maintaining the safety and abundance of the U.S. food supply is not a new task for this committee or for the USDA, however. During these times, it is imperative that we carefully consider how to improve upon these practices and to better support and coordinate our efforts.," said Charlie Stenholm, the Committee's Ranking Member.

Chairman Combest noted "fortunately, the USDA has been in the biosecurity business for a very long time. I expect the USDA to take the lead in conducting the analysis of how these various legislative proposals impact farmers, ranchers, processors, retailers, and ultimately, consumers."

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