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9-Misc: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announces "war on pathogens"

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SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Release No. 0066.03
DATE:   Feb 20, 2003

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Announces Risk Management Initiative to Ensure Strong Programs to Assist
the Nation's Farmers and Ranchers

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 20, 2003 - Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman
presented the keynote address at the opening of the 79th Annual
Agricultural Outlook Forum, where she outlined some key priorities for
the food and agriculture sector to help America's farmers and ranchers
better compete in the 21st Century. Additional Information

"Our world is in constant change, and so is the world of agriculture.
When you examine where agriculture has come in a relatively short time,
the pace of that change is remarkable," said Veneman. "But some issues
that have confronted America's farm sector are still challenges today and
will continue to be so in the coming years."

Veneman said that as agriculture looks to the future, several critical
areas are important to examine closely to help shape the future of the
* Applying technology to its fullest potential, advancing alternative
uses for agricultural products and adopting a forward-looking regulatory
system that ensures the integrity of technology advancements in food and
* Strengthening the nation's food safety systems and ensuring the
protection of the food supply against potential bioterrorist threats;
* Improving and expanding risk management tools for producers to better
prepare the agriculture sector when it faces difficult and challenging
times; and
* Continuing to expand and open new international markets and working
harder to educate all involved about the perils to agriculture if
progress is not made in this area.

Technology and Biotechnology

"We are already seeing the benefits of crop biotechnology, and
researchers are making incredible inroads into new uses for biotech crops
and animals. As scientists push back the frontiers of biotechnology,
government regulators are greeted with enormous challenges. Failure to
regulate effectively could undermine consumer confidence, cost farmers
valuable markets -- both domestic and export -- and delay the enormous
public and private benefits that can be reaped from applying
biotechnology to food and nonfood uses."

Veneman announced that she has formed an interagency team and directed
the group to thoroughly review current regulations pertaining to all
aspects of biotechnology, particularly those that may be required for new
pharmaceutical and industrial crops.

A top priority of the group is to strengthen coordination with FDA and
EPA to ensure there are no gaps in the regulatory infrastructure. Veneman
also said later this year she is convening an international science and
technology conference to bring agriculture, environment and science
ministers together from around the world to discuss and showcase
agriculture-related technologies. The conference will be held June 22-25
in Sacramento, Calif.

Delivering Safe Food

"Competing successfully in the future also hinges on the safety of our
food supply. The President shares this belief, and for this reason, has
proposed record funding for meat and poultry food safety programs as well
as funding increases to strengthen agricultural protection systems. In
fact, USDA's food safety budget, if approved by the Congress, will
reflect a 20 percent increase since this Administration has been in
office. This is good progress, but food safety is also about science and
utilizing that science to develop better policies and stronger systems to
protect the food supply and consumers."

Veneman said that the USDA has declared a "war on pathogens." Headed by
Food Safety Under Secretary Dr. Elsa Murano, USDA is examining current
policies, investing in new research and technology and more advanced
training programs to ensure our programs meet the challenges of the new
Century. Veneman also said a close reexamination of the nation's
agricultural infrastructure programs - from farm to table - is necessary
to ensure the continued protection of the food supply from potential
bioterrorist threats. The Secretary said that in the future, these
programs cannot be simply looked at on a year-by-year basis. Funding
priorities should be part of America's permanent infrastructure - part of
long-term policy planning and funding - and the agriculture community
should become more proactive in helping to make sure they become part of
mandatory spending in future years.

Managing Risks On the Farm

Another key to success in the 21st Century is having effective, market
based risk management tools for producers. Veneman said that today, the
foundation of the nation's risk management program is crop insurance.
Following passage of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000, USDA
implemented program reforms that spurred participation. Today, nearly 80
percent of eligible acreage is covered, compared with only 69 percent in
1998. Over 50 percent of the insured acreage is now insured at a 70
percent or higher level of coverage, compared with only 9 percent in 1998.

"Despite such progress, we need to strengthen our crop insurance program
and improve risk management tools, generally. Our goals are to ensure
widely available and effective risk management tools for our diverse farm
sector, for farmers and stakeholders to be well informed, that the
delivery system is fair and effective, the programs are operated with
integrity, and that we excel at service to the nation's producers."

To achieve these objectives, the Secretary has asked the Risk Management
Agency to undertake a major initiative in 2003 to identify the
underserved producers and closely examine the regions, commodities and
risks and then prioritize the development of new products to fill the
gaps identified.

Veneman said priorities of this initiative include: examining the need to
serve the livestock industry, including forage and range coverage;
addressing concerns with coverage in regions facing multiyear droughts;
simplifying and improving the effectiveness of various insurance
products; and reviewing various RMA authorities to ensure the soundness
of the delivery system and effective oversight of the insurance industry.

The Secretary also announced an effort to make crop insurance more
affordable and encourage smaller and specialty crop producers in
underserved states to try new insurance products. RMA this week is making
available up to $18 million to provide financial assistance in 15 states
that have been historically underserved by the Federal Crop Insurance program.

Opening Global Markets Through Trade and Development

"Another component that will help ensure our competitiveness in the 21st
Century is to maintain and increase access to international markets,
enhance worldwide economic development, and stimulate world prosperity."

The Secretary said that trade and trade agreements have brought
significant benefits to U.S. agriculture. For example, U.S. exports to
its NAFTA partners have grown 76 percent during the past 10 years, while
exports to the rest of the world grew 12 percent. Veneman said that this
year will be a critical one for advancing the U.S. trade agenda with WTO
negotiations entering a crucial phase, while negotiations continue on
creation of a Free Trade Area for the Americas (FTAA) and other bilateral

Veneman concluded her remarks by saying, "Competing in the 21st Century
means above all that we must be prepared to address the challenges and
take advantage of the opportunities in the ever-changing marketplace. Our
ability to take advantage of opportunities on a number of fronts will
determine whether we reap the benefits of the 21st Century marketplace."

For a complete transcript of the Secretary's remarks, and other
activities and events as part of the 79th Annual Agricultural Outlook
Forum, "Competing in the 21st Century," please visit