Food security is top priority

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COLUMBUS – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman used her trip to Texas, Georgia and Ohio last week to drum up support for President Bush’s 2003 budget proposal, which includes $131 million for increased food safety programs and safeguards for the nation’s food supply.

Veneman spoke to students and faculty at the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Feb. 1, then traveled to the Ohio Department of Agriculture headquarters in Reynoldsburg to meet with farmers and ag organization leaders.

“This budget proposal will provide important resources to help strengthen our homeland security efforts,” Veneman said. “the protection of our food supply is critical.”

“We are now talking about these issues in a more important way after Sept. 11,” she added. “We have to look at things entirely differently.”

Protecting food chain. The president’s proposal would beef up animal health monitoring by $49 million, targeting an emergency management system that coordinates response to an animal or plant pest or disease outbreak. Another $19 million would be earmarked to stiffen point-of-entry inspection programs.

The proposal includes $28 million to provide record funding for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and $24 million for additional research on detecting and controlling threats to animal and plant agriculture.

In January, President Bush signed the Defense Appropriations Act, which included $105 million for the USDA’s Animal Plant health Inspection Services; $80 million for upgrading USDA facilities and security; $50 million for an animal bio-containment facility at the National Animal Disease Laboratory; $40 million for the Agricultural Research Service; $23 million for the Plum island Animal Disease Center; $15 million for security upgrades for the Food Safety and Inspection Service; and $14 million for security upgrades at the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa.

What about farm bill? Although Veneman could not speculate whether a new farm bill would be in place to affect 2002 crops, she emphasized the USDA is pushing its advance work for program implementation once a final bill from Congress reaches the President’s desk.

“We’re preparing ahead of time as much as we can even though we don’t have a final bill,” Veneman said. “Farm bills aren’t easy to implement.”

The USDA’s technical advisers have worked closely with legislators throughout the House and Senate farm bill debates, in fact the Senate Ag Committee staff was housed at the USDA following the close of the Hart Building due to the anthrax contamination.

The secretary reminded farmers, however, that the ag budget numbers were previously agreed to in both the House and the Senate, and that if the new farm bill is not implemented in time to cover ’02 crops, there will be a supplemental appropriation.

“One way or another, I believe our farmers will be taken care of for the ’02 crops,” Veneman said.

Washington insiders believe the Senate will take action on its version of the farm bill by Feb. 15, but can’t answer how long it will take for a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions into a bill the president will sign.

Launches youth initiative. During her lecture at to more than 200 students and faculty, Veneman unveiled a “Leaders for Tomorrow” youth education initiative that follows the president’s state of the union call for greater volunteerism by Americans.

The goal of the program is to encourage mentorship of students and to “inspire the next generation of leaders by encouraging community involvement,” the secretary said.

“We’re promoting the type of leadership skills found in both 4-H and FFA.”

“There’s so much that the youth have to offer,” Veneman added. “Take the president’s call to heart and look at what you can give back.”

“It’s the young people who are really going to carry the future of agriculture.”

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