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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Agricultural Security

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the hearing entitled “Safeguarding American Agriculture in a Globalized World.”

Stabenow’s statement follows:

Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding such an important hearing. I know you have long been a champion for a strong agro-defense system, and we are all grateful for your vigilance.

I’ve always said that food security is national security. Everyone in this room knows just how important food and agriculture are to the wellbeing of our nation.

We certainly understand that in Michigan – where agriculture is our second largest industry supporting 1 in 4 jobs.

Threats to our agriculture industry would not only decimate our economy, but would also change our way of life.

Our country is blessed to have a rich and diverse agricultural sector. However, it also means that agriculture faces a multitude of threats—both accidental and intentional.

We can’t allow our food system to be weaponized against us. Which is why I’m glad that you Mr. Chairman, have been working on these issues in a bipartisan manner.

I would like to recognize your important work with our colleague Senator McCaskill, who serves as the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee. 

Yet some of the gravest threats to our food system can occur without malicious intent.

In 2015, we witnessed one of the worst outbreaks of animal disease in our history.

Avian influenza devastated poultry farmers across the country, claiming nearly 50 million birds and increasing egg prices for consumers.

While our producers experienced unimaginable losses during this crisis, USDA and scientists across the country responded quickly to put a stop to the damage. Now, we are more prepared than ever for the next outbreak.

In Michigan, we’ve experienced similar scares in our fruit and vegetable industry.

Michigan’s $72 million dollar cherry industry was almost wiped out by an insect smaller than a dime.

An exotic pest called Spotted Wing Drosophila [Dra-SOF-Fill-La], has become a cherry grower’s worst nightmare.

Yet thanks to rapid-response research investments, scientists at universities like Michigan State are developing tools and techniques to keep this destructive pest at bay.

We need preparation, coordination, and research so we can protect our farms and crops from not only pest and disease – but also from the emerging threat of climate change.

From hurricanes and floods, to wildfires and drought, we’ve seen how extreme weather can cause mass devastation to agriculture in the blink of an eye.

Earlier this year, the GAO released a report that estimates climate change will result in crop losses that could cost up to $53 billion annually by the end of the century.

This would also have grave consequences for food security and the global fight against hunger.

It’s time for us to acknowledge that the changing climate is a contributing factor to these unprecedented natural disasters. And it’s time for us to take action to curb the damaging effects it is already having on agriculture.

We can’t afford to let any of these threats go unanswered. That’s why we need real resources to detect threats and pests to keep our food and farms safe – in addition to meaningful risk management tools like crop insurance.

Mr. Chairman, in the last Farm Bill, you and I worked together to create the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, to match public investments with private funds for innovative agricultural research.

As a result, the world-class researchers at both Michigan State and Kansas State are participating in Foundation-funded projects to address emergent threats to agriculture.

This is an example of a practical investment we need to continue and strengthen in the next Farm Bill if we want to keep our food and farms safe.

As this committee considers the 2018 Farm Bill in the near future – I look forward to working together to keep our commitments to protect our food and our farms.