Ranking Member Boozman Opening Statement at Hearing on the Nomination of Jennifer Lester Moffitt to be Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, from the hearing to consider the nomination of Jennifer Lester Moffitt to be under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Good morning. I am pleased to welcome Jennifer Lester Moffitt to the committee as we consider her nomination to be under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I congratulate Mrs. Moffitt on her nomination and thank her for her willingness to serve our country.

Currently, Mrs. Moffitt serves as the under secretary at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, where she also served as the deputy secretary from 2015 to 2018. Mrs. Moffitt grew up on her family’s organic walnut farm and processing operation, Dixon Ridge Farms, and went on manage it for a decade.

If confirmed as the under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, Mrs. Moffitt will oversee a wide range of responsibilities including animal and plant health, the regulation of biotech products and a vast array of programs designed to market and promote U.S. commodities and products.

There are a few issues I would like to highlight this morning for the nominee to consider. As I am sure she is aware, the two agencies that form the marketing and regulatory mission area at USDA, APHIS—the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and AMS—the Agricultural Marketing Service, have significant authorities and responsibilities that impact not only agricultural production, but many aspects of Americans daily lives.  

The transmission of animal diseases is a very real threat to US producers and citizens. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is charged with the detection, control, and eradication of animal diseases.

As we saw with COVID-19, zoonotic diseases, those diseases transmitted from animals to humans, can have staggering global consequences. Other diseases such as African swine fever and foot and mouth disease can have serious economic, trade and environmental repercussions.

The next under secretary must remain vigilant to identify early threats and must build strong relationships with other federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as our partners around the globe, to ensure the health and safety of our domestic herds and flocks. 

The under secretary also has significant regulatory authority. Our farmers and ranchers deserve regulatory stability. Constantly changing regulatory burdens stifle investment, discourage long term planning, and result in confusion and distrust.

Secretary Vilsack recently announced his intent to issue a new proposed rule revising requirements for organic livestock and poultry practices. The previous revisions published as a final rule in January 2017, were widely unpopular with various stakeholders due to their arbitrary requirements. Especially unpopular were the requirements related to housing systems for egg and poultry producers.

Further, in 2018, USDA found that the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule exceeded statutory authority. Farmers and ranchers have enough unpredictability in their lives, the least USDA can do is to provide consistency and predictability in its regulations, which have a broad base of support. There are certainly instances where regulation is necessary and important, but there are also many instances where regulation has driven up costs for farmers and forced consolidation. 

I am supportive of the promise of gene-editing in animal agriculture and was very supportive of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in December between USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. This MOU will modernize the federal government’s regulatory oversight of certain gene-edited animals used for agricultural purposes—the type of innovation that could allow researchers to develop African swine fever resistant pigs or cattle that produce less methane.

I believe USDA’s authority under the Animal Health Protection Act to regulate such products must be maintained as these types of technologies expand. I expect the administration to honor this MOU and I expect USDA to serve as the lead agency for the regulation of gene-editing in agriculture.

One of the most topical issues the next under secretary will face surrounds our cattle markets. This is something at the top of mind for most members of this committee, as we just held a hearing on this issue.

With the under secretary’s role in producing reports and market news, and administering the Packers and Stockyards Act, USDA’s role is critical to the entire cattle industry. As USDA considers issues in the cattle market, I expect the department to work closely with all sectors of the industry to strike the right balance and to follow congressional intent.

Mrs. Moffitt, thank you again for agreeing to serve the American people and for your willingness to bring your experience and service in California agriculture to all of agriculture. I look forward to hearing your remarks and your answers to our questions.

With that, I yield back to Chairwoman Stabenow.