On November 4th, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing to examine the relationship between agricultural security and national security. Witnesses included former US Deputy Secretary of State, Ambassador John Negroponte and Dr. Tammy Beckham, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University; both of whom provided valuable testimony on the threats and vulnerabilities that could potentially compromise our national security.
A robust food and agriculture industry is a critical component of public health and well-being, as well a vital pillar of the US economy. As Members sought to gain a better understanding of the federal role and responsibility for preventing, detecting and responding to emergencies, the critical importance of agricultural research became a recurring theme.
During his testimony, Ambassador Negroponte emphasized the importance of food production as a national security issue. Given the constraints on land, water and other resources, the only way to increase production to meet global demand is through innovation supported by research. Unfortunately, funding for USDA research has stagnated. Negroponte emphasized that this needs to change.
Ranking Member Peterson noted the growing global trend of skepticism regarding scientific innovation, stating “Consumers praise technology in every other aspect of their lives except the food they eat.” Negroponte agreed that this is a major challenge for the scientific community, but believes that if the scientific community engages in the on-going dialogue and education efforts relative to innovation, the public will embrace agricultural technology. Another Representative responded that not enough people realize the importance of research, stating there would be a food crisis in the US and abroad if it weren’t for continued innovation.
Dr. Beckham’s testimony highlighted the elements which make for a successful US agricultural enterprise are also the factors that make us most vulnerable. Multiple representatives expressed concern that the US is falling behind in agricultural research and asked witnesses to elaborate on the national security impact. Beckham responded that moving innovation forward is a struggle. The US currently lacks the means to combat human and animal health threats like Foot and Mouth disease. Beckham emphasized that resources are badly needed to support research and technology that will strengthen our response to human and animal health threats.
The witnesses underscored that while much has been done on the federal level to address agricultural and food security, significant gaps still remain. Policymakers recognized the importance of sound farm policy, understanding the US agricultural sector is intimately linked to US national security. There is an undeniable need for agricultural research and this hearing made evident the critical role additional funding will play in maintaining a secure food supply.