Flipping through channels, it can seem like there is never anything good coming out of Washington — too much partisanship and name calling without any action on the issues that actually matter. But, amid all the partisan bickering and gridlock, we are proud to have worked together on a bipartisan bill that President Donald Trump recently signed into law protecting against terrorist threats to our food and agriculture.
As mass casualty terrorist attacks continue to occur, we’ve seen time and again that terrorists are becoming more sophisticated, using new techniques and selecting a wide variety of targets.
Food and agriculture is one of the many areas where the United States must be continuously vigilant against threats, whether naturally occurring or intentional.
We’re proud that in Kansas and Missouri, food and agriculture have received plenty of attention thanks to the excellent teamwork of visionary leaders across state lines who have recognized this vulnerability. Our states have been encouraging growth in bio- and life-science research, helping to develop emergency procedures and anecdotes to defeat threats to plant and animal health. These efforts have created a world-class, competitive new economy here at home for future generations.
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The stakes are high. Between Kansas and Missouri, the total value of agriculture products sold tops $27 billion, and there are over 74 million acres of farms. We need this security.
We’ve already had a glimpse at what can happen when an agriculture industry is compromised: Just last year, bird flu hit Indiana and 400,000 birds had to be killed. Earlier this summer, the Department of Homeland Security put out an alert to law enforcement and emergency response personnel to watch out for individuals who might be trying to poison food stocks. As an example of these kinds of attacks, Homeland Security pointed to a farm worker in South Africa who attempted to poison milk. Had he not been caught, his actions could have killed or sickened hundreds of people.
This year, one of our first actions in the new Congress was to ensure the security of food and agriculture remained among the top concerns to our nation with a focus on multi-agency coordination through the Department of Homeland Security. Our bill, the Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act, now law, requires Homeland Security to ensure the government is prepared to address possible threats to food and agriculture, and mitigate the impact if an outbreak or attack occurs.
Without laying out clear responsibilities before an attack occurs, the response to an outbreak or attack risks being slowed down by needless bureaucratic infighting. So we made clear that the buck stops with Homeland Security when it comes to coordinating the response to agro-terrorism.
Given the construction of the new National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, the nation’s leading animal disease research facility being built right now in Manhattan, Kansas, it is especially important to make clear Homeland Security’ role. This is why we led a roundtable discussion in Kansas City, sponsored by the Kansas City Agricultural Business Association, with the key stakeholders and agencies involved. We want to continue to bring attention to agriculture security and to coordinate emergency responses from farm to fork.
Our new law helps protect Kansas and Missouri farmers and ranchers, agriculture companies in our states and the millions of Americans who depend on food from our states. Keeping our food safe from contamination, either from natural causes or those who wish to do us harm, is something we will remain committed to. We won’t let party politics in Washington get in the way of that mission.
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri is the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas is the chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.