The various sectors of the food economy — from producers to retailers — are more interconnected than they've ever been, she said at the Food Safety Summit in Washington.
"U.S. agriculture operates in a global, high-tech, consumer-driven environment…and changing consumer demands are challenging existing marketing institutions and traditional ways of doing business."
Only "a cooperative approach" that integrates research, public health regulation, and education can lead to the formulation of effective policy that meets everyone's needs, Veneman said.
During subsequent hearings on federal budget appropriations for the 2002 fiscal year, in which the Department of Agriculture is requesting $72 billion, she noted that "farmers have been though some tough economic times…and there is continuing uncertainty about the future."
She said the USDA is closely monitoring crop and market conditions "and if additional assistance is needed, we will work with the Congress to determine the nature and extent of that assistance."
She pointed out that "there has been an extremely heavy workload, assisting farmers in our county office service centers, and we expect this to continue into 2002, although with some moderation."
In order to provide adequate assistance to farmers, Veneman said, more funding will be needed for salaries and expenses of the Farm Service Agency.
Additional funding is also being requested, she noted, for "proper implementation" of the reformed crop insurance programs authorized by Congress last year and to insure that producers have access to credit needed to carry out their farming operations.
The $72 billion sought for the USDA, if approved by Congress and the president, would be an increase of $883 million for the department's ongoing programs. "This is a responsible, yet restrained budget," Veneman said.
She noted that in fiscal 2001, more than $4 billion was appropriated for emergency payments to farmers. "The 2002 budget does not include approximately $3 billion of that spending because it was mostly one-time emergency spending, where the missions have been completed."
The proposed USDA budget, she said, "meets the president's objectives of slowing the growth of federal spending, while providing funding for urgent national priorities, achieving historic levels of debt reduction, and providing tax relief."
Veneman said the budget was developed with the goal of providing "adequate funding for the most urgent issues facing American agriculture," but she cautioned that "in order to get the growth of spending under control, it is important that the levels we are recommending be supported."
The USDA budget, as presented, she said, includes sufficient funding to carry out key priorities such as:
• Strengthening agricultural quarantine inspection activities and combating pest/disease infestations.
• Providing the overseas market intelligence and technical expertise needed to support agricultural trade.
• Implementing the new Agricultural Risk Protection Act so farmers will have the benefits of improved crop insurance as soon as possible.
• Providing adequate funding for food safety activities, particularly the meat/poultry inspection work force of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
• Supporting food assistance programs at levels consistent with the anticipated need.
• Providing adequate funding for USDA rural development activities, with particular emphasis on water/sewer facilities, rural housing, and efforts to improve the access of rural areas to technology, particularly the Internet.
• Providing continuing support to landowners, farmers, and ranchers through the USDA's conservation programs.
• Redirecting USDA research into important new areas.