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Federal Research and Development for Agricultural Biodefense

I’m Dan Gerstein. I normally work on issues related to homeland security and countering weapons of mass destruction. Agricultural biodefense issues are really important to the entire country.
Many don’t realize it, but it’s a one-trillion-dollar-per-year industry,
making it about 5.5 percent of the U.S. economy. And therefore, it does engender a great deal of interest, certainly on Capitol Hill, but also across the country.
So in a sense, we are in what I would call a perfect storm. The first part of this is related to the
greater demand for food security. By 2050, it’s estimated that there will need to be 70 percent more food production to just support the population that is anticipated. Additionally, we have a greater stress on our bioagricultural defense systems because of climate change. Throughout, we’re seeing a need to grow crops in environments where there’s less water available.
And then the third part is, we’re seeing an increasing capability
with respect to biotechnology. The field is advancing very, very rapidly.
There’s a true competition across the globe. Many countries are getting in and taking great advantage of things like genetically modified organisms. How this affects their entire agricultural system will need to be looked at in very close detail. From the hearing today,
I think there are three things that should be taken away. First is,
that it’s very important to have congressional testimony of this sort,
to raise the awareness on critical issues, such as agricultural biodefense
research and development. Second, I think it’s very important that Congress exercise the power of the purse. We’ve had some instances recently
in which agricultural research has been reduced. The funding for it
has been reduced. And that needs to be examined to ensure that the decisions
that are made are appropriate to the threats that are faced. Thirdly,
we need to ensure that we have appropriate national leadership in this
very critical mission space. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Biodefense identified leadership as a shortfall, specifically recommending that the vice
president be given the mantle for coordinating federal agricultural biodefense,
as well as, overarching biodefense issues.

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