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Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KINGSTON. Mr. Chairman, I oppose this amendment, and I don't quite understand what the problem is with the bill language at all.

Here's what it does: the report language, which this amendment tries to strike, it simply tells the Secretary of USDA to notify the committee of any trips related to the Know Your Farmer initiative and include the agenda and the cost to the American taxpayers. It doesn't prevent them from doing this. It simply says let us know. It also says put this information on the Web page. So if Know Your Farmer is that important, why would USDA have any opposition to this at all? In fact, I don't know that USDA does.

I also want to say that, as somebody who represents rural southeast Georgia, there is this nostalgic idea that somehow the further food travels the more evil it becomes. But if you look at a plate of fresh vegetables that you may have eaten sometime today, that food traveled a long way. In fact, asparagus travels a long way. Lettuce--my friend, Mr. Farr, gave me an article earlier today. I think 59 percent of the lettuce in America comes from his one district.

Now, if we start confining that to Monterey County, it might be great for the folks in Monterey County, but I don't mind eating California lettuce because if the California farmers can do it for less money and I can get lettuce year round for less money, that's not a bad thing. So I think some of the assumption that food traveling is a bad idea, I think it's flawed in itself.

But I want to get back to this bill report language. It simply says to the USDA, let us know how much you're going to spend. And why is that so important? I want my friend from California to know that if you look through the USDA budget request for FY12, there's not one mention of Know Your Farmer--Know Your Food. It's an initiative. There has not been a budget request for it. If there was a budget request for it for $3 million or $30 million, then we could have something we could be debating about.

But what it is, is an initiative; and all we're asking is, if you go forward with this--and we don't stop them from going forward with it--we're just saying we want to know how much it's going to cost. So I do not believe that it's bad report language at all, and I strongly oppose the amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KINGSTON. Mr. Chairman, I want to make sure I answer this question, because I'm hearing from our colleague that she can't possibly imagine why we are against the program. We are against it because it's not authorized.

The President of the United States is now bombing in Libya. By the way, I voted with the Kucinich amendment because I feel very uncomfortable with an unauthorized bombing as the use of force in Libya. The Federal Government frequently obligates the taxpayers to new programs. Yet the United States Congress hasn't had an opportunity to vet these programs or to vote on them, so I, myself, don't understand why that is a problem that we can have this transparency.

Now, as I've listened to this, I've kind of felt, well, Know Your Farmer--Know Your Food is one of these harmless little Washington sort of ``feel good about things'' initiatives, but I'm beginning to think it's just one big databank. I don't know why the USDA needs to know all of this information about the farmers. I'm wondering about that. If we want to help farmers--and I've had the opportunity of representing lots of farmers for a long time--I'm going to give you seven things that I thought about in just sitting here during the course of the last speech.

Number one: This administration has declared war on the community banks, which are the fiber and the heart of small communities. That's where farmers get their loans. Farmers need credit. We need stability and banking laws to help farmers.

Number two: We need consistent regulations and regulations that don't send the EPA out on the farm to play ``I gotcha.'' You may know right now, Mr. Chairman, that for organic chickens--and I know my friend from California probably knows this--you have the FDA requiring that they be raised on a slab of concrete and the USDA saying, no, they can't be. So we have two Federal agencies with two different regulations for one product. Farmers need regulatory consistency.

Number three: We need an H-2A program. Absolutely, we've got to get labor out there and a good guest worker program that works.

Number four: We need free trade agreements. We have had sitting on the desk of the White House free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, and this administration won't move them. That will create lots of markets for farmers.

Number five: We need estate tax relief. If you want to keep the family farm in the family, then get rid of the death tax so that it can be passed on to the next generation.

Number six: You need to have a good crop insurance program. More than any other farm program, farmers want a good crop insurance program.

Number seven: We need to cut the red tape out so that you can get to your local market. If you're a local farmer, it is impossible to sell right now to your local high school because of many Federal regulations. The small farmers can't compete with the big folks on this.

I want to say this about apples because the gentlewoman had mentioned apples. The average apples travel right now 2,500 miles to get to the consumer. Now, I don't find that horrible. We are a country of origin labeling laws, which our committee has debated for over a decade, and I don't know that it has made the world a better place. I think that consumers are actually driven by food safety, food taste and food price, and whether it comes from New York or whether it comes from the farmer down the street, those still are going to be the driving factors in making the decision. Carrots come 2,000 miles.

I would challenge my friends to look at Google food mileage and look at how much common, everyday food travels to get to your plate. What has it done? It has made America healthier. It has given us an abundant food supply, and it has given us a less expensive food supply.

But if we are serious about growing mom and pop farms--and I want to say this to my friend from Maine--I am very interested in working with her on that. The seven things that I have listed, I can promise you, in any poll, farmers will choose before they choose to say what we really need to get farmers going in America is this program that is not authorized by the Congress, called Know Your Farmer.

I yield back the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KINGSTON. I stand in opposition to the amendment, but with great admiration for the author of the amendment--but still disagreement.

Now, the previous speaker actually said that FDA funding has been slashed. FDA is funded both with direct appropriations and with fees. Last year, their funding level was $3.6 billion. This year, it is $3.64 billion. It is a little bit more. I would say it is level funding. But FDA funding has not been slashed, and it is very important for us to realize that.

Number two, let me show you something about the FDA funding history, Mr. Chairman. If you can see this, this chart actually goes back to 2000 and goes up to 2011. It has been nothing but a 10-year climb uphill for the FDA. And while a lot of people are saying the FDA funding is slashed, there is not even a slight dip in any of this 10-year funding chart. It is very important for us to realize that.

Now, the second point is, in the FDA hearing, I was concerned about FDA's ability to do food safety and to take on this big mission. Here is why:

You hear the figure of about 48 million foodborne illnesses--a very high number which we are enormously concerned about--but 20 percent of those illnesses are from known, or specified, pathogens. Nearly 60 percent of the illnesses from known pathogens comes from the Norovirus. So how do we address this?

The CDC tells us on their March 4 memo that appropriate hand hygiene is likely the most important method to prevent the Norovirus infection and to control transmission. Reducing any Norovirus present on hands is best accomplished by thorough handwashing. Now, in the FDA's 630-page budget request, there is not one mention of Norovirus. I believe that that's relevant.

The second point: The second highest cause of illness is salmonella; but under its authority, the existing authority, before the Food Safety Modernization Act was passed by the House, the FDA updated its own food safety as respect to salmonella. They are saying--and this was according to their own press release in July of last year--that as many as 79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths due to the consumption of eggs contaminated with salmonella may be avoided. That was last year. That was before a new bureaucracy. This bureaucracy, by the way, over a 10-year period of time, will cost $1.4 billion and will hire 17,000 new Federal employees.

The third highest cause of foodborne illnesses is clostridium. Again, in the FDA's 630-page budget request, it was only mentioned once.

I want to say something else that is very important. Do we believe that McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Safeway and Kraft Foods--and any brand name that you can think of--aren't concerned about food safety? The food supply in America is very safe as the private sector self-polices because they have the highest motivation. They don't want to be sued. They don't want to go broke. They want their customers to be healthy and happy and to come back and give them repeat business.

Now, in response to the 2006 E. coli outbreak that happened in California with spinach, where three people died and 200 consumers were sickened, the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement was made. This is a private sector agreement which has done already 2,000 farm audits on a voluntary basis. Nearly 200 billion servings of lettuce and spinach and other leafy greens produced under this program have been surveyed. It is a successful private sector initiative, and those types of things happen all the time in the private sector, but we're blind to it.

Here are some numbers from the CDC. It's very important because I think America loves to beat itself up over things all the time. The CDC numbers, Mr. Chairman: There are 48 million foodborne illnesses reported a year, 128,000 hospitalizations, 3,000 deaths. Those numbers are very high. I'm very concerned about it. That's why we spend a lot of money already on food safety.

I yield back the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KINGSTON. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

I just want to continue with this, Mr. Chairman.

You have 311 million Americans eating three meals a day. That's 933 million meals eaten each day. That's nearly 1 billion food consumption events in our country, which is over 360 billion meals consumed. If you do the math in going back to the 48 million foodborne illnesses, according to the USDA, our food safety rate is 99.99 percent.

I want to address the 48 million, but what I also suggest to you is that we can spend $45 million more for FDA funding; we can spend $100 million more or we can spend $1 billion more, but I don't think you can increase this number of a 99.99 percent food safety rate according to the CDC. So, in these times of very tight budgets, it is very important to keep these facts in mind.

I am going to close with this statement by the Democrat Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and this was as of yesterday. He said he is ``reasonably confident'' that U.S. consumers won't be faced with the same sort of E. coli outbreak now plaguing Germany. He goes on and explains why--because of the current food safety laws in place and the current food safety funding.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KINGSTON. I want to say to the gentleman from Arizona, if I have time left over, I will yield you some. But you can also get your own 5 minutes if you want.

Mr. Chairman, I oppose this.

I want to start out by saying that the committee has taken a really close look at this over the years. And I wish you could see, from where you are sitting, better the saturation level of broadband access in the United States of America. That's in the blue. As you can see, the entire country is mostly blue according to this.

But I would not want your eyes to just strain from there, so I will give you some numbers here:

New Jersey, 100 percent penetration; Florida, 99.9 percent penetration; New York, 99.8 percent; Georgia, 99.4 percent; Arizona, 98.2 percent.

This program is not necessary. And in a time when we're talking about saving money, we do not need to increase this account. The process is burdensome. We get lots of complaints from people who have had applications pending for a long time and they can't get their questions answered, or they get approved but they can't get their money. Their eligibility is too broad. And in many areas, it competes with private sector broadband service.

Now, the IG report had a number of things that they found. They found that this rural broadband program granted loans of $103 million to 64 communities near large cities, including $45 million loans to 19 suburban subdivisions within a few miles of Houston, Texas. That's hardly the intent of the program.

The IG report also found out that they were competing with preexisting broadband access in many places and found that 159 of the 240 communities associated with the loans--that's 66 percent--already had service. I will repeat that. Sixty-six percent of the communities who got grants already had service.

Now, there was a little criticism, and the program was supposed to be reformed. But the IG took another look at it and found that, in 2009, only eight out of the 14 recommendations had had action taken on them. Thirty-four of 37 applications for providers were in areas where there were already private operators offering service, 34 out of 37.

So when our committee took a look at this, we felt like the program needed changing. It did not need new money. So I must respectfully disagree with my good friends who are offering this and stand in opposition of the amendment.

With that, I yield to my friend from Arizona.

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