In looking back at the accomplishments of the Agriculture Committee in the last Congress, it becomes clear that our work affects the lives of every American. The Committee addressed a wide number of issues including bioterrorism and homeland security, animal identification, forest management, agricultural biotechnology, rural technology development, conservation, trade and the USDA's expanded BSE cattle surveillance program to name a few.
Of the 242 bills and resolutions referred by the House and Senate to the House Agriculture Committee, many were enacted into law including the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act. This legislation was a step in the right direction in alleviating some of the burdens faced by domestic tobacco farmers.
During the past two years, farmers and ranchers across the country incurred significant crop, produce and livestock losses due to a myriad of weather-related disasters including floods, early freezes, hurricanes, and drought. In October, the Committee supported a $3 billion agricultural disaster assistance package for producers paid for by spending cuts in other programs. The bill included funds that can provide assistance to eight counties in the 6th District that are awaiting $1.2 million in disaster assistance from Hurricane Isabel last year and also funds for damage caused by Hurricane Jeanne this year.
Another issue impacting American agriculture is country-of-origin labeling. Current law designates a mandatory labeling program to take effect for produce and meats in 2006, which would place great financial burdens on U.S. producers. The Committee has done a considerable amount of work on this issue and in July passed voluntary country-of-origin labeling legislation. I will continue to seek opportunities to send this voluntary bill through Congress.
The Agriculture Committee remains a strong advocate for expanding agricultural trade opportunities. U.S. agricultural exports account for 25 percent of U.S. farm income, which shows that American farmers' and ranchers' livelihoods rely on trade. Throughout the 108th Congress, the Committee held hearings on such agricultural trade issues as biotechnology, geographical indications, food aid, as well as several hearings to review the status of ongoing trade negotiations. The Committee will continue to seek new markets and trade opportunities for producers.
Whether you are a poultry farmer in the Shenandoah Valley, an agriculture student at one of our fine colleges and universities, or a Mom or Dad in Roanoke or Lynchburg working to put safe, quality food on the table for your children - the Agriculture Committee is relevant and important in our everyday lives. I consider it an honor to serve the 6th District of Virginia as Chairman of this important committee, and I look forward to working with the Committee members in the 109th Congress to address the important agricultural issues facing the United States.