WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hearing on nutrition programs and the marketing of local and regional products, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), ranking member, today said all titles of the Farm Bill should be consolidated, streamlined and evaluated to determine the best use of taxpayer dollars.
The following is Senator Roberts’ opening statement as prepared for delivery:
“To those producers who market their crops locally, congratulations and keep up the good work. You are part of the fastest growing sector in agriculture, and I commend farmers and ranchers around the country for taking advantage of opportunities to add value to their products.
“This exciting and fast paced growth helps bring new opportunities to rural areas.
“However, I caution that the belief that locally grown and purchased food is inherently better, safer, or more ‘environmentally sustainable’ than food produced elsewhere in our country pits farmer against farmer, town against town, and state against state.
“All food grown in this country is local to their communities regardless of where it’s sold. Now is a time when all of agriculture needs to come under one tent to meet the growing demands of a global population expected to hit 9 billion soon.
“While I agree a freshly sliced ripe tomato grown from your backyard garden can be quite tasty, throughout most of the year this is just not practical, especially in Kansas. So sometimes purchasing a tomato grown in Southeast Kansas at a local farmers market on a hot summer day makes the most sense and sometimes purchasing a tomato grown in Florida at the local grocery store during the cold winter months makes the most sense.
“Regardless of the season, consumers continue to demand more local products, and many business and markets are meeting producer demand without the need for taxpayer support.
“USDA recently released a report highlighting 27 programs geared toward the local foods sector. This is concerning given our budget situation, coupled with our mission to reduce waste, duplication, and redundancy.
“As we hear from our witnesses today, I look forward to hearing how we can consolidate, streamline, and consider programs that are the best use of taxpayer dollars, just like we asked our conservation, rural development and energy witnesses in previous hearings.
“On the nutrition front, President Obama has requested $70 billion for 2013 to fund food benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – formerly known as food stamps.
“With a retailer trafficking rate of one percent, and improper benefit payments totaling 3.8 percent, annual SNAP errors total $3.4 billion…let me repeat that…$3.4 billion PER YEAR in errors.
“I point out to my colleagues that the total is over two-thirds of the annual commodity support programs we have been providing to farmers nationwide who produce most of our food and fiber. We should be at least as motivated to eliminate fraud, waste, abuse, loop-holes and to find efficiencies in SNAP as others are motivated to eliminate commodity safety net programs.”