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26th Annual National Food Policy Conference, Washington, D.C.

Remarks for Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
26th Annual National Food Policy Conference
Washington, D.C.

May 8, 2003

Thank you for that introduction.

It = s pleasure to be with you this afternoon at the 26th Annual National Food Policy Conference to discuss an issue that affects all of us on a daily basis B food. From the farmers who grow our crops to the companies who process and distribute those crops right down to all of us consumers B food is an issue that greatly impacts our quality of life.

Fortunately, America has one of the most bountiful and diverse food supplies in the world B a good thing considering that an average family of four consumes about 6000 pounds of food a year.

Growing up on a farm in New Jersey, I gained an appreciation for the challenges and hard work associated with farm life. I also learned that farming is not solely about quantity, it is also about producing quality.

So, while our population size demands high levels of food production, our work at EPA is committed to ensuring the safety and quality of all that food.

The Bush Administration has been working closely with our agriculture and environmental partners to promote environmental policies that make sense for everyone involved in bringing food to America = s tables. We have shifted the focus from process to results, giving those involved in the business the latitude they need to achieve results in ways that complement their own business practices B and don = t bruise their bottom lines.

One of the most important opportunities we have had to use partnerships is in the continuing implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1996. This landmark legislation established new standards for pesticides in order to strengthen the safety of the food supply.

The passage of the Food Quality Protection Act set a challenging task for the EPA, calling on this Agency to reassess over 9,700 individual pesticide tolerances. For the past six and a half years, we have been in the process of meeting that goal, and we are well on our way to completing the job.

Along the way we have encountered some new and complicated issues, such as how to improve the science for calculating risks to children and how to account for non-food exposures such as pesticide residue in our drinking water.

Working together in partnership with various stakeholders, including farmers, pesticide companies, and environmental groups, we were able to gain valuable input and direction in addressing some of these questions throughout the risk assessment process.

As a result of this cooperation, EPA was successful in meeting the August 2002 deadline for completing two-thirds of the required assessment B over 6,400 pesticide tolerances. And, we are well on our way to completing our review of the last third by 2006.

We know that forging new partnerships can lead to an even safer food supply for the American people while also helping growers implement pest management strategies to meet that shared goal. To further that effort, EPA and USDA are actively working with growers around the country, funding projects that encourage the transition to safer pesticides and alternative farming methods.

Now, for those of you on the consumer side of things B you want to know what all this means the next time you sit down to eat. As most of you know, all pesticides in use today continue to meet Federal safety standards. The good news is a substantial majority of those pesticides that are used to grow the food we buy in the grocery store or eat at a restaurant are also meeting the new, more rigorous health and safety standards set by the Food Quality Protection Act.

As a result of this law, some of the riskiest pesticides have been taken off the market, making the food we eat safer for all of us, but especially for children. By 2006, when FQPA is fully implemented, all pesticides will meet these higher standards. As we work towards that date, we will continue our efforts to make sure that the only thing any of us have to worry about after eating a good meal is how to work off those calories.

Another important priority that has enormous potential to improve the quality of our food supply is biotechnology. Biotechnology products include plant-incorporated protectants that provide the best of both worlds by controlling pests and protecting the environment.

These products can reduce our reliance on chemical pesticides, provide greater safety for workers, and limit the amount of toxic chemicals that seep into the ground and often end up in our water.

Biotechnology is a valuable tool, but like any tool it is one that must be used wisely. That is why EPA is committed to educating farmers about this issue and making sure that the proper insect resistance management procedures are being followed. This will help protect our ability to continue to use and grow these crops in the future.

I know that the public has some concerns about the impacts of this new technology, and we want to put those concerns at ease. The regulatory process that EPA has in place is a strong system based on sound science, and it is rigorously applied to any new product that comes on the market.

As we move forward to reap the benefits of biotechnology, we will continue to do so in a manner that maintains the safety and health of our food supply.

One final area I would like to touch on today is EPA = s work to protect our food from bioterrorism. Even before 9/11, EPA worked closely with food regulatory agencies, USDA, FDA, and the CDC to ensure the safety of our food from biological or chemical contamination B whether intentional or unintentional.

In the wake of 9/11, our work to protect this area of our nation = s critical infrastructure took on a new urgency.

Since that time, EPA has worked closely with other federal, state, and local agencies to coordinate our response capabilities, specifically our laboratory resources and communications strategies. A number of federal agencies including EPA are also in the process of developing more rapid testing methods to screen for food contamination at processing plants and restaurants.

While vigilance and prevention are our top priorities, we must be ready for the possibility of a future attack.

EPA has participated with USDA and FDA in two emergency preparedness exercises B one aimed at contaminated livestock and the other involving a bioterrorism attack on our meat supply. These exercises have helped us gain valuable insight into additional measures that are necessary to ensure our preparedness.

From biotechnology to pesticides, our overall work on food encompasses a variety of different and complex issues, yet our goal is simple B to ensure that America = s abundant food supply remains both healthy and safe.

All of you here today play an important role in helping us reach that goal, and I want to thank you for your commitment to this issue. By continuing to work together we can provide Americans with high quality food for this and many generations to come.

Thank you.