Editor’s Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.
In 2018, a federal grand jury charged two Chinese researchers with conspiracy for stealing experimental rice seeds from a research center in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Thanks to diligent work by Customs and Border Protection, these researchers were stopped at the Honolulu airport before they could escape to China with the stolen seeds hidden in their luggage. This wasn’t the first time China has attempted to replicate the cutting-edge technology that is the hallmark of American agriculture.
US investment in agriculture research and development has driven American, and Arkansan, success for the past 100 years. It’s made our agriculture community the most productive and advanced in the world. However, this innovation is under threat. From foreign government attempts to steal seeds and crops, to agricultural companies being purchased by foreign powers, to massive increases in agriculture R&D budgets in rival countries, incidents like these illustrate relentless efforts to illegally appropriate our research and trade secrets. But there are other vulnerabilities to our agriculture system, from diseases like the coronavirus which disrupted food delivery supply chains across the US to African Swine Fever which has killed millions of hogs and gets closer to our borders every day. These examples show that agriculture isn’t just a way to put food on the table. It’s also a battlefield. We need to start treating and investing in it as such.
In Arkansas, agriculture is a way of life and a big part of the economy. We know firsthand the hard work that goes into researching, growing, and processing agriculture products in our communities. Our producers pour their lives into developing the best methods to feed the country. As a result, Americans enjoy the highest-quality food and the most dependable food system in the world. We even have plenty left over to share with the rest of the world.
The American people benefit from a secure food system. We need to keep it that way. That’s why we’ve introduced the Agricultural Intelligence Measures Act, or AIM Act, which would protect our agriculture system by creating an intelligence office within the Department of Agriculture. The office would be responsible for working with the Intelligence Community and National Laboratories to ensure the Secretary of Agriculture is fully informed about threats to American agriculture. The office would focus on understanding foreign efforts to access our technology and subvert our agriculture system, and it would work to prevent biological warfare attacks, cyber or clandestine operations, or other means of sabotage and disruption of the agriculture system. By facilitating the sharing of information between the agriculture community and the intelligence community, the office will better equip us to protect Americans.
America has a long history of adapting to challenges. Scientists and researchers across America at land-grant institutions like the University of Arkansas are working overtime to try to ensure the success of our farmers. Places like the Arkansas Food Innovation Center, which works with local farmers and businesses to help startups get off the ground and create new agricultural products are what drive American exceptionalism. In the past, we’ve created new institutions, teams, or offices to protect our investments when it became apparent the current system wasn’t prepared to meet a particular threat.
Now it’s time to adapt again. Mounting pressure from China and other foreign threats make it necessary to take strong action to secure our agriculture and research system. As Arkansans and representatives of an agriculture state, we know how much hard work and ingenuity it takes to operate our powerhouse agriculture system. We also know the vulnerabilities that come with such a complex system.
Events of the past year have made Americans aware of the havoc that can be unleashed by pathogens and the chaos that can ensue when people are worried about shortages of food. We shouldn’t wait for the next crisis to arrive on our shores before taking steps to protect the country. That means we must move quickly to fortify our supply chains and protect the hard work of our producers. The AIM Act is a necessary first step to protect American agriculture and ensure American agriculture research and technology continues to be the best in the world.
About the Authors: Congressman Crawford has represented the First District of Arkansas since 2010. He is on the Agriculture Committee, serving on the Subcommittees on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit and General Farm Commodities and Risk Management. As a House Conferee in 2014 and 2018, Rep. Crawford played a critical role in passing two Farm Bills. National security is one of Rep. Crawford’s top priorities in Congress, and he was appointed in 2017 to serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), the first and only Arkansas representative to do so. He is currently the Ranking Member of the Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee.
Tom Cotton is a United States Senator from Arkansas. Sen. Cotton’s committees include the Banking Committee, where he chairs the Economic Policy Subcommittee, the Intelligence Committee, and the Armed Services Committee, where he chairs the Air Land Power Subcommittee. Sen. Cotton grew up on his family’s cattle farm in Yell County. He served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne and in Afghanistan with a Provincial Reconstruction Team. Between his two combat tours, he served with The Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. Sen. Cotton’s military decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and Ranger Tab. Between the Army and the Senate, Sen. Cotton served one term in the House of Representatives.