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January 15, 2008   Email to Friend 

Tracy Taylor Grondine
(202) 316-6377
January 15, 2008

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- America is still a place of hopes, dreams and opportunities, former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell told a receptive audience of farmers and ranchers at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 89th annual convention here.

Recounting highlights from his 50 years of foreign policy and military service, particularly the strategy of containment for the Soviet Union and China, Powell said it took time for him to get used to "being an average citizen."

Describing the events of 9-11 as "a shock to our national soul," he noted the importance of new U.S. security measures he put in place to combat terrorism. "Let's go after them [terrorists]," he stressed.

But, he cautioned, that strategy must be balanced with the need for Americans to continue to be known as "good, warm, welcoming people" and for our country to continue to be known as the land of opportunity for students seeking the best education, those in need of medical care as well as people looking to better themselves and their families economically.

"It's better to have trading issues, than issues of war and peace," Powell said, referring to recent challenges American agriculture has faced with Japan and South Korea. "Although you don't see this on the nightly news, the world we live in today is one of enormous opportunity, especially for American agricultural interests."

Powell predicted exports of U.S. farm products to foreign nations such as China will increase, as that country now has a middle class, which expects a better standard of living and along with that, better food and nutrition. Improved technology now available and the productivity of America"s farmers and ranchers will allow them to take advantage of that opportunity and many others, he said.

On Monday, state Farm Bureau organizations, including the Alabama Farmers Federation, were recognized by AFBF President Bob Stallman for outstanding membership achievements and for implementing outstanding programs. The Alabama Farmers Federation received five Awards for Excellence and one President's Club award.

Also Monday, David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food protection with the Food & Drug Administration, told AFBF members that food safety has to be a cooperative effort involving the local, state and national levels, but it all comes down to what happens close to home. "Food safety is a local deal," Acheson said. "It's a joint effort."

Despite some food-safety challenges in recent months, Americans still have a reliable, safe food supply, he said. "America has the safest food supply in the world," Acheson said, noting that it's amazing that relatively few food poisoning cases are reported considering that 300 million Americans eat three or so meals a day. "What we've got to do is make it safer."

What's needed is for the U.S. to become more proactive and start to find ways to prevent outbreaks instead of just reacting to them. To that end, the FDA is implementing an official "food protection plan" that addresses both food safety and food defense for domestic and imported products.

"Food defense" is the term Acheson used to refer to protecting America's food supply from deliberate contamination. The plan includes strategies, he said, that: Focus on risks over a product's life cycle, from production to consumption; target resources to achieve maximum risk reduction; address both unintentional and deliberate contamination; and use science and modern technology systems.

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