The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), today signed a cooperative agreement with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) to further develop integrated federal-state response plans, in support of the National Response Plan, for food and agricultural emergencies. This agreement advances one of the many homeland security directives set by Presidential Bush to improve federal, state and local cooperation through enhanced response and recovery procedures in the event of a disaster.

"Strengthening the food security infrastructure remains a high priority for the Bush Administration," says Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano. "An integrated federal-state response plan will supplement the nation's strong food safety threat response system with additional measures to improve the ability of federal, state and local officials to prevent deliberate food contamination."

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), FDA and DHS's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection are funding the development of an integrated approach to prepare for and respond to emergencies affecting national agriculture and food infrastructure.

"This agreement greatly strengthens the essential food safety network of federal, state and municipal governments," says Acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Lester Crawford. "Establishment of clear and consistent practices for combating threats to the food supply is a necessary prerequisite to the public health imperative of providing secure, safe and nutritious food for all Americans."

The state departments of agriculture will gain technical expertise from FSIS, FDA and DHS officials through workgroups and tabletop exercises. Best practices and guidelines for federal and state food regulatory officials will be developed to address lessons learned from case studies and threat assessments.

"Securing our nation's food supply requires a unified effort from the federal to the farm level," says Frank Libutti, Under Secretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection at the Department of Homeland Security. "This agreement is our next step in making sure that everyone is working together to keep our nation safe."

The cooperative agreement will occur in three phases with the first phase starting immediately and phase three concluding by June 2005. During the first phase, a workgroup, comprised of federal, state and local officials, will gather information about existing state emergency response systems and how food/agricultural safety and security emergencies will be handled within the various states. The workgroup, during the second phase, will then develop an interagency response plan, which includes state and local participation, conduct tabletop exercises and pilots to test functionality of the emergency response plan and refine it based on lessons-learned and other input. Phase three will involve the development of guidelines for federal food and agricultural regulatory agencies to cooperate with state and local emergency response efforts, thus facilitating federal assistance to be made available more quickly and appropriately to assist the local response and recovery efforts.

Coordination and cooperation among stakeholders in food safety and security continues to be a principal commitment of the Administration as it continually strives to make greater advances in protecting the nation's food supply from intentional and unintentional threats. Additional information about food security is available on the FSIS Web page at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Food_Security_&_Emergency_Preparedness/index.asp and FDA's Web page at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fsterr.html.