WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today questioned U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack about the Department’s efforts to push back against Mexico’s ban on genetically modified corn.

During the hearing, Sen. Fischer also highlighted the importance of expanding broadband access to rural communities and discussed her legislation to help more producers access precision agriculture technologies.

Click the image above to watch video of Sen. Fischer’s questioning

Following is a transcript of Senator Fischer’s questioning:

Senator Fischer:
 Secretary Vilsack, thank you for being here today. It's always good to see you. As we've discussed, I have great concern about Mexico's policy towards our agricultural biotechnology and their latest decree that bans the use of GMO white corn. I want to especially thank you for being a champion on this and pushing them about it. And also, Ambassador Tai, our work with your office has been excellent, and my conversations with her have been really, really good, too. So, thank you for that. As you know, it's a flagrant violation of the USMCA. It sets a dangerous precedent as we look at our other international trade agreements. And, unless Mexico relents on this, I think the United States must be ready to swiftly move to dispute settlement. Could you provide an update on when technical consultations between the U.S. and Mexico are going to take place? Are there specific items the administration will be pressing Mexico on during those consultations? And, have you had any answers from Mexico at all?

Secretary Vilsack:
 We received a partial set of answers to inquiries that were sent earlier this year that were unsatisfactory, which is why we began the formal process. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office is reaching out, and I think they're going to begin those preliminary conversations, which is a condition proceeding to more formal conversations. There'll be a focus, I think, on the safety of the biotech products. So, this was raised repeatedly by the President of Mexico. We tried to reassure him that, indeed, there were literally hundreds of studies on this. And, I think we have to continue to press this point because, at the crux of his decree, is this issue of safety. And, we have to overcome that concern. And so, I suspect that the focus of the technical conversations will be on, 'the concerns that you've expressed are not supported by the science.’ And, you're absolutely right. This is fundamental. This is fundamental to our whole approach to trade. If it's not science-based, if you can inject culture, or if you can inject non-scientific factors into trade discussions, you will have a very difficult time having global trade.

Senator Fischer:
 Yes, we will. And, in your written testimony, you mentioned that it's a false choice for farmers to have to choose between being profitable and being environmentally conscious. There are a lot of innovative precision ag technologies out there. But the technologies can be expensive for farmers. So, I have a couple bills on that, to be able to have loans through USDA that are going to make it easier for them. But they also have to have that last mile connectivity, which I say has to be expanded in a recognition that they have to have the last acre connectivity to be able to do that, too. So, are you aware of any specific broadband efforts that are focused on deploying connectivity to the last acre? And, how important is that so that we can see our producers be able to leverage all the innovative technologies that are out there?

Secretary Vilsack:
 Well, obviously, it's incredibly important. If you don't have access to broadband or if you don't have access to meaningful broadband, you can't utilize precision agriculture and all of the other innovations. What we're trying to do at USDA—with, comparatively, a relatively limited resource compared to what Commerce and what FCC gets—we're trying to improve the existing systems. We're looking at ways in which we can utilize our regular programming resources, which are pretty limited to the regular budget, to providing access to that last mile, that middle mile. You're going to see a little bit more of that. I think you're going to see quite a bit of it, I hope, with the utilization of the infrastructure money when the FCC and the Commerce resources begin to funnel through states to get that job done. I mean, states are going to have a very big and critical role here. They're going to be able to, at the end of the day, be the ones that will be implementing this. And I think it's going to be important to make sure that they understand the significance of this.

Senator Fischer: I have a cattle market bill for reform and transparency, which I think is pretty important. And it's extremely important for the state of Nebraska. Livestock is our biggest segment that has the largest impact on our economy. So, there's a lot of risk involved. We see farmers and ranchers trying to look at different tools they can use to mitigate that risk. And so, I think we should look to the Farm Bill, and how can we help livestock producers manage that? There is a large increase in the number of livestock producers who are getting insurance policies. Have there been any difficulties with those policies? Have you heard anything about that? And, do you have any suggestions on what livestock producers would have to do to access some kind of protection policies?

Secretary Vilsack:
 I have not been apprised of any problems. That isn't to say that—there may be problems. I just have not heard of them. And I'm happy to work with you, and our team work with your staff to see what we do know. And, if there are issues and problems, we'll try to help you craft a solution to them.

Senator Fischer:
 Thank you.

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