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Looming National Security Risk Threatens American Agriculture

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Sen. Pat Roberts

Across America we have a rich history of family farming and hard work. We understand the vital role farmers and ranchers play by providing food, not only for local communities, but also for the world beyond, thanks to important trade agreements that have opened new markets.

These agreements allow farmers to reap the benefits of their labor on a worldwide scale and have contributed to America’s rise as the world’s only superpower. In fact, American farmers’ agricultural exports alone reached $196 billion in 2022, up more than threefold from $62.8 billion in 1997.

At the same time, while America has reaped the benefits, our foreign competitors and adversaries have been looking at ways to improve their own fortunes. It has been widely reported foreign-owned entities based in China have been seeking to procure U.S. farmland. 

While this development is quite concerning, our laws require those land purchases be disclosed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) so officials charged with protecting national security are aware of actions which could jeopardize food security.

These critical transparency requirements, however, are not universally applied at the federal level. 

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced growing concern over foreign entities funding litigation in U.S. courts. 

Yet, despite this ominous warning, there are no requirements for parties to disclose foreign ownership or outside sources of investment in their litigation when they appear in court. 

This means foreign adversaries are able to spend whatever it takes to deplete the resources of productive U.S. businesses over the years it takes to resolve the lawsuit.

The risks are clear – those seeking to harm our country could exert enormous economic pressure or destabilize domestic industries by funding litigation against productive American companies. 

The damage would be especially harsh on small-scale farmers and local agribusinesses which may lack the resources to pay for a costly legal defense. The playing field would be tilted even further against small American farmers who are just trying to get by.

Stopping this weaponization of litigation should be a top priority of every U.S. official. The potential impact spans every sector of the U.S. economy, from advanced manufacturers to agriculture.

The agriculture industry has always been an early adopter of innovative technologies. This makes it a prime target for foreign-backed litigation campaigns which could disrupt supply chains in rural communities. 

Many remember supply chain disruptions caused during the early days of the pandemic, but it could be far worse when strategic competitors use litigation to cripple businesses vital to America’s food production.

Taking out a single member of the food supply chain – whether farm operators, equipment manufacturers, animal health and science companies, food processors or transportation providers – would prove disastrous for millions of Americans. 

Already, the agriculture industry is under attack. Both John Deere and Minnesota-based Cargill have been targeted by entities weaponizing litigation for financial gain. 

Undermining critical players like these in our food supply is a threat to our national and economic security and action needs to be taken to stop these attacks.

Transparency has already proven to be an effective deterrent to weaponized litigation in the District Court of Delaware, where Chief Judge Colm Connolly has required parties to disclose outside sources of funding, and a Chinese entity was recently found to be funding four different infringement lawsuits. 

This same disclosure standard should be applied to all federal courts to ensure the judicial system remains free of foreign interference.

As a wise American jurist once observed, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

We need more sunlight in our federal courts today. Greater transparency and disclosure requirements will help deter America’s adversaries from manipulating our courts to their own benefit.

Securing America’s food supply is critical to our future, and we must protect communities across rural America from foreign attacks masking their actions through our own courts and institutions.

Pat Roberts served as a Republican U.S. senator from Kansas from 1997 to 2021. While in the Senate, he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. This opinion column was originally published in AgriPulse on Jan. 5.

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