Cathy Kunkel - Democratic Nominee for US House of Representatives in WV's 2nd Congressional District

May 09, 06:04AM EST

West Virginians pride ourselves on our resiliency. In many ways, there is no better place to be during a crisis than West Virginia – where we take care of our neighbors and look out for each other.

But, as a country, we find ourselves in an economy that is not very resilient. As we have learned during this COVID-19 pandemic, we are often dependent on long supply chains that are subject to disruption.

Currently 72% of active pharmaceutical ingredients supplied to the U.S. are produced overseas. Basic drugs like penicillin are no longer produced in the U.S. at all.

Similarly, with the pandemic, we’ve seen how our concentrated and vulnerable food supply chains are when just one pork processing plant, for example, supplies 5% of national pork production. Here in West Virginia, we import the vast majority of our food, despite our history of local agriculture – today more than 80% of fruits and vegetables consumed here are grown outside of the state.

Fortunately, there are many ways that Congress can take action to start turning this situation around, and bringing production of essential items back to our country and to West Virginia. During a future crisis, be it a pandemic, war or other situation, we should be able to produce for ourselves basic necessities that are a matter of life and death.

I will support legislation (H.R. 4710) to use the purchasing power of the U.S. government to require government agencies, like the VA and the Department of Defense, to purchase American-made drugs. I will also support anti-trust enforcement and anti-monopoly laws to

break up the power of group purchasing organizations that have forced consolidation of drug supply chains and driven drug manufacturing offshore in search of cheaper costs.

I will support efforts to make supply chains more transparent so that companies and government regulators can identify areas of vulnerability before a crisis and diversify supplies.

And finally, I will work to strengthen local agricultural production in West Virginia. We need to support agricultural vocational programs and expand access to credit for beginning farmers. We need to create local markets for our local food; schools and state institutions (which currently buy $100 million of out-of-state food each year) could play a huge role if they were incentivized to buy more local food. We also need to help small farmers access larger markets and consumers by supporting the development of food hubs and aggregators. All of this could be done by redirecting just some of the huge federal subsidies that support large corporate agribusiness towards supporting the efforts of small-scale, family growers.

Our national security is not just measured by the strength of our military but by our ability to take care of our people in a crisis. When critical items are manufactured elsewhere it means that in another global crisis, or regional war, we may not be able to get what we need. As a matter of national security, we need to become more self-reliant in production of food, pharmaceuticals and other basic necessities.

Cathy Kunkel is the Democratic nominee for US House of Representatives in West Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, and is based in Charleston.