At this time of year, I tend to look back and recap the past 12 months to gain some perspective before looking forward.

To say that 2001 has been a doozy is a bit of an understatement. Even the most vivid imaginations would not have envisioned airplanes turned into weapons of mass destruction, or a simple letter turned into a bio-terrorism threat, or war.

There were strong inklings that the companies were on shaky ground. In the stock market, once again we learned what goes up, most assuredly can come down.

We endured the seesaw voting results of the Presidential election. We learned about chads, hanging and otherwise. We saw the Electoral College system reviewed, dissected and scrutinized, ad nauseam.

And, who would have thought that the British livestock industry would be brought to its knees by foot-and-mouth disease, the virus inadvertently hitchhiking its way into the country through contraband sausage products?

Consequently, we began paying more attention to the 200,000 people passing through U.S. Customs daily; a daunting security risk to the U.S. livestock industry was recognized anew. Weak spots in the U.S. Customs Service were identified and addressed. Countrywide biosecurity initiatives and disease containment measures were reinforced. The World Pork Expo was cancelled.

And we saw some of the pork industry's 2000 events spill over into 2001. Punches and counter-punches were thrown over checkoff referendum results.

In 2001, the USDA and a new administration saw things a little differently. A settlement agreement was negotiated which allowed the mandatory pork checkoff to continue, with the added provision that producers would be polled about their satisfaction with the self-help program at a later date.

Throughout the summer, considerable effort has gone into revamping the pork industry's infrastructure, providing a clearer division of National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council activities.

The Power of Terrorism

On September 11, we saw what real disaster looks like. Our borders were locked down, the skies emptied, but the dust and devastation of the suicide hijackings spread and settled over us all. The physical or mental toll of those horrendous acts remains incompletely told.

A name — Osama bin Laden — was burned into our minds, a name most of us probably hadn't paid much attention to at the beginning of 2001.

Once again we paid closer attention to the words as we pledged our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. Words, many of us probably hadn't uttered since grade school, came flowing back. And, too, we listened more closely to the glorious words of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”

We saw and heard of anthrax-laden letters sent to congressmen and TV news commentators, touching and taking the lives of unassuming victims. The terrorists, whether foreign or domestic, remain elusive.

But, we learned that the irradiation technology that is struggling for acceptance in the meat industry can also be used to eliminate anthrax spores in our mail. Perhaps, one application will clear the path for the other.

Food security and national security have become intertwined. Unwittingly, perhaps, the American public may gain a greater appreciation for their food and fiber — including the congressmen debating a new Farm Bill.

And, food assistance is sure to figure into our diplomatic relations with our anti-terrorist allies in coming months. Hopefully, the American farmer, with his ability to feed a hungry world, will gain some political clout in the process.

Recently, we saw China gain admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Taiwan's WTO approval soon followed. Although it will take some time, new markets will open.

The Ties that Bind

Yes, it's been quite a year. But, as we look around and we see the flags, and sing the songs, and pray the prayers, we must recognize that, as a nation, we have not been so strong or so unified for so very long.

I am of the post-World War II generation. A generation that struggled with the assassination of a president and a beloved religious leader, the Vietnam War, Watergate and plenty of political embarrassments. Many of you have lived through as much, and more.

The events and images of 2001 will remain forever etched in our memories. Collectively, these events have fostered incredible solidarity, focus and perspective for us to begin a new year.

By all means, God has blessed America. It is my hope that He will watch over you and your family during this blessed season and throughout the New Year.