Thursday, February 05, 2009

Vilsack: USDA's clientele includes eaters, too

"When former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was nominated as secretary of agriculture, many food policy activists, noting his reputation as a friend to corporate agriculture and ethanol producers, rendered a verdict that was swift and harsh: agribusiness as usual," reports Jane Black of The Washington Post. "But Vilsack, newly installed in his regal but still-undecorated office on Independence Avenue, is out to redefine himself and his vision."

In an interview this week, Vilsack called for the Department of Agriculture to champion not only farmers but eaters as well. This approach is a significant departure from the traditional role of the USDA which traditionally focuses on programs that benefit commercial farming.

Food activists are encouraged by early Vilsack decisions, such as the reinstatement of $3.2 million in grant funding for fruit and vegetable growers, which was abandoned in the final days of the Bush administration, and his support for establishing school and urban gardens. David Murphy, director of Food Democracy Now, says, "The new secretary's reputation as a friend to agribusiness and ethanol producers may have been overstated."

Even with President Obama's full support, Vilsack is under pressure to protect agribuisness interests. Black writes, "At Vilsack's confirmation hearing Jan. 14, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., warned that he should not lose sight of the farmers who produce 'the food and fiber for America and a troubled and hungry world'." (Read more)

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