Posts Tagged: Tom Vilsack

Vilsack and the triumph of corn

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post interviewed secretary of agriculture and former Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack and asked why the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture so generously funds rural America through programs like ethanol and farm commodity subsidies. Vilsack responded that rural Americans are cool. “There is a value system to support,” he said. “These are good, hardworking people who feel underappreciated.” The comments highlight the Obama administration’s irrational preference for rural communities over urban ones, which of course has big implications for states like Iowa and other midwestern agriculture centers.

To Vilsack’s credit, he get into some specifics and even argues that corn and ethanol subsidies “need to be phased out.”  But the money is still flowing right now. (more…)

Forest Service says local is better for flora & fauna

Environmentalists are concerned that a new U.S. Forest Service proposal that moves decision-making about forest and wetlands maintenance to local officials of the service would mean a rollback of conservation standards, according to reporting by Darryl Fears in the Washington Post.  Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says the reforms would acknowledge the differences between forests in America’s diverse climates and landscapes, but some experts say it leaves too much discretion to local officials.

But in cases where a Washington agency wants to give up some control — and offer responsibility to its local representatives — isn’t it good for democracy, and not necessarily a threat to forests?  It might cause some problems, but it might also empower local activists and concerned citizens.  And the debate would not have to go through the Washington bottleneck.

A Fish Story

Kimberly Kindy of the Washington Post reported on a feud between the Agriculture Department and the State Department over Asian catfish.  Is it protectionism masquerading as food safety?  Kindy explained the parties to this feud and what’s at stake in a previous article.  Here are some of the spicier details:

“U.S. catfish producers used a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to persuade Congress in 2008 to tighten regulation of the single species of fish, a program expected to incur $5 million to $16 million in start-up costs with its launch next year. The battle has sparked threats of a trade war from Vietnam, which wants its fish excluded from the regulations. The Vietnamese ambassador to the United States, Le Cong Phung, has called Congress hypocritical for changing the rules on catfish to give an advantage to domestic producers.”

The dispute has everything – heavily funded lobbying, a senior Senator from a catfish –producing state seeking to protect the state’s economic interest, trade protectionism, and a potential international incident.  It’s up to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to sort things out, and according to the Post, he’s not talking, not yet anyway.  It’s messy, but this is how sausage, er, catfish, is made in Washington.

-by Marci Greenstein


Jane Zhang of the Wall Street Journal reports on the Obama administration’s plan to improve food safety:

A White House panel, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is shifting the focus of food regulation to preventing outbreaks from reacting to them after they occur. The federal government will establish a command system to respond to outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and develop industry guidelines that will help the government track contaminated products, the panel said.

What the panel specifically has in mind, for now, is empowering the Food and Drug Administration to reduce salmonella contamination in raw or uncooked eggs by 60 percent or 79,000 cases each year. Egg producers will now be required to test for salmonella.

It will be interesting to see how far Obama will push for a better-inspected food supply before the food industry starts, ahem, crying foul. Right now the reputation of the FDA is at such a low that the industry is actually calling out for stronger regulations in order to boost consumer confidence.-MB