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John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Where Secretary Vilsack Stands

Feb 18, 2009

I called Secretary Vilsack last week and wished him well. Secretaries of Agriculture are never lacking for challenges. I inherited a grain embargo that was killing our farm economy. He has a peanut butter problem that is killing people.
We now have an indication of what is on the Secretary’s mind for USDA. He addressed a joint meeting of U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers this week and spoke to some high priority farm issues.
He made clear that the future for direct farm payments is limited. He just doesn’t know when they will go away. I agree completely.
On the subject of farm payments, he definitely wants to cram down the lid on payment limitations. This is not a big surprise. Iowa’s Senators both have the same position.
Perhaps even more important, he has made his support for biofuels very clear. He is proud that “Iowa has embraced biofuels.” He sees Iowa as an example of how agriculture can diversify with biofuels, windmills, and organic agriculture. In another interview with Bloomberg News, he revealed that USDA is talking with EPA to raise the amount of corn-ethanol that can be blended into gasoline. This is a big deal.
Recalling President Obama’s statements on trade during the campaign, there are a lot of questions about Secretary Vilsack’s position. At this point, it is a little unclear, but I am convinced he understands how important exports are to agriculture.
We have been wondering where the Obama Administration would stand on some of these issues. Maybe we are getting some indication. We have to assume that Secretary Vilsack’s positions are consistent with the President’s. I like what I hear so far.
On the food safety issue, Secretary Vilsack raised the possibility that he would support a single food agency to ensure food safety for the country. Today, the Agriculture Department inspects meat and FDA takes care of the rest. I wouldn’t object to a single food agency if it was all under USDA. With the peanut butter salmonella problem in the spotlight, we are going to hear more about this in the days ahead.
Although it has only been a week, the early sounds from USDA are encouraging.

Listen to the broadcast.
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