Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is also a National Farmers Union member, addressed the organization’s 114th Anniversary Convention this morning, where he celebrated U.S. agriculture’s uniqueness, called on Congress to act on food labeling, and advocated for increased trade with Cuba.
“It is important to focus, not just solely on large-scale production agriculture, but it is important to continue to focus on diversifying opportunities for all sizes of operations,” he said, receiving thunderous applause from NFU’s diverse membership.
Prices for major commodities have fallen in recent years, but Vilsack believes investments made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will equip rural America to weather the difficult times. Among the items he listed: renewable fuels initiatives, new and beginning farmer education programs, crop insurance, rural development grants and conservation.
Vilsack also called on lawmakers to act on labeling issues currently facing the country.
He explained that it would be “chaotic” to have state-by-state rules surrounding the labeling of food derived from genetically modified crops. This could lead to consumer confusion, higher food prices, and even access issues, Vilsack said, noting, “Congress needs to address this, and they need to address it now.”
The secretary added that it is possible to have a mandatory process that uses a “smart label” to balance a consumer’s right to know without punishing farmers or conveying the wrong impression about food safety.
“If Congress is unwilling to make these tough decisions…then delegate the responsibility to the Department of Agriculture,” Vilsack said. “We’ll be happy to make the tough decision.”
Vilsack told the group that Congress needs to act on another tough issue, too, by removing the Cuba trade embargo. The United States “should absolutely own that market,” he said of Cuba.
The secretary’s remarks were well received by the crowd and echoed many of the organization’s top priorities outlined the previous evening by NFU President Roger Johnson. Of Vilsack, Johnson explained, “He is the best Secretary of Agriculture we’ve had in my lifetime.”