Next Agriculture Secretary Must Confront New Food and Farm Challenges

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For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, December 8, 2020

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Tom Vilsack to be secretary of agriculture, according to news reports. Here is a statement from Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs:

The job description for secretary of agriculture has changed since 2009. The next secretary of agriculture must make ending hunger, protecting food and farm workers, combating the climate crisis, supporting family farms, addressing discrimination against Black farmers, ending the obesity epidemic, and keeping our food safe his top priorities.

We need a secretary who will meet the needs of all Americans, not just the needs of the most successful farm businesses and the companies that produce farm chemicals. To do so, the next secretary should increase anti-hunger assistance, provide food and farm workers with personal protective equipment and other safeguards, provide new incentives for farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, end unlimited farm subsidies to millionaires, restore school nutrition standards, advance organic standards, and set tough new standards for pathogens in our meat and poultry.

These challenges – ending hunger, protecting our environment, confronting racism in agriculture, helping family farmers and workers, supporting healthy diets, and keeping our food safe – should be Secretary Vilsack’s priorities.

In his previous service, too often, Secretary Vilsack failed to meet these challenges.

During his tenure under President Obama, Secretary Vilsack refused to support efforts to link crop insurance subsidies to environmental standards, surrendered efforts to make the environmental impacts of food production part of the dietary advice our government gives consumers, played down the environmental impacts of ethanol production on the climate, and did too little to address the impacts of pesticide drift on nearby farmers. He refused to reform our farm subsidy and loan program programs to support family farmers in need or to level the playing field for Black farmers who had been the victims of long-standing discrimination by USDA.

Too often, Secretary Vilsack put the needs of industry and large commercial farms ahead of the needs of family farmers, workers, ordinary people and the environment. The burden will be on Secretary Vilsack and President-elect Biden to demonstrate how Secretary Vilsack would govern differently if given a second chance to serve.

For more on what a Biden administration should do, visit: https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2020/11/how-can-biden-administration-fix-america-s-broken-food-system

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.