Secretary Vilsack Speaks

February 11, 2010

February 11, 2010

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the Renewable Fuels Association, Wal-Mart Stores, Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

Last week, I moderated a panel of speakers for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. On that panel was Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, and FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Michael Taylor. After the panel members poke, they were open for questions. I asked questions, and so did some of the 50 State Directors of Agriculture in attendance.

Here is my evaluation. Secretary Vilsack was very comfortable speaking to us. He was relaxed and reassuring. The first issue was food safety and traceability. If we have a food safety problem, how do we trace it back to the source? His solution is to partnership with the states. “The process will be state led and state owned.” Unfortunately, I don’t think this will get the job done. Other developed countries have a mandatory system. Our exports will suffer unless we do the same.

I asked Secretary Vilsack about trade inasmuch as we have three trade agreements sitting on the shelf. The President needs to ask the Congress to ratify them. I thought his response was a little bit vague. He said, “we support trade agreements and hope Congress can move ahead.” President Obama, in his State of the Union address, said we would double our exports in 5 years. Well, it’s time to get started.

Secretary Vilsack reassured us that in writing the 2012 farm bill the Department of Agriculture would work closely with Ag Committee Chairmen Peterson and Lincoln. Also, the Secretary wanted us to know for certain that the U.S. would meet the biofuels targets.

If there was one overriding theme to his remarks, it would have to be that he “wants to wake up the country about the importance of rural America.” It’s hard to argue with that.

I asked Bob Perciasepe about the EPA power grab to regulate greenhouse gases. He reminded us that the greenhouse gas issue provides an opportunity for clean biofuels. He did acknowledge that the Supreme Court might have to decide in the end if EPA really has the authority to regulate the GHG.

I felt the presentations offered hope as we look ahead just as President Obama’s State of the Union address did. President Obama promised free trade, tax relief, domestic energy, oil, gas, and nuclear.

Well, we all know that words are cheap and the “proof will be in the pudding.”

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.