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Vilsack Confirmed, and Trade

Vilsack Confirmed

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Senate confirmed former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as U.S. agriculture secretary on Tuesday, a job he plans to use to promote renewable energy including biofuels and put healthier food in America’s school meals.”

Mr. Abbott explained that, “As secretary, Vilsack, 57, will face two tasks immediately — working with Congress to renew USDA’s child nutrition programs, which cost more than $15 billion a year, and deciding whether to tighten USDA’s eligibility rules for farm subsidies.

“During his confirmation hearing last week, Vilsack said the child nutrition programs, which include school lunch and breakfast, could be a tool for ending childhood hunger by 2015, a goal set by Obama. He said he wanted to bring more fruits and vegetables into schools and more locally grown food.

“The related Women, Infants and Children feeding program, costing $6 billion a year, also needs reauthorization this year.”

The Reuters article added that, “Obama has backed a $250,000-a-year ‘hard’ cap on crop subsidies ‘so we help family farmers’ and closing loopholes that allow ‘megafarms to get around payment limits.’”

Dow Jones News writer Bill Tomson reported yesterday that, “Obama’s choice of Vilsack, which has been widely praised my prominent farm groups, such as the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Farmers Union, the National Pork Producers Council and many others, got especially high marks from organizations concerned about ethanol production.

“Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Vilsack, as governor of ‘one of the nation’s top agriculture-producing states … was an ardent supporter of furthering the use of renewable fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and wind, as well as an advocate for biotechnology.’”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Biofuels, Vilsack told lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture Committee, are key to the farm economy, but he stressed the importance of the government’s role in helping the industry evolve to produce ‘second generation’ ethanol from cellulose feedstocks.

“There are challenges, he said, to create infrastructure in the U.S. to better distribute, store and produce cellulose ethanol, made primarily from agricultural waste products like wood chips and corn cobs.

“‘I think USDA has a very important role to play in making sure that we provide the research, focus and direction to meet whatever the requirements are,’ Vilsack said.”

The Associated Press noted yesterday that, “Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, says Obama made an excellent choice in tapping Vilsack for the post.

“Harkin says Vilsack will bring change to the USDA and will help strengthen and rebuild the farm and rural economy.”

And Jeff Caldwell reported yesterday at AgricltureOnline that, “Vilsack now takes the reins of USDA at a crucial time; Obama has long said he’d support a $250,000 hard cap on farm subsidies, something for which Vilsack’s fellow Iowan Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has lobbied hard, but which has yet to become law. This is just one issue Grassley says he expects Vilsack to tackle soon now that he’s confirmed.”


Dow Jones News writer Ray Brindal reported yesterday that, “Australia’s National Farmers’ Federation Wednesday criticized the European Union for plans to introduce dairy export subsidies and said new U.S. President Barack Obama should reinvigorate world trade talks, which would provide a fillip to the global economy.

“NFF President David Crombie said liberalizing trade could give new impetus to world markets.

“The Doha Round of trade reform has repeatedly broken down due to a lack of political will among key players, including the E.U., the U.S. and big developing countries such as India, he said.”

Yesterday’s Dow Jones article indicated that, “‘Such inaction…opened the door for the E.U. to blunder its way into the global meltdown by reinstating export subsidies for its dairy producers,’ Crombie said in a statement.

“‘It’s a retrograde, knee-jerk move that makes a mockery of their G20 rhetoric late last year to fast-track trade liberalization, and only compounds the garbled economic signals besetting world markets as countries attempt to correct the economic downturn,’ he added.

President Obama has a unique opportunity to do what no other U.S. leader has done, which is lead the way on trade reform, and in doing so, drag delinquent nations back to the World Trade Organization to wrap up Doha and eliminate trade distorting barriers, said Crombie.”

Keith Good