February 2, 2021
Contact: Daniela Solis, Communications and Development Fellow
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
USDA Secretary of Agriculture Nominee Tom Vilsack Clears First Step Toward Senate Confirmation
NSAC Issues Comments on Secretary Vilsack’s Imminent Confirmation
Washington, DC, February 2nd, 2021—Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee favorably reported out the nomination of Tom Vilsack to serve again as the Secretary of Agriculture for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Secretary addressed questions from Democratic and Republican Committee members and the vote to refer his nomination to the full Senate passed unanimously.
“Secretary Vilsack has taken visible steps in recent weeks to address the concerns of progressive agriculture and environmental groups that were initially disappointed by his nomination,” said Eric Deeble, Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “He has spoken repeatedly about the need to address fundamental failures in our food and farm policy and to restructure USDA into an Agency that supports a more local, resilient, and equitable farm and food system that will work for everyone, in every community, and he did so again at his confirmation hearing today.”
Among the lines of inquiry put forward by Senators were questions about how Vilsack would address systemic racism in USDA programming, climate change, and longstanding issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including food insecurity and food supply chain resilience.
The Secretary included his personal commitment to racial equity at the top of his opening remarks, pledged to hire a diverse team at USDA to provide service to every farming community, and to work with BIPOC farmer groups to deliver technical assistance and support. On climate change, the Secretary mentioned the need to ensure that any program created to support carbon capture also incentivizes a broader range of environmental services that farmers can provide, and that any new program should benefit farmers rather than market operators or financial institutions. Many Members questioned the Secretary on how USDA could best respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and he emphasized the ills caused by a highly concentrated food supply chain, pledging to work to enforce antitrust regulations in coordination with the Department of Justice, and to provide assistance to strengthen local and regional processing infrastructure. He also committed to lowering barriers to accessing food assistance and ensuring that USDA procures more locally produced foods to support emergency feeding efforts.
In late 2020, NSAC delivered comprehensive USDA transition recommendations that, if adopted, would assist Secretary Vilsack in taking such actions swiftly.
“During today’s hearing, Vilsack said many things that a farmer would want to hear. He spoke directly to the need to center farmers in USDA climate change programs and to make certain that farmers—not financial institutions or market operators—are paid fairly for the full range of conservation practices they employ. He committed to increasing investments in local food infrastructure and increasing local procurement for federal programs. And he pledged to transform USDA into an Agency that supports all farmers and rural communities with equitable engagement, program design, and implementation. We look forward to holding him accountable to these pledges made before the Committee today and to working together to make our food and farm system more equitable and sustainable for all,” said Deeble
NSAC and its 130+ member organizations look forward to continuing to work with the Secretary and his new leadership team to share our recommendations and ensure that he fulfills the pledges of today as well as the commitment he has made to build a more just and resilient food and farm system.
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net/