Tag: tom vilsack

The USDA: Your One-Stop Shop

Politico yesterday reported that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is upset. According to him, the USDA just don’t get no respect:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wants to spread the message to anyone who’ll listen: The U.S. Department of Agriculture isn’t just about farming anymore.

“This department is not appreciated,” the former Iowa governor told POLITICO in a recent interview. “We are engaged in virtually every issue and always can provide some support and some meaningful solution to a problem that is vexing folks.”

To prove the point, he challenges anyone to name an issue that doesn’t touch the department’s portfolio, from bolstering national security by helping wean Afghan farmers from growing opium — a cash crop that funds Islamic insurgents fighting U.S. troops — to providing USDA-backed home loans as a way to repopulate the sparse countryside. [emphasis added, with disgust]

Not bad for an agency that shouldn’t even exist.

Michele Bachmann Asks the Obama Administration for Pork — Literally

Five years ago this week I noted that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a tip of the hat to Frederic Bastiat, had literally endorsed a candlemakers’ petition to the federal government to protect them against overseas competition.

I was reminded of that today when I read that Rep. Michele Bachmann literally thanked the federal government for its purchase of pork from Minnesota farmers:

On Oct. 5, 2009, Bachmann wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack praising him for injecting money into the pork industry through the form of direct government purchases. She went on to request additional assistance.

“Your efforts to stabilize prices through direct government purchasing of pork and dairy products are very much welcomed by the producers in Minnesota, and I would encourage you to take any additional steps necessary to prevent further deterioration of these critical industries, such as making additional commodity purchases and working to expand trade outlets for these and other agricultural goods,” Bachmann wrote.

The letter was in October, so I guess by then she had forgotten her beach reading of Mises.

Ezra Klein vs. the Secretary of Agriculture

It seems that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took exception to Ezra Klein’s recent blog post on “Why we still need cities”. Someone at the USDA emailed Ezra, outlining the Secretary’s concerns and to set up a time for the two of them to talk. Ezra took notes during their discussion and, yesterday, posted a “lightly edited” transcript of their conversation.

The Secretary had plenty of the standard talking points on hand – and some new ones, like the fact that we should support farm subsidies because rural America has good values and farmers don’t feel appreciated – but Ezra expertly took him to task, deftly pushing back on the non-sequiturs, questionable assumptions and enduring myths about the need for farm subsidies.  He even gets in a worthy swipe at sugar tariffs and the “need” to produce all our food in America. Read the entire thing; it is worth your time.

(HT: Justin Logan)

Food Stamps = Economic Driver?

It’s become standard fare for senior government leaders to declare that any and all subsidies are good for economic growth. Two weeks ago it was the Economic Development Administration’s John Fernandez. This week it’s USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

From GovExec.com:

In his speech, Vilsack called the increase in supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits “an economic driver” that helps truckers, grocery stores and farmers. Those benefits, which used to be known as food stamps, have gotten the most funding of any USDA program.

Vilsack also cited increased funding to bring high-speed Internet service to rural America; accelerated implementation of the energy title of the farm bill; and USDA investments in small, local processing and slaughtering plants for “creating a framework for a 21st century America.

Food stamps are an economic driver? Extending Vilsack’s logic, if the government put all citizens on food stamps it would create the economic equivalent of heaven on earth. There’s just one tiny problem: what the government gives with one hand it takes with the other.

Whether it is food stamps, high-speed internet, or slaughter houses, the government has to tax or borrow the resources to pay for these programs out of the private sector economy. One can debate the merits of these programs, but one cannot deny that they come at a cost. And with history and practical experience as a guide, it is clear that the private sector is more effective than the government when it comes to feeding the poor, fostering technology, and processing animals.

See here for information and essays on how to downsize the USDA.

I Swear I’m Not Making This Up

From today’s Washington Post:

In another sign that the Department of Agriculture is embracing sustainable food, the agency today will unveil expanded plans for a People’s Garden that will include the entire six-acre grounds of the Whitten Building, the department’s neoclassic marble headquarters on the Mall.

The plans, to be announced at the agency’s Earth Day celebrations, include a 1,300-square-foot organic vegetable garden – slightly larger than the one at the White House – as well as ornamental flower gardens and bioswales, or mini-wetlands designed to reduce pollution and surface water runoff.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find out exactly what a “bioswale” is, and why I should pay for one in our new “People’s Garden.”

Not-so-COOL Rules Stoke Xenophobia

Come Monday you can thank the federal government for making food more expensive by requiring retailers to provide useless information.

On March 16, federal regulations will finally kick in that require perishable food at the grocery store to sport “country of origin labeling,” known as COOL. The rules were originally passed by Congress as part of the 2002 farm bill, but are only being implemented now because of understandable resistance from retailers.

The COOL regulations will require that all perishable food products be labeled at retail to indicate the country of origin. The regulations cover beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng.

In a recent statement announcing final implementation, Obama administration agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said, “I strongly support Country of Origin Labeling — it’s a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food.”

This is nothing but a form of regulatory harassment designed to play to anti-foreign prejudices. COOL provides zero health or safety information; foreign meat and produce must conform to exactly the same health and safety standards that apply to domestic-made goods.

In the past, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had estimated that COOL regulations will cost $89 million to implement in the first year and $62 million annually. (My Cato colleague Dan Ikenson wrote the definitive critique of COOL not long after Congress first mandated the rules.)

The fact that a piece of meat or a fresh vegetable comes from a foreign country tells us nothing about its quality or safety. In the past three years, Americans have been sickened and even killed by baby spinach from California and ground beef from Nebraska tainted by E. coli bacteria, chicken from Pennsylvania tainted with listeria, and peanut butter and peanut products from Georgia tainted with salmonella. Would Americans have been any safer if those products had been labeled, “From California” or “From Georgia” or “From Nebraska”?

Country-of-origin labeling was not meant to serve the public but instead to provide yet another unfair advantage to domestic producers at the expense of the public.