Modernizing food-safety system a priority: Vilsack

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — During a teleconference with reporters on Jan. 26, newly-appointed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack identified his priorities, which include modernizing the food safety-system, enhancing health and nutrition, as well as advancing research and development and pursuing opportunities to support the development of biofuels, wind power and other renewable energy sources to improve energy dependence.

Other priorities he named include:

• Quickly implementing the 2008 Farm Bill and investing in programs that alleviate hunger and suffering overseas and support long-term agriculture development.

• Combating childhood obesity. He indicated that the agency should play a key role in the public health debate and that nutrition programs should be seen as an opportunity to both alleviate hunger and prevent health-care problems.

• Making progress on major environmental challenges, including climate change. Mr. Vilsack said it's important that ranchers and farmers play a role with USDA in efforts to promote incentives for management practices that provide clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat -- and help farmers participate in markets that reward them for sequestering carbon and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

• Supporting the profitability of ranchers and farmers by providing a safety net that works for all of agriculture, including independent producers and local and organic agriculture, and enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Mr. Vilsack said he also intends to move quickly on modernizing USDA's computer systems and closing the chapter of the Department's struggle with civil rights.

"We need to do a better job of responding to challenges, apologizing for mistakes when we make them, empowering our employees to make decisions and drive change and emphasizing a transparent and inclusive style of governing," he concluded.

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