Vilsack: Biden administration won’t grab land or limit beef intake

Tom Vilsack

In a wide-ranging interview with the North American Agricultural Journalists today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discounted reports that in its attempt to fight climate change, the Biden administration wants to take away land and discourage people from eating beef.

Asked if the White House plans to use eminent domain to fight climate change, Vilsack firmly said that even though President Biden has said he wants to protect 30% of land by 2030 that does not mean the federal government will take possession of the land.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall last week wrote Biden to ask him “to move swiftly to provide clarity about your intentions for the initiative, and when you do so, it will be important for you to invite public comment because farmers and ranchers are leaders in conservation and deserve to have their voices heard.”

Vilsack said at an Earth Day news conference that the Biden administration was not planning a land grab, and today he said he had to “hand it to farm and commodity groups” who had raised the issue.

The discussion about a land grab “is really off base,” Vilsack told the journalists. “There is no intent to take land away from farmers. The goal is to give farmers opportunities.”

Vilsack said the United States has a long history of conservation and in fact can be a leader of other countries in fighting climate change.

He noted that during Biden’s climate summit last week, the United States and other countries announced plans to launch the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) to increase and accelerate global innovation research and development on agriculture and food systems in support of climate action.

USDA said AIM will be advanced at the UN Food Systems Summit in September and launched at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November.

Also asked about rumors that Biden plans to limit how much beef Americans eat, Vilsack said there is no effort to limit intake of beef coming out of the White House or USDA.

“In the political world, games get played and issues are brought into play,” he noted.

That rumor seems to have started with the release of a University of Michigan study that said cutting the intake of all animal-based food by half and replacing it with equivalent quantities of plant-based food would decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 35%.

Vilsack acknowledged that members of Congress have proposed bills to discourage meat consumption, and that there are “activities” in individual states to discourage meat consumption and medical professionals who urge “proper balance” in food consumption.

But there is “no policy paper” in the Biden administration that would suggest that people eat less meat, Vilsack said.

Vilsack also answered questions on a wide variety of other subjects.

He said that USDA is trying to hard to fill the positions at the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture that the Trump administration relocated to Kansas City, and said he expects some of those positions will be filled in Kansas City while others may return to Washington.

Vilsack stressed the importance of the positions, and said that at present some USDA employees are doing three jobs because slots are vacant. He also noted that diversity will be important in hiring those employees.

“The reality is, if you are working three jobs you are going to get burned out and look for a position outside government,” Vilsack said, adding that the jobs outside government pay better and have less stress.

The Trump administration discouraged telework, although it had to accept it when offices were closed due to COVID-19. The Biden administration has reverted to the telework policy in effect during the Obama administration, and USDA is conducting a survey now about working conditions, Vilsack said.

Robert Bonnie, the senior climate adviser who has been nominated to become the agriculture undersecretary for food production and conservation, is going to figure out how to use the FPAC mission area to improve income farmers as well as fight climate change, Vilsack said.

The goal will be to “keep as many farmers as possible on the land” and make sure the quality of soil and water are maintained.

Asked about the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard, Vilsack said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan recently told a virtual meeting of cabinet officials that biofuels play an important role in protecting the climate and that he wanted to make sure everyone on the call knew that biofuels need to be at the table in climate discussions.

Regan “didn’t have to say that in the context of the meeting. I was impressed,” Vilsack said.


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