Vilsack: USDA analyzes Ukraine situation, but without trade undersecretary
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today that USDA officials are analyzing the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global agriculture and food supplies, but he is frustrated or worse by the slowness in nominating an agriculture undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs and other officials.
In a speech delivered online to the National Farmers Union convention in Denver, Vilsack said that the situation in Ukraine is “not just a battle between two countries,” but a battle between governing in a democratic way despite the challenges or a more authoritarian approach.
Ukrainians “relished” the opportunity for democracy and “didn’t want to be told how to do it by a dictator in another country,” Vilsack said. He noted that the democratic world has rallied to create enormous stress on the Russian economy that has to finance “this illegal war,” with even usually neutral Switzerland joining in.
On the impact on agriculture, Vilsack repeated his earlier statements that it is still too early to tell, but added that if food production does not take place in Ukraine “then the world community has another set of issues to cope with.”
If food needs to be provided to developing countries, he said, the United States has programs to provide that food.
“Our team is taking a look at what might happen,” Vilsack said.
Later, in response to a question about the slowness in Biden administration appointments at USDA, Vilsack said, “Frustrated might not be the right word.” There have been two candidates for the position of agriculture undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, but the White House told one that he would have to sell his farm to take the job and told the other that he would have to liquidate most of his holdings, Vilsack said.
Vilsack said he understands the ethics awareness raised after the Trump administration, but that “we have to find a medium spot where we support the message of ethics but make sure we can find people to serve.”
Once nominated, undersecretaries have to go through the Senate Agriculture Committee and then get confirmed by the Senate, but any senator can put a hold on a nominee not over their qualifications but “in order to get concessions from the department,” he added.
Vilsack said the administration wants to work with the hold system, but “it is unfair to the individual who is nominated and is waiting for months. It is just not right.”
In his speech to the Democratic-leaning Farmers Union, Vilsack repeated many of the points he has made in recent months, but also noted that in the next seven to 10 days USDA will take a look at seed patents in an attempt to create “a balanced and fair marketplace.”
Vilsack also urged Farmers Union members to tell the senators and House members who represent them to pass the budget so USDA can hire the personnel it needs, particularly in the Office of the General Counsel.
He also said that the standard for climate-smart commodities should be equal to the standards created for USDA-certified organic products.
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