U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sharply criticized the Republican House of Representatives leadership Friday over their failure to pass the 2012 Farm Bill.
Speaking at the American Agriculture Law Association Conference in Nashville, Vilsack pointed out the Senate passed a version of the Farm Bill that contained spending cuts and new reforms. When the House Agriculture Committee sent a Farm Bill that cut spending even further, it was promptly stopped by the House leadership.
“Why? Because the House leadership said we didn't have time. They had eight days scheduled for work in September. They left early. Last I checked, September had 30 days. If you have work to do, you don't leave early. You work late,” Vilsack said.
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“[GOP leadership in the House] said we didn't have the votes. They didn't count them. If they counted them, they would have had them. They say they'll get it done after the election. They had two years, and in two weeks, they're going to get it done when they're also talking about sequestration? Really? Now is not the time to turn your back on rural America,” he said.
Vilsack also fielded a question on one of California's most watched ballot measures—Proposition 37—which would require the labeling of food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.
“Obviously we're watching it,” he said. “I haven't talked to the President on a position on it. But we're watching anything that impacts interstate commerce to have free flow.”
He said that current labeling laws address nutrition and safety, but said that he wasn't convinced that there is proof of hazards of health in regards to genetically modified ingredients.
“We'll see what happens in California. If it passes, it will prompt a lawsuit the next day and it will be years before it goes into effect,” he said, adding, “maybe it's time to think about it from a national perspective.”
The Secretary also shared several stories that illustrate the changing agriculture landscape. He pointed out 145-year old Bassett Ice Cream Company in Philadelphia that partnered with a city in China to export more product. First year sales were $50,000, he said. A year later they were at $800,000.
“It's made in the U.S. With the food safety standards that we have. The U.S. is the envy of the world in quality, safety and price,” he said.
In another anecdote, the Secretary talked about a project at Ohio State that has been looking at the manure problem associated with hog confinement operations.
“I go into this meeting and see this chunk of black stuff. It's asphalt. The binding material is hog manure. They're experimenting with it on roads in Ohio, and then someone at that meeting makes a tires squeal joke,” he says. “But think about that. There are challenges in confinement operations and what to do about it. Applying it to land is one strategy, but we all know there's more of it than the land needs. How about paving roads?”
Clare Leschin-Hoar covers seafood, sustainability and food politics. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, Grist, Eating Well and many more. @c_leschin | TakePart.com