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2013 Power 50: Tom Vilsack, No. 5 in Associations/Government/Public Sphere

Tom Vilsack
Tom Vilsack

Between U.S. Department of Agriculture’s work on legislation and food safety reform, it’s been a challenging year for Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack has been actively advocating for the passage of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, also known as the Farm Bill. The existing legislation is an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which is set to expire Sept. 30.

After the Senate approved a version of a new bill early last month, the House of Representatives also passed a version of the bill last Thursday that separated out Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — known as food stamps.

In June, when the House failed to pass an earlier version of the bill that had substantial cuts to SNAP, Vilsack said it was a “tremendous disappointment  for all Americans.” While Vilsack’s office did not have a comment immediately after the House vote, a White House statement made clear that the president would veto the bill due to the removal of SNAP as well as the absence of crop insurance reform and investment in renewable energy.

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The USDA has also been working to pass an immigration reform bill — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. The Senate approved a version of the bill in June.

“For millions of farm workers who today live in the shadows, it will provide an appropriate opportunity to earn legal status by contributing to America’s agricultural economy,” Vilsack said in a statement.

On the regulation side, the USDA has made headway on several labeling initiatives.

One proposed rule from the Food Safety and Inspection Service division would require labels and new cooking instructions for mechanically tenderized beef. FSIS said research indicates that machines can transfer pathogens to the inside of cuts while tenderizing.


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FSIS has also approved the use of a third-party verification meat certification label that certifies animals were raised without feed that contains GMO ingredients.

The USDA finalized a country-of-origin labeling rule that makes it mandatory for beef producers to disclose where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered on muscle cut labels.

Last week, eight industry groups  sued the USDA over the rule, arguing that it violates the constitution “by  compelling speech in the form of costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest.”

This year the USDA continued to promote food safety through new resources and initiatives. In partnership with the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA released a study with steps to reduce listeria contamination in retail delis.

Additionally, this winter the agency released new procedures that will require ground chicken and turkey processors to evaluate their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans “to account for several salmonella outbreaks that were associated with those types of products.” FSIS plans to expand its salmonella sampling program to include more types of raw poultry, increase sample sizes and create new standards.

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