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Obama nominates next US secretary of agriculture

By Sarah Hills , 18-Dec-2008
Last updated on 18-Dec-2008 at 18:45 GMT2008-12-18T18:45:48Z

President-Elect Barack Obama has nominated the former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack to be the 30th Secretary of Agriculture.

In the role Vilsack, 58, would be responsible for issues including biofuels, food safety and farm subsidies.

Following the announcement, Vilsack said that the department must “aggressively promote policies and programs that support sustainable practices” to conserve and preserve precious natural resources.

Gary Edwards, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA), highlighted Vilsack’s leadership on issues including renewable fuels, biotechnology, and rural economic development as strengths for the new role.

He added: “Governor Vilsack established an outstanding record here in Iowa as a capable, pragmatic leader who understood the importance of agriculture.”

Biofuels

There is debate in the food industry about whether biofuels are a major factor in rising food prices as land previously used for food crops is diverted to biofuel crop production at a time when food security is at risk.

Kraft, along with other member companies of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), are working to raise awareness and petition lawmakers and regulators to adjust the biofuels policy so it is more in line with market forces.

Commenting on Obama’s choice in The New York Times, Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said that the big issue for any incoming secretary is going to be biofuels, which are linked to both the food system and the energy system.

He said: “You can’t be a politician from Iowa and not be identified with a pro-corn, pro-ethanol stance.”

USDA support

Obama’s choice was commended by US Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer who expressed confidence in Vilsack’s experience and ability to effectively continue US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) work in expanding America's agricultural economy.

Schafer said: "USDA plays an integral role in supporting our agricultural economy and working on behalf of America's farmers and ranchers.

" Tom Vilsack would lead a department that has made great strides in strengthening our agricultural economy, expanding conservation, leading biofuels development, securing our food supply, improving nutrition, and increasing markets for American agriculture worldwide.”

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