There is a need for greater diversification of the American food supply and US diets need to change, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in his keynote speech at the launch of the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) in the United States.
The BCFN is a multidisciplinary organization that aims to analyze major global issues around food and nutrition. It was founded in Italy in 2009, and its entry into the US is intended to mark the beginning of an international identity for the organization.
Speaking at its US launch in Washington, D.C. this morning, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack mentioned a range of challenges facing the agency and food production in general as the world’s population increases, the central theme of the BCFN event.
In response to the question of “whether we are going to feed people or whether we are going to feed animals”, Vilsack said that he appreciated the value of the livestock industry, but there was a need for growing diversification of the American food supply, and mentioned using warehouses in urban areas for food production as one example of innovation going on in this area.
“There is a move toward aquaculture and hydroponics for fruit and vegetables, and alternative protein sources, in urban areas,” he said.
Moderator Matthew Cooper, editor of National Journal Daily, asked Vilsack whether it would be wise to have a federal policy that basically discourages eating animals, to which Vilsack replied that the MyPlate icon recommends Americans fill half their plate with vegetables and the other half with whole grains and protein.
“There’s a message there,” he said.
He added that there was also a need for greater diversification in agriculture.
“It’s not simply about feeding folks; it’s also about being able to sustain yourself on the farm,” he said. “…I think the livestock industry is an important thing to have, but I think it needs to be complemented…In the old days farmers would grow five, six different crops and it would be part of their risk management procedures. Nowadays, farmers have maybe two or three crops.”
“This time round, money will move the policy”
In addition, Vilsack said that there were particular challenges with the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill, particularly in ensuring agricultural research funding is ring-fenced to ensure food production can keep pace with a growing population.
“I hope that people in the United States understand that it’s not a Farm Bill,” Vilsack said. “It’s a food bill; it’s a jobs bill, it’s a research bill; it’s an agriculture bill.”
He said that at a time when legislators are eyeing budgetary cuts, $23bn may be cut from mandatory programs in the Farm Bill over the next ten years.
“This time round, money will move the policy…I sincerely hope we don’t look at research as a place for reductions.”
Vilsack said that although there were difficult decisions to be made about resources, there was a direct correlation between research funding and farming productivity. If research funding were to be cut, he said: “I think we will see a drop in agricultural production at a time when we need to increase that production.”
“I don’t think there’s any question that our ability to feed a growing population is tied to science,” he said.
The BCFN launch event was centered on the challenge of satisfying the world’s food needs, as the global population is expected to reach seven billion by the end of the year, growing to nine billion by 2050.