After a 92-7 votes in the US Senate, it’s official: a dairy executive will serve as secretary of agriculture under President Biden. Tom Vilsack, who also held the post during Obama’s entire presidency, returns to the US Department of Agriculture after a four-year stay as President and CEO of the Dairy Export Council, an industry trading group.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Was the only non-Republican to vote against Vilsack. “I love Tom and have known him for years. I think we need someone a little more vigorous in terms of protecting family farms and supporting corporate farming, ”Sanders told reporters after the vote, the hill reports. “I think he will be fine, but not as strong as I would like.” He added in a statement:
I objected to his confirmation today because at a time when farm business consolidation is rampant and family farms are being decimated, we need a secretary ready to vigorously assume corporate power in the world. industry.
In the last Democratic presidential primary, Vilsack, then Biden’s campaign adviser,warned Democratic candidates not to criticize the big food companies that dominate American agriculture, arguing that such a position would not be a “winning message”. Biden took this advice to heart as the Iowa caucus approached – and got run over by then-presidential hopefuls Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sanders, who ran on platforms calling for breaking down agribusiness oligopolies. In the general election, with Vilsack as Biden’s top rural adviser, Trump won the state by eight percentage points.
As I noted in this recent article, a deference to agribusiness interests marked Vilsack’s previous run for the USDA. Under him, the agency gave the green light to troublesome herbicide-tolerant crops prepared by the seed / pesticide industry and pushed the meat industry’s agenda to roll back the federal slaughterhouse inspection, submitting ultimately workers to faster slaughter lines, at their peril. He also has failed to reverse USDA’s long history of discriminating against black farmers, despite pink rhetoric asserting otherwise.
Vilsack is committed to taking a new approach, especially when it comes to black farmers. “It’s a fundamentally different time,” he said. noted during his confirmation hearing on February 2 before the Senate Committee on Agriculture. “I am a different person. And that’s another department.
Meanwhile, agribusiness interests remain hopeful for more of the same. “His strong leadership background and previous experience with the USDA will serve rural America well,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, an insurance conglomerate and agribusiness lobbying group, in a statement. communicated. declaration welcoming his confirmation.