Category Archives: USDA

New federal budget changes Ag priorities

The Des Moines Register in the article “Obama proposes cutting farm subsidies, boosting school lunch” notes that the White House is trying to cut subsidies to the largest grain and cotton farmers while proposing to slash payments to the crop insurance industry.

Merrigan speaks at EcoFarm Conference

In the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition newsletter, they note that USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan addressed the crowd at the Ecological Farming Association’s 30th Anniversary EcoFarm Conference. Merrigan was talking to a crowd of seasoned organic pioneers in California as well as the current and next generations of organic and sustainable farmers.

In her address, Merrigan highlighted USDA activities that aim to create a future for farmers in America, including programs to re-establish local and regional food systems.  She described a recent visit to a mobile slaughterhouse and the challenges in re-establishing the infrastructure to meet the market demands for local and regional food systems, and the opportunities in those food systems for new farmers to make a living off of the land.

Hagen Named USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen has been nominated as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Food Safety. Hagen will serve with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“There is no more fundamental function of government than protecting consumers from harm, which is why food safety is one of USDA’s top priorities,” said Vilsack. “We can and must do a better job of ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products regulated by USDA, and Dr. Hagen brings the background, skills, and vision to lead USDA’s efforts to make sure that Americans have access to a safe and healthy food supply.”

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen is currently the USDA’s Chief Medical Officer, serving as an advisor to USDA mission areas on a wide range of human health issues. Prior to her current post, she was a senior executive at FSIS, where she played a key role in developing and executing the agency’s scientific and public health agendas. She has been instrumental in building relationships and fostering coordination with food safety and public health partners at the federal, state, and local level.

Before joining the federal government in 2006, Hagen taught and practiced medicine in both the private and academic sectors, most recently in Washington, DC. She holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and a B.S. from Saint Joseph’s University. Dr. Hagen completed her specialty medical training at the University of Texas Southwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, and is board certified in infectious disease. She is married and lives with her husband and two young children in Northern Virginia.

USDA Secretary reports on 2009 accomplishments

President Obama’s Cabinet are sharing the accomplishments from 2009, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack offers a report on plans to make life better for Americans in the year ahead. Just click on this link. You’ll see a photo of the President with his cabinet. Vilsack is the tall guy on the left. You can mouseover to get the name of a cabinet member. Then just click on Vilsack to hear his 40 second report.

FDA Unveils First Phase of Transparency Initiative

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has unveiled the first phase of its Transparency Initiative which is designed to explain agency operations, how it makes decisions, and the drug approval process.

During an online presentation, the chair of the FDA’s Transparency Task Force, Principal Deputy FDA Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, described a Web-based curriculum called “FDA Basics,” aimed at helping the public better understand what the agency does. The curriculum is accessible via a link on the FDA Web site.

The curriculum includes:

  • Questions and answers about the agency and the products it regulates
  • Short videos that explain various agency activities
  • Conversations with agency personnel about the work of their office

In addition, senior officials from FDA product centers and offices will answer questions on various topics during future online sessions. Each of these sessions will be announced on the FDA Web site.

In one of her first acts after assuming the office last spring, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. announced the formation of an internal task force to develop recommendations for enhancing the transparency of the FDA’s operations and decision-making processes.

“The launch of FDA Basicsis our first step towards making FDA a more transparent agency,” said Dr. Sharfstein.

In recent months, the Task Force solicited public input on improving agency transparency through a public docket, an online blog, and two public meetings. The Transparency Task Force received hundreds of comments from various stakeholders, including regulated industry, consumers, patients, health care providers, and others. As a result of comments from the public, the Task Force decided to develop its recommendations in three phases. FDA Basics represents the result of the initial phase, to be followed by two additional phases.

In phase two of the initiative, the Task Force intends to make recommendations to the Commissioner regarding how to make information about agency activities more transparent, useful, and understandable to the public, in a manner compatible with the agency’s goal of protecting confidential information, as appropriate.

In the final phase of the initiative, the Task Force intends to make recommendations to the Commissioner regarding FDA’s transparency to regulated industries.

Is there help for dairy farmers?

At Grist, in the article “Can a new USDA advisory committee make the dairy industry less pathetic?“, David Gumpert writes about the USDA and its efforts to help dairy farmers.

USDA Hosting State Jobs Roundtables

USDA has begun a series of roundtables and community forums on job creation and economic growth in states throughout the country. The roundtables follow the Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth that President Obama hosted at the White House on December 3.The roundtables will be hosted by USDA Rural Development state directors and Farm Service Agency state executive directors. Participants will include business owners, community members, state and local officials, union members, non-profit organizations, economists and other interested parties. Participants will discuss on steps that can to be taken to grow the economy and put Americans back to work. Some of the roundtables may be regional in order to focus on shared interests, economic conditions and cooperative solutions.

The primary focus will be on ideas to accelerate job growth in rural America. Some of the topics to be discussed are:

  • Exploring ways to rejuvenate and promote local businesses
  • Creating jobs by rebuilding America’s infrastructure
  • Creating new opportunities from existing ones, such as with value-added agricultural products
  • Supporting job growth among small businesses
  • Preparing workers for 21st century jobs

Jobs forums that are scheduled in January include:

  • Hawaii: Jan. 4, 5
  • North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota: Jan. 6
  • Iowa, Missouri and Illinois: Jan. 8
  • Nebraska: Jan. 8
  • Tennessee: Jan. 14
  • Kansas: Jan. 21
  • Puerto Rico: Jan. 22
  • Vermont: Feb. 3
  • New Hampshire: Feb. 4

Additional forums will be scheduled in the weeks ahead. Check thier website for more information, http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/StateJobRoundtableList.htm

Farm Subsidy Rankings

In her La Vida Locavore blog, Jill Richardson in the posting “Who gets all the subsidy money?” writes that 10 out of 21 members of the Senate Ag Committee come from the top 10 farm subsidy recipient states.

Deadline for comments on the food industry

The deadline has arrived for folks wanting to offer their comments to the USDA and US Department of Justice about the food industry.

The federal government is specifically seeking comments and stories about how corporate control of the food system affects average citizens. If you’re concerned that just a few big businesses have so much power over where your food comes from and how it’s produced, be a citizen: tell the government! Your comments will help to inform a series of workshops on the issue in the coming year.

E-mail your comments to agriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov BY DECEMBER 31.  Or you can submit two paper copies of your comments to Legal Policy Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 5th Street, NW, Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001. All comments received will be publicly posted – if you’d like your comment to be anonymous, please note that in your email.

For more background, check with the US Working Group on the Food Crisis.

USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan in meetings at 36th FAO Conference

On the sidelines of the 36th Session of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Ministerial Conference, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan met with Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP), and Akram Musa Hadi Al Hakim, Iraq’s Acting Minister of Agriculture.

“The World Food Program works tirelessly to fight hunger and food insecurity around the world,” said Merrigan. “This meeting was an opportunity for me to thank the WFP on behalf of USDA and the entire U.S. government and reiterate how much the United States values its partnership with this important organization.”

As the United States finalizes its global hunger and food security strategy, it will rely on the WFP’s resources and expertise in safety nets, storage, transportation and logistics to ensure its efforts have the most impact in developing countries.

Merrigan is the first woman to chair the FAO conference, which was last chaired by the United States 20 years ago. As chair, Merrigan is overseeing discussions on the ongoing FAO reform effort and officiated as heads of delegations presented their country’s view of the state of food and agriculture at the conference’s plenary session.

The Conference is the supreme governing body of FAO and meets in regular session every two years. Its main functions are to determine the policies of the organization, approve the program of work and budget and make recommendations to members and international organizations.