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USDA's Vilsack Calls for Mandatory GMO Labeling

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (Agriculture.com)— The U.S. should make genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling on food products mandatory for food companies, according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Mandatory GMO labeling

In a reporters briefing Friday, at the Commodity Classic, Secretary Vilsack says that he is proposing mandatory labeling because in order to get anything done, 60 votes are needed in the U.S. Senate. “That’s the key,” Vilsack says. “If you don’t get this requirement, then you create a situation where every company could decide for itself to do something, which could create confusion. Plus, you don’t want state laws that could potentially be at odds." 

"Give the food industry some time to figure out how flexible the label needs to be."

Vilsack wants to give the food industry some time to create a label. “You give the food industry some time to figure out how flexible the label needs to be, whether it’s a toll-free number for consumers, a website, a smart label, or something else. And then you use that time to educate people that this label is going to be available, and this is an opportunity for them to know about the food that they are buying.”

Secretary Vilsack believes that the Senate would pass mandatory labeling if it was packaged this way. “I think the House will give it great consideration and the president will sign it,” Vilsack says.

Doing it this way will avoid a chaotic situation in the marketplace, if individual states and companies do things their own way. 

Trans-Pacific Partnership

Proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) point out that it will make it easier for American entrepreneurs, farmers, and small business owners to sell Made-In-America products abroad by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes and other trade barriers on American products across the 11 other countries in the TPP.

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With presidential candidates, such as Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidates, opposing it, the reporters asked Secretary Vilsack, a TPP supporter, whether it has a chance of getting passed before the new administration takes office.

“Through studies, we know that TPP will increase ag exports and increase ag incomes. Delaying the vote will cost the U.S. economy $94 billion, according to the Peterson Institute. We need to continue to point out that 95% of the world’s consumers live outside of the U.S. So, we need to use agriculture as a benefit to moving this economy forward. So, we make the case and I think there will be adequate votes in the House and Senate to get TPP passed.”

Vilsack says that China can make in-roads on U.S. ag export markets, if TPP is not passed. “Why do we want to cede that advantage to them?”

Vilsack ponders legacy

After serving as the leader of the USDA during the record-high net-farm income era in history and now, during what some farmers describe as the worst times in two generations, Secretary Vilsack is not choosing to focus on the bad alone in his tenure.

“What’s going to be my legacy? I don’t know. I’ll let you folks (media) decide that.” 

He adds, “Let’s take a look at the numbers. Yes, the commodity prices are low. But we are seeing net-farm cash income for some commodities going up. Producers selling more than $350,000 are doing OK. The farmers’ debt-to-asset ratio is 13% today vs. 23% in the 1980s." 

He agrees that the U.S. needs to get demand growing. “But, I’m not willing to admit that the sky is falling.”

Some legacy options may be in the area of conservation, feeding more U.S. children, record investment in infrastructure, nonfarm family income hitting a record level in 2016, expanded rural broad-band access, or the seven best years in U.S. ag exports. "The point is that we have done a remarkable job across the board,” he says.

Vilsack says the Obama administration is looking at the process to replace USDA Undersecretary Krysta Harden. “We are looking at our options and when we are ready to nominate someone, we will announce that. But as of late, the Senate has not been agreeable in considering nominations."

See more from the 2016 Commodity Classic.

 

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