National retail and producer trade groups are weighing in on President-elect Joe Biden's announcement that he plans to nominate Tom Vilsack as secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vilsack held the role previously during President Barack Obama's administration. Currently, he is president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, an Arlington, Va.-based trade group advocating for U.S. dairy interests globally.
Vilsack was governor of Iowa—currently the United States' top producer of corn, pork and eggs, and No. 2 in soybeans and red meat—from 1999 to 2007.
For producers and retailers alike, Vilsack's prior USDA tenure makes him a known entity—and in an executive era and a tumultuous year that has been short on predictability, Biden's pick of Vilsack is being widely welcomed by industry groups. Here's a look at initial reactions:
Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association: "Mr. Vilsack was a fierce champion for fighting food insecurity throughout his eight-year tenure as USDA secretary, and NGA looks forward to the opportunity to continue its public-private partnership to advance the federal nutrition agenda upon his nomination under the Biden-Harris administration. The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the essential role of independent grocers in providing wholesome and nutritious foods for families in need across the country, and NGA members stand prepared to work together with Mr. Vilsack to serve their communities in 2021 and beyond."
Tom Stenzel, CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association: "Under [Vilsack's] steady leadership, we worked together to further the gains of the industry and broaden access to fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly for children. There is no shortage of issues to work on over the next four years—from trade to climate change. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital that we have experienced leaders who can hit the ground running to ensure that there is a seamless transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration, including making sure that the supply chain is utilized to address the immense and immediate food insecurity needs being faced around the country—and there is no one more familiar with how to make USDA work for the American people than Tom Vilsack."
Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association: "There is no one more well-versed on the challenges faced by manufacturers, ranchers and farmers alike than Tom Vilsack. From the intricacies of supply chains to complex food issues, he has a profound and sophisticated knowledge of the workings of USDA. His long history of service to the state of Iowa and this country will allow him to get up and running immediately, providing a steady hand during the transfer of administrations. The consumer packaged goods industry looks forward to our continued relationship, working together to create uniform regulatory policies that empower consumer trust, innovation and continued economic growth."
Colin Woodall, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association: "Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is adding another chapter to an already storied career in agriculture. He has the unique skill set to be able to hit the ground running on day one and cattle producers are thankful for this continuity. Secretary Vilsack knows the issues facing America’s cattle producers and can utilize his extensive experience to showcase the positive impact we have on food security, nutrition, and our natural resources. We look forward to working with him for the betterment of beef farmers and ranchers."
John Boyd, president and founder of the National Black Farmers Association: "Secretary Tom Vilsack will certainly be a big improvement over Secretary Sonny Purdue. And while Black farmers had legislative successes during the Obama administration, far too little was done during his tenure to address the long legacy of discrimination against Black farmers. Doors continue to be closed to many Black farmers and today our members face enormous challenges, including a system that disproportionately leaves them behind. To level the playing field and right these historic wrongs, Mr. Vilsack as secretary must expand Black farmer access to land and credit and reform USDA's income support and insurance programs to end systemic discrimination. He must create outreach programs to help Black farmers participate in these programs and lift the veil of secrecy that hides the true extent of racial discrimination at USDA. I stand ready to work with Secretary Vilsack to meet these challenges—and to hold him accountable."
Dave Puglia, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association: "Secretary Vilsack is a logical and proven choice to run USDA. We worked closely with him during his previous service as secretary, and we look forward to resuming our partnership. Like our country, the fresh produce industry is focused on rebounding from a difficult year. During his last tenure as secretary, Mr. Vilsack made significant investments in rural communities and worked hard to strengthen the agricultural economy. We are confident that he will continue to provide our farmers with the support they need to grow safe and healthy food for the American people."