Five Reasons to Reject Tom Vilsack

Ag nominee’s pro-corporate record speaks for itself

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Food System

For Immediate Release

On Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack. But Vilsack’s record as Agriculture Secretary under President Obama shows his allegiance is to big agribusiness — not farmers, workers, and consumers. 

That’s why a broad coalition of environmentalists, family farm advocates, and social justice advocates opposes his nomination.

Here are five reasons Vilsack’s nomination should be rejected: 

Consolidation and Mega Mergers

Across all the sectors, the food industry has become remarkably consolidated over the past several decades. Those trends accelerated under Vilsack’s previous tenure at USDA. On his watch, the department convened ‘listening tours’ to hear the concerns of farmers — but then failed to take any corrective action, and the USDA continued to favor the interests of corporate giants at the expense of family farmers.

Letting Big Ag Write the Safety Rules

Under the Trump administration, there was well-deserved criticism of proposed rules that would have allowed poultry plants to increase line speeds — actions that would ensure food is not properly inspected and that threaten worker safety. Yet when Vilsack was in charge at USDA, similar proposals were advanced — including rules that allowed big agribusiness to carry out inspections themselves, rather than federal government inspectors. The Trump administration proposed similar rules for the cattle and hog slaughter plants. Workers and consumers need a USDA head who will prioritize public health and worker safety — not someone who is willing to put the fox in charge of the henhouse. 

Oversaw the Growth of Factory Farms

Massive factory farms create air and water pollution in affected communities, and generate hundreds of billions of animal manure every year. During Vilsack’s time with the Obama administration, these problems got worse. Food & Water Watch research shows that between 2012 and 2017, the number of animals being raised on factory farms increased. The growth of factory farms coincided with the loss of smaller, family-run operations. Over the same five-year period, the country lost nearly 10,000 fewer dairies. For the sake of protecting small farmers and clean water, we must enact a moratorium on new factory farms.   

Vilsack’s Dairy Lobbying 

While there are always concerns about the ‘revolving door’ — when government regulators going to work for the industries they were once tasked with regulating — Tom Vilsack is a quintessential example: Upon leaving the Obama administration where he oversaw a major decline in small dairies, Vilsack went straight to working for the industry, making nearly $1 million a year at helm of US Dairy Export Council. Small dairy farmers are facing enormous hardships; how should those farmers react to the news that an advocate of the mega dairy industry is back in charge?

Promoting Bogus “Carbon Farming” as Climate Action

One way Vilsack is trying to signal that he’s changed is by promoting ‘carbon markets’ for farmers. While this being touted as a way to improve soil practices and provide revenue for farmers, it is essentially a scheme to set up markets so that fossil fuel companies can buy ‘carbon credits’ instead of reducing their own pollution. This is an elaborate shell game being sold as climate action, for the benefit of the companies that seek to keep drilling and fracking.