Vilsack raises the issue of the cost of international transport of food aid
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today, May 10, that he was disturbed that it would cost more to ship American produce recently purchased with funds from the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust that what it would cost to buy them and that the question of the cost of transportation “must be addressed.”
Vilsack made the statement in response to a question from Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., during a Senate Farm Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on President Biden’s request for fiscal year 2023.
Vilsack didn’t use the term “freight preference,” but his statement seemed to give a sign of support for a Sens proposal. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to temporarily waive US law. requiring that 50% of Title II food aid shipments (by tonnage) be transported on US-flagged vessels manned by at least 75% of seafarers who are US citizens.
Under current law, the President, Secretary of Defense or Congress can temporarily waive the 50% preference requirement for freight.
The USDA and the United States Agency for International Development recently announced that they would use all of the $282 million from the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust to procure American food supplies to bolster existing emergency food operations in six countries facing severe food insecurity: Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen. They also announced that the USDA will provide $388 million in additional financing through the Commodity Credit Corporation to cover ocean freight transportation, inland transportation, inland transportation, shipping and handling, and other associated costs.
There have been efforts to waive freight preference or get rid of the law in the past, but shipping companies and unions have successfully blocked these efforts.
Vilsack also said he was traveling to Germany and Poland on Thursday to assess the situation in Ukraine and its impact.
PFAS, PFOS AND PFOA
During the hearing, Vilsack had two controversial interactions with Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Collins complained that she wrote twice to Vilsack about the USDA’s role in addressing the problems caused by contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as the chemicals PFAS, PFOS or PFOA – and that he had not responded to a letter she sent in October and had responded to a second letter she and the Maine delegation sent at 1:24 a.m. today
Some farmers in Maine have been told they cannot sell their milk or meat from their cattle due to PFAS contamination.
Vilsack apologized for the late response and said he was making a special effort to respond to congressional requests.
Collins argued that the dairy compensation program only covers milk, but Vilsack said the USDA provided livestock-based assistance.
Vilsack said he was working with the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a national standard for PFAS and would be happy to work with the Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee or any other committee to establish the level. resources needed to deal with farmers. problems.
Vilsack noted that while Maine was one of the first states to address the problem, it’s a national problem because PFAS-containing sludge has been spread as fertilizer across the country.
Collins also said the USDA should ask for more money for potato research. Vilsack responded that he relies on the Agricultural Research Service to give him a list of research priorities and that there are many products that need more research.
Collins noted that potatoes do not receive direct farm subsidies, but Vilsack responded that the government spends money to purchase potatoes for nutrition programs.
Collins has signaled that she doesn’t trust Vilsack on potato issues because during his tenure as agriculture secretary under the Obama administration, he tried to get rid of a lab of the University of Maine and eliminate potatoes from the Special Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program for Women and Infants. and children. Vilsack said WIC’s proposal was not against potatoes but to try to get recipients to eat foods they don’t normally eat. He also noted that the USDA is trying to increase potato exports to Mexico.
Vilsack said he wasn’t against potatoes, but Collins said “it looks like it.”
Senator John Hoeven, RN.D., a senior member of the subcommittee, expressed concern about a recent increase in the quota for imported sugar. Vilsack said the USDA made the decision to allow more imports because the inventory-to-use ratio had fallen to 12%, which is lower than the 13.5% to 15.5% the USDA is trying to achieve. to maintain. Hoeven said U.S. growers are concerned the ratio could exceed 15.5%.