Statement of CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie

The Center for Science in the Public Interest supports the rapid confirmation of Tom Vilsack for Agriculture Secretary.

The Secretary’s second tour of duty as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture comes at a time of layered challenges—including record levels of food and nutrition insecurity, deep racial and socioeconomic inequities, and climate change. 

We appreciate his willingness to grapple forthrightly with these challenges, as he demonstrated at the hearing. 

Today, Vilsack recognized in his remarks that there is not only hunger in the land, but “nutrition insecurity that causes millions—especially people of color—to cope with obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.” He identified the importance of creating “a food system that makes healthy and nutritious food more available, convenient and affordable to all Americans.”

To that end, as Agriculture Secretary under President Obama, Vilsack championed healthier school meals which have been a resounding success story for kids’ health—more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and less fat and salt on the lunch tray. Last year, a federal court struck down the Trump administration’s rollback on salt and whole grains leaving a void for Vilsack’s USDA to fix. We urge Secretary Vilsack to move quickly to protect and strengthen the nutrition standards for school meals, particularly on salt, whole grains, and added sugars. We also urge him to make diet quality a SNAP priority.

As we have seen, the ravages of the pandemic are most cruelly felt by those already at risk from crowded housing and lack of protection in the workplace, risks that are further exacerbated by diet-related diseases. We wholeheartedly support this vision and these goals.

We were also pleased by his comments on the safety of food inspectors and workers and his call for access to PPE to protect USDA’s workforce and its partners. We urge him to make food safety, and particularly a reduction of the most dangerous strains of salmonella in raw poultry, a priority.

The creation of a new food system that supports health, rather than undermines it, is an ambition worthy of the new administration and Secretary. We very much look forward to working with the Secretary and his capable team in the coming months and years.