Statement of CSPI President Dr. Peter G. Lurie

The Center for Science in the Public Interest congratulates former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on his nomination for a second tour of duty as Secretary. We thank Secretary Vilsack for his willingness to serve the nation again in this capacity.

Needless to say, we will urge the incoming United States Senate to confirm him expeditiously and with the broad bipartisan support he deserves and has enjoyed in the past.

All of us who eat are touched directly by the work of the Secretary of Agriculture. And as Secretary during the Obama administration, Vilsack delivered historic progress to American eaters, particularly the youngest of us. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was a transformative victory for child nutrition, perhaps the most important advance against childhood obesity in a generation. It got soda and junk food out of schools once and for all, put more fresh fruits and vegetables on kids’ lunch trays, and set enduring nutrition standards for school lunches and breakfasts, notwithstanding the Trump administration’s four-years-long assault on the program.

Vilsack also recognizes the value of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Women, Infants, and Children program, the importance of improving Americans’ diets, and the need for a sustainable food system that helps solve today’s climate crisis.

CSPI looks forward to working with Secretary Vilsack to make USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service a public health agency, reverse the school meal rollbacks and strengthen nutrition standards, boost SNAP diet quality and build a more effective SNAP-Education program, combat antimicrobial resistance, and improve food safety.

Obviously, much has changed in the past four years. Nearly every single problem with the food system has been made worse, and every inequity made wider, by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump Administration’s actions. The women and men who grow, harvest, process, prepare, and serve our food, particularly those who work in meatpacking facilities, have been among the hardest impacted Americans.

Secretary Vilsack will therefore assume a much more challenging job than the one he accepted twelve years ago. That said, the return of Vilsack to USDA is a return of steadiness, sobriety, and sound science to an agency that needs those things more than ever.