In his much-analyzed December speech at a Farm Journal forum, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said agriculture needs to be more strategic about the fights that it picks—because, in his words,” those fights are often misinterpreted in some corners”.
Vilsack cited, as an example, opposition from livestock groups to the so-called egg bill in Congress—legislation that would set federal standards for cages housing egg-laying hens.
Vilsack tells Brownfield that kind of in-fighting is hurting rural America at a time when it badly needs to build alliances and expand opportunity.
“We shouldn’t discourage that kind of conversation because that creates the kinds of alliances and friendships and relationships that will allow us—eventually—to get enough votes in Congress to pass legislation that we need to make sure that we’ve got rural opportunity,” Vilsack says.
Cattle and hog groups are concerned that the egg bill could open the door to the creation of federal production standards for other segments of animal agriculture. But Vilsack argues the egg producers had legitimate reasons for negotiating with the Humane Society of the United States—mainly to avoid having different rules for egg production in each state.
“If someone is concerned about the impact that that might have on their type of agriculture, then there ought to be conversations and engagement in the process–as opposed to criticisms of those who have been engaged–because there may be ways in which you can learn from that process,” Vilsack says.
“I’m not being critical of anybody. I’m just pointing out the obvious, which is we didn’t get a farm bill through and we’ve had increased numbers of these referendums. So it’s wake-up call—it’s a suggestion that we’ve got to think differently here.”