Vilsack says immigration reform critical for future of food supply

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2014 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration will provide some help to the agriculture industry, but he says Congressional action is needed to make sure U.S. farmers have the legal workforce they need.

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Speaking Wednesday at a Washington Post forum on Feeding the Future, Vilsack called the lack of Congressional action on immigration reform “unbelievable.” He said Obama's announced action could help protect 250,000-400,000 undocumented farm workers from deportation, “but it still isn't what is necessary.”

 “Congress needs to act,” Vilsack said. “If we're to maximize the ability of the U.S. to produce food, we're going to have to have immigration reform. “

Republican congressional leaders have said Obama's unilateral action would “poison the well” for a potential legislative fix, but Obama said that he was tired of waiting for Congress to act. He has said he would withdraw his plan if Congress could come up with comprehensive immigration reform.  But there are no signs of congressional action on the issue in the near future.

“Comprehensive immigration reform will reduce the budget deficit, will shore up the Social Security system, will provide border security, and will meet the needs of many industries,” Vilsack said. “It is unbelievable to me that Congress cannot find the will or the way to get this done. It's an outrage.”

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Vilsack also spoke on the need for the global acceptance of science as a way to feed a growing population. The United States is taking part in a global initiative to encourage countries to open up publically funded agricultural research in an effort to feed a world population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, from the current 7.2 billion.

“There is a very interesting dynamic that goes on in the area of agriculture and science,” Vilsack said, referring to issues such as climate change and seed technology. Vilsack said failing to accept the findings of agricultural and climate research is “really discounting the capacity of science.” 

“I think one thing the United States can do and should do -- and is in a great position to do -- is to make sure that science is respected and to make sure people understand that science is part of the answer to this issue of how you feed the future.”

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