Vilsack addresses budget issues at 'Healthy Food, Healthy Planet' summit

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized the direct correlation between research investment and higher agricultural productivity at yesterday's “Healthy Food, Healthy Planet” summit, hosted by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition and the National Journal. 

“As Congress deals with its budget, I sincerely hope we do not use research as a place of looking for reductions,” he said. “If we begin to shortchange that research as we have done in the last several years, I believe we will see a big drop in agricultural production at a time when we have to increase production.”

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The challenge to maintain funding is even more daunting during this year's Farm Bill drafting, which Vilsack said is being executed much differently than in previous years when the budget was not so tight. 

“This time around, we're going to see money move the policy,” he said in his keynote remarks yesterday.

The National Journal hosted the “Healthy Food, Healthy Planet” discussion at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. to mark the U.S. launch of the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN). BCFN, which was initially founded in 2009 in Italy, develops research and findings for government leaders and policymakers on topics including food, nutrition, environment and food security. 

National Journal Daily editor, Matthew Cooper, moderated the summit's discussions. During Cooper's conversation with Vilsack, the Agriculture Secretary said conservation is one of his priorities for the next Farm Bill. He described the key to successful conservation in the future as a combination of private sector investment and regulatory policy, which would give regulatory certainty to landowners. 

“There are creative ways to challenge the private sector to invest in conservation,” he said. 
We need definable, measurable results. If we can measure the results of conservation, we can market those results to the private sector.”

A large part of yesterday's summit focused on the paradox of food insecurity and food overconsumption. A panel discussion moderated by Cooper revolved around the nation's health and the agriculture industry. President of the Environmental Working Group, Ken Cook; former Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman; senior editor of The Atlantic, Corby Kummer; and senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, John Reilly, participated.

When asked to compare the value of government intervention in smoking with the possible benefits of its intervention in unhealthy food consumption, the panel members debated the possibility of adding taxes to foods like sugar and meat. Kummer warned that suggesting taxes to beverages with added sugar would always run up against the “nanny-state” argument. 

Glickman said that food and nutrition receive most of the focus when it comes to addressing the nation's health problems, but that lack of physical activity makes up as much of the problem without receiving the same amount of attention.

“Food, diet and obesity are much more complicated than smoking, which is inherently unhealthy,” Glickman said. “The comprehensive solution to the health problem is not just telling people that they can or should eat one thing and not the other.”

The summit explored many topics regarding the environment, food production and U.S. policy. BCFN used the discussion as an opportunity to issue its “Double Pyramid of Food and Environment,” which it developed in 2010. The pyramid compares the recommended consumption of foods with their environmental impact. In its design, “we see intuitively that the foods recommended for a major consumption, are generally also those that cause minor environmental impacts,” according to BCFN material. 


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