According to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, President Barack Obama has three goals for USDA. Among them is to encourage Americans, particularly youth, to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts and specialty crops.

In remarks prepared for USDA's annual Agriculture Outlook Forum last week, Vilsack reported that the president gave him these priorities for the agency:  

  • To make sure that America's children had more nutritious food.
  • To do everything USDA can to expand energy opportunities and the capacity of land, farms and ranches to produce alternative forms of energy and fuel.
  • To make sure USDA is doing the research necessary to allow agriculture to "transition away from its rather significant dependence today on fossil fuels."

"You are going to see a major push from USDA to encourage, as we reauthorize the School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, an embracing of fruits and vegetables and specialty crops -- nutritious food, consistent with the president's direction-- good for those small producers," Vilsack told forum attendees. He noted that 60 percent of U.S. farms have less than $10,000 in sales.

"You're going to see a very significant effort on our part to improve the safety and security of our food system," Vilsack said. While saying he is proud of the inspectors working daily in plants and meat packing facilities, he added: "We need to make a commitment to modernizing the food system, focusing on preventing rather than mitigating the consequences of food-borne illness."

Vilsack acknowledged the public debate over corn-based ethanol, phrasing the question, "Are we doing food or are we doing fuel?" His answer -- "My view is that we have the capacity and the ability to do both, and we need to do both."

He said USDA plans to accelerate farm bill programs designed to identify new ethanol feedstocks and is committed to helping establish bio-refineries around the country to process these new feedstocks.

USDA also has a responsibility to help struggling ethanol processors, he said, "so that we maintain the infrastructure that can then take advantage of the second- and third-generation biofuels that are being developed."