Wednesday, April 24, 2013

USDA Secretary Vilsack Speaks at the Law School

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was the featured speaker for the second annual Dale and Betty Bumpers Distinguished Lecture Series, hosted by the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas with the assistance of the law school. The event was held in the School of Law’s E.J. Ball Courtroom on April 23.

In addition to the public event, Secretary Vilsack conducted a special class in the courtroom for a mixture of LL.M. students, students in Professor Mike Thomsen's Agricultural Marketing class, and graduate students in Agricultural Economics.  Students had an opportunity to question Secretary Vilsack about matters of agricultural and food policy.

From the UA Newswire press release:

Vilsack is the nation’s 30th secretary of agriculture. His goals are to strengthen the American agricultural economy, build vibrant rural communities and secure a stronger future for the American middle class. The United States Department of Agriculture has supported farmers, ranchers and growers who are enjoying record earnings; provided food assistance to one in four Americans; conserved natural resources and helped provide a safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply for the country.

“We are truly honored to welcome Secretary Vilsack to the Bumpers College for our Dale and Betty Bumpers Distinguished Lecture Series,” said Michael Vayda, dean of the Bumpers College. “He brings a wealth of experience in crafting local, state and national policy that supports farming and agriculture, healthy foods and food security, and conserving natural resources, all with a keen eye toward the pursuit of global opportunities. As we enter the second year of our lecture series, we couldn’t be more pleased to partner with the School of Law in hosting the secretary. Throughout the Bumpers College, we challenge our students to pursue the vast array of opportunities in the business of foods, and our students, faculty and staff will benefit from hearing Secretary Vilsack’s perspective on these issues that touch everyone in the state and around the world.”

“We are delighted to play a supporting role to the Bumpers College in hosting Secretary Vilsack,” said Stacy Leeds, dean of the School of Law. “For more than three decades, we have been home to the nation’s only advanced agricultural and food law degree program, and we have recently launched a new initiative aimed at bringing our expertise in the area to empower native communities. Our priorities around this subject area are necessarily interdisciplinary, and we look forward to continued collaborations of this nature.”

To help drive innovation and build thriving economies in rural communities, the USDA is promoting job growth and higher incomes through expanded production of renewable energy, outdoor recreational opportunities, and development of local and regional food supplies.

As chair of the first-ever White House Rural Council, Vilsack and the USDA are taking steps to strengthen services for rural businesses and entrepreneurs who are creating job opportunities by finding new ways to partner with other federal agencies and the private sector to increase investment.

The USDA, at President Obama’s direction and with Vilsack’s leadership, is promoting American agriculture by conducting cutting-edge research and improving markets at home and abroad. The years 2009-12 represent the strongest four years in history for agricultural trade. New trade agreements President Obama signed with Colombia, South Korea and Panama will create even more export opportunities for American farmers and ranchers. In America, the USDA has helped increase the number of farmers markets by 67 percent since 2008, and today there are more than 200 new regional food hubs to help connect farmers with broader regional markets.

“Secretary Vilsack is the voice of agriculture and food for the United States,” said Janie Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law. “His coming to the University of Arkansas recognizes the leadership role the university holds in agricultural research, law, education and extension.”

Hipp served as a senior advisor to the Secretary before returning to Arkansas this January to head the new Initiative.

Vilsack and the USDA have enrolled a record number of private working lands in conservation programs and implemented new strategies – such as landscape-scale efforts – to restore forests and clean water supplies. This work is creating private sector jobs protecting and rehabilitating our forests and wetlands, and providing increased opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Under Vilsack’s leadership, the USDA has partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to improve the health and nutrition of America’s children. He helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, enabling the USDA to help combat child hunger and obesity by making the most significant improvements to school lunches in 30 years. He led a comprehensive effort to improve the safety of the American food supply, implementing changes to food safety standards to prevent illnesses by reducing the prevalence of E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter in our meat and poultry.

He has made civil rights a top priority, reaching historic resolutions to all major past cases of discrimination brought against the USDA by minority groups and taking definitive action to move the USDA into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.

Prior to his appointment, Vilsack served two terms as governor of Iowa, in the Iowa State Senate and as the mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. A native of Pittsburgh, Penn., Vilsack was born into an orphanage and adopted in 1951. After graduating from Hamilton College and Albany Law School, he moved to Mount Pleasant, his wife Christie’s hometown, where he practiced law. The Vilsacks have two adult sons and two daughters-in-law — Doug, married to Janet; and Jess, married to Kate. They also have two grandchildren.

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