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Making America’s Food Safety System Stronger

Last week some of the nation’s top leaders in food safety gathered at the Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia, for a session called “Strengthening America’s Food Safety System.”

USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Jerold Mande led the panel discussions. The wide-ranging conversation included Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Al Almanza, along with consumer advocates from the Consumer Federation of America and the Pew Health Group’s Food Safety Campaign, industry representatives from the National Meat Association and Cargill Inc., and state and federal public health officials.

To kick off the session, Mande outlined the three principles of the President’s Food Safety Working Group: prioritizing prevention of foodborne illness; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving recovery and response when incidents occur.

Here are a few things that we’re doing at USDA every day to work toward reducing foodborne illnesses:

- In July, the Working Group released its Key Findings that included 15 key actions to improve the nation’s food safety.  We have completed over half and are on schedule to implement them all.

- Secretary Vilsack has made food safety research a high priority, including a new Institute for Food Safety Research and an expanded research budget.

- Later this year, USDA will launch the Public Health Information System, a dynamic new data analytics system that will revolutionize FSIS’s ability to detect and respond to foodborne hazards.

“We must do everything in our power to provide our citizens safe food,” Mande said, “starting with unprecedented cooperation among federal agencies, state partners, industry, and consumers.” He emphasized that this session showed this kind of effort.

If you’re not already, follow us on Twitter for the latest food safety tips and latest news and head over to FoodSafety.gov for comprehensive consumer food safety information from across government agencies.

Deputy Under Secretary Jerold Mande
Food Safety Inspection Service Deputy Under Secretary, Jerold Mande on the panel at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.

By Craig Stoltz, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Web Manager

National Roundtable on Ongoing Opportunities for Latinos in Natural Resources at USDA

On Tuesday, February 23, 2010, USDA hosted a National Roundtable on Ongoing Opportunities for Latinos in Natural Resources at USDA in Washington, D.C.

Over 80 people, including 25 Latino/Hispanic community based organizations and community leaders gathered at the Whitten Building with officials from Office of the Secretary, Rural Development Mission Area (RD), Natural Resources and Environment Mission Area (NRE) and other agencies to discuss environmental and community issues impacting the Latino/Hispanic communities around the United States.  The excitement over the Latino issues was evident in the discussions, networking and development of new relationships that took place during the afternoon roundtable.

Oscar Gonzalez, Deputy Director, Intergovernmental Affairs opened the roundtable.  Carole Jett, Deputy Chief of Staff, addressed the participants and introduced Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary, RD and Jay Jensen, Deputy Under Secretary, NRE.  “Your input in identifying issues, obstacles and opportunities are important to us and will be provided to the USDA agencies and the Office of the Secretary,” said Gonzales.

Almost everyone in attendance, whether a community based organization, farm group, government or the private sector, said they felt the Hispanic community is still lacking access to USDA information and services.  Roger Rivera, President, National Hispanic Environmental Council mentioned that “It is a new day at USDA under the leadership of Secretary Vilsack.  We appreciate his outreach to farmworkers, Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers, and today…Latino environmental leaders.”  The need for a streamlined, simplified job application processes for Federal jobs was highlighted.   Federal Government funding for environmental innovative projects and initiatives was identified as a major issue, as was a general lack of information about USDA agricultural programs, services and how and where to apply for those services. These issues, as well as several others, were discussed by a representative of each organization.

USDA officials discussed the resources that are invested around the country, including funding for community infrastructure and facilities, housing, broadband, biomass and conservation, and farming.  The USDA officials greatly appreciate the time and input offered by each participant.

Latino Roundtable Photo Latino Roundtable Meeting at USDA

Submitted by Jorge Comas, USDA Office of Communications.

Spanish version below:

Mesa Redonda Nacional Sobre las Oportunidades Que Ofrece USDA en Recursos Naturales para los Latinos

El Martes, 23 de Febrero de 2010, el USDA en Washingon, D.C. fue el patrocinador de una Reunión de Mesa Redonda Nacional Sobre las Oportunidades Que Ofrece USDA en Recursos Naturales para los Latinos.

Mas de 80 personas, incluyendo 25 representantes de organizaciones de la comunidad Latina/Hispana se reunieron en el Edificio Whitten localizado en el Departamento de Agricultura de los Estado Unidos en Washington, D.C.  Estas organizaciones se reunieron con oficiales de la oficina del Secretario de Agricultura, el Area de Misión para Desarollo Rural, el Area de Misión para Recursos Naturales y Ambiente y otras agencias para discutir asuntos ambientales y de la communidad que estan impactando la comunidad Latina/Hispana alrededor de los Estados Unidos.  Durante la reunión de mesa redonda de una tarde, la emoción de los participanes era evidente al discutir los asuntos, la comunicación entre los differentes grupos y el desarollo de nuevas relaciones.

El Sub Director de Asuntos Intergubernamentales, Oscar Gonzales comenzó la reunión.  La Asistente del Jefe de Personal de USDA, Carole Jett, le hablo a los participantes y presentó el Secretario Adjunto de Desarollo Rural, Dallas Tonsager y el Sub-Secretario Adjunto de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente, Jay Jensen.  “Sus recomendaciones al identificar los asuntos, obstaculos y oportunidades son importantes para nosotros.  Las recomendaciones seran compartidas con las agencias de USDA y la Oficina del Secretario”, dijo Gonzales.

Casi todos los participantes de la reunión, organizaciones de la comunidad, grupos agrícolas, del gobierno o del sector privado , indicaron que todavía en la comunidad Hispana existe la falta de acceso a información y servicios ofrecidos por el USDA.  El Presidente del National Hispanic Environmental Council, Roger Rivera indico que, “Este es un nuevo día en el USDA bajo el liderato de el Secretario Vilsack.  Nosotros apreciamos los trabajos de promoción y alcance que el Secretario ha hecho con los trabajadores agrícolas, agricultores y ganaderos Hispanos, y hoy… con los lideres ambientales Latinos.”  La necesidad de modernizar y simplificar el proceso de solicitudes para trabajo Federal fue resaltada.  Los fondos federales para proyectos e iniciativas ambientales innovadoras fue identificado como un asunto primordial, también la falta de información sobre los programas y servicios agrícolas del USDA y como y donde solicitar estos servicios.  Éstos y varios otros asuntos fueron discutidos por los representantes de las organizaciones.

Los oficiales representando al USDA hablaron sobre los recursos y fondos invertidos atravez de la nación, inlcuyendo fondos para infraestructura y facilidades para la comunidad, vivienda, comunicaciones de banda amplia, biomasa, conservación y agricultura.  Los oficiales del USDA le dan las más expresivas gracias por su tiempo, participación e información ofrecida a cada participante.

Sometido por Jorge Comas, USDA Office of Communications.

Diversity Program Students Share Their Views From the USDA Outlook Forum

Last week, 22 college students were given the opportunity to attend the USDA Outlook Forum to learn about agribusiness, the latest research, future trends, and policy in contemporary agriculture. The students were part of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Diversity Program, which was launched by the Office of the Chief Economist and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in 2007 to help provide students with a unique insight into their agricultural studies. These students represent the diversity of American agriculture.

While at the forum, the students had the opportunity to hear from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other leaders in the agricultural industry who were able to give them a unique opportunity to interact with industry professionals – something that can’t always be gained in the classroom.

Comments from the students about their experience proved just how useful this program is to their college experience and career development:

“The USDA Outlook Forum Diversity Program presents a great opportunity for students to meet important people in the industry of agriculture.  The speakers presented great points of where agriculture is headed in this country from the points of view from professionals in the agriculture industry which is valuable advice for students.  I enjoyed listening to Ambassador [Ronald] Kirk and Secretary Vilsack’s presentations and all of the opportunities presented to us.  It was also great to meet other agriculture students from across the country.”

“[I liked the] fact that there were speakers who challenged the USDA or brought up controversial issues, and that this wasn’t a means to stir tensions but rather to engage open discussions.  I liked that I could intelligently speak about these topics with my peers who share similar interests.”

“I’ve gained knowledge of a lot of things that I’ve overlooked in the past.  I see now how everything is linked and how important it is to preserve our agriculture, so from a 1 to 10, I would have to give this experience a 100.”

Additionally, the students’ time at the Forum gave them a look at what a future career in agriculture might look like and what road they need to take to work toward their career aspirations.

“I was surprised at how much I took from it, particularly outside of the information I got from the sessions.  I was able to talk to representatives of the various agencies at USDA and really get a better feel for what they did and the qualifications needed to get where I want to go.”.

The students are from land-grant universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and American Association of State Colleges of Agriculture and Renewable Resources institutions. This year, sponsoring corporations and USDA agencies include: CHS, Inc.; the Farm Credit System; and USDA’s Economic Research Service. This year’s sponsorship of 22 students is the highest level of participation since the program’s inception.

Student participants of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Diversity Program meet with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the 2010 USDA Outlook Forum.

Student participants of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Diversity Program meet with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the 2010 USDA Outlook Forum.

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan Tours Community Center, Meets with Workers

A warm winter day greeted USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan as she visited the high desert community of Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Chandler Sanchez the Governor of Acoma Pueblo gave the Deputy Secretary a personal tour of the new $12-million dollar community center which is currently under construction.

Donning a hard hat Deputy Secretary Merrigan saw firsthand the progress of the construction.  The facility is scheduled to be completed later this summer.

The financing for this project was made available through Recovery Act funds in the amount of an $11,409,600 loan and a $500,000 grant, through USDA Rural Development’s Community Facility (CF) program.

The 50,000 square foot facility will be a multi-purpose center which will include a gymnasium, a wellness center and the Pueblo’s council chambers along with offices for support activities which will serve the 5,000 residents of Acoma Pueblo.

Governor Sanchez described in detail to the Deputy Secretary how USDA Rural Development and the Recovery Act has been instrumental in providing funds for much needed projects, projects which create jobs at the Pueblo.  The latest project is a new wastewater treatment plant that was just dedicated in December.

The newest project made possible by Rural Development and the Recovery Act is a Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) in the amount of $500,000 to pay for the infrastructure of a new manufacturing facility.

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and Governor Chandler Sanchez (right) touring the new community center
Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and Governor Chandler Sanchez (right) touring the new community center

For more information about this project and USDA’s Recovery Act efforts go to http://www.usda.gov/recovery.  Log on to USDA’s YouTube channel to view additional ARRA project highlights, videos are available at here.

Recovery Act, Helping Put Food on The Table

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan visited Road Runner Food Bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico today, where she took a tour of the facility and helped distribute USDA foods.  Merrigan highlighted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the ARRA funding that Road Runner received in 2009.

The Recovery Act supported the nation’s food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens, by increasing funding to USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

TEFAP helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.  USDA makes food available to State governments, which distributes it to their emergency feeding network and their affiliates, like Road Runner.

And Road Runner didn’t just receive food through the Recovery Act, it also received TEFAP Administrative Funds, which it quickly put to use renovating and installing racking in it’s cold storage facility.  Because of these renovations, Road Runner is now able to store and distribute more foods to those in need.

More information about USDA’s Recovery Act efforts is available at http://www.usda.gov/recovery.  Log on to USDA’s YouTube channel to view additional ARRA project highlights, videos are available at http://www.youtube.com/usda – g/c/2A468F5AC6EBCED7

A “New Dynamic” for Rural America Highlighted at the 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum

Yesterday was a landmark day for USDA.  The 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum kicked off near Washington with a top-flight list of speakers, including Secretary Tom Vilsack; Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan;  Ambassador Ronald Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative; USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber and Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller.

The Secretary was forceful in his commitment to rural America, saying the Obama Administration has an approach to Rural Development and to value-added opportunity creation  that will take rural America to “the next level.”   He spoke of the need to develop new sources of biomass, turning marginal lands into highly productive property.  He told us that “It is time for America to take back its energy destiny” and, noting the large number of young people, including National FFA representatives in the audience, said “Your country needs you.  I say to young people that you have a future in rural America.”

In the afternoon Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Victor Vasquez and I moderated panel discussions on the future of rural communities.  Victor’s panelists discussed topics including how to bring financial institutions and economic activity to Indian reservations, building new capital networks, and promoting redevelopment and financial security through microlending.

One of my passions is promoting the “Know Your Farmer, Know your Food” initiative that is a priority of Deputy Secretary Merrigan.  It was my privilege to moderate a distinguished panel that centered on the cooperative model and how it can make a difference, not only in the area of channeling locally and regionally produced foods to urban populations, but improving the quality of foods in schools and also using the cooperative model to improve access to health care in rural areas that often suffer from a lack of medical staff.

It was an amazing day, not just for me, but for all of us committed to a vibrant rural America …one that is not only productive, and relevant , but a place that is central to the economy of our nation and a catalyst for urban renewal.  The vision set forth by Secretary Vilsack yesterday is an exciting one, and will not only  change the lives of the one in six Americans that call rural America home, but will improve the health and well-being of all Americans for decades to come.

Cheryl L. Cook, Esq. Deputy Under Secretary, USDA Rural Development