Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack held another town-hall meeting Sunday at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting with outgoing AFBF Bob Stallman. Among the questions Vilsack was asked by a Texas cotton producer whether USDA would be able to provide some aid for cotton producers.
The cotton industry has asked USDA to designate cotton seed as an oil seed that would make cotton seed eligible for the Price Loss Coverage commodity program. Vilsack told the producer that making such a designation is a complicated issue.
"We're in the process of evaluating what options, if any, that I have," Vilsack said.
The secretary said he understands cotton growers are under stress. Vilsack said staff at USDA would like to help. "All of us our under the gun to get a message out to cotton growers that we want to help. I want you to know we want to help."
It may take changes by both USDA and Congress to get such program changes made, he said.
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Budget concerns are also a challenge. Vilsack said the costs need to be known as well as what kind of budget offset would be required. "It may very well be that some of the options we would like to think about, and some of the things we have done in the past, may not be available to us today because of some statutory prohibitions that are contained in either standing law or an appropriations bill," Vilsack told reporters.
It may require USDA going back to Congress to ask for legislative changes.
Then there are the trade implications.
"As you know, the Brazilians and the U.S. just not long ago settled the cotton case and we do not ... want to precipitate a critical view of the farm bill on the trade and international side because that could create serious problems. It's a complicated set of issues that we have to think about."
Vilsack said Brazilians just recently expressed some concerns about the U.S. safety net for soybeans. "You certainly don't want to reopen the cotton case," Vilsack said in the town hall.
He also said that in helping cotton producers he doesn't want to open up farmers to criticism regarding farm programs.
On Biotech Labels ...
Vilsack told reporters Sunday that a meeting will take place this week on biotech labels. Vilsack said he has been asked by people on both sides of the issue to meet and determine whether any common ground can be found on the topic. Vilsack said he would relay the content of the meeting back to members of Congress who would like to see some resolution on the biotech labeling issue.
"If there is going to be any activity relative to the Vermont law, obviously it's going to have to be through Congress," Vilsack said. "I think members of Congress, particularly in leadership positions of the Ag committees would appreciate knowing whether there is any middle ground, any common ground, any way to weave through these issues. We're going to have to explore that."
"There is a growing recognition that consumers who want to know about whether food has ingredients from genetically modified crops have a right to know that information, Vilsack said. He added he is concerned that such information does not question the safety of those foods. "This is not about safety. This is about consumers' right to know and doing it in a way that, in my view, doesn't create a misconception about the safety of the product."
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