Sustainable Agriculture Supporter Ann Wright Named New USDA Undersecretary

Ann Wright, who has worked with The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, and is a friend of small scale farmers has been named to a key post at the United States Department of Agriculture. This is great news for supporters of sustainable agriculture, and should bode well for agency support for small and beginning farmers. Release No. 0199.09 Contact: Office of Communication (202)720-4623 AGRICULTURE SECRETARY VILSACK NAMES ANN WRIGHT AS DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY FOR MARKETING AND REGULATORY PROGRAMS WASHINGTON, June 4, 2009 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the appointment of Ann Wright as Deputy Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at USDA. "Ann has a strong background in trade and she will be a vocal advocate for expanding agriculture markets abroad," Vilsack said. "Her knowledge and understanding of both domestic and international issues will help set a course for future growth in agricultural exports." Wright most recently served as Senior Policy Advisor to Majority Leader Harry Reid on issues before the Senate Agriculture Committee. Prior to joining the staff of Senator Reid, she was a policy analyst for Consumers Union on energy and trade issues and worked with farmers and non-profit organizations at the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, DC. Wright previously served as a policy advisor on agriculture issues for Senator Paul Simon of Illinois and Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. She is from central Illinois and earned her Bachelors Degree in Political Science from Illinois State University. Marketing and Regulatory Programs facilitates domestic and international marketing of U.S. agricultural products and ensures the health and care of animals and plants. The agency also actively participates in setting national and international standards.

2 Comments on Sustainable Agriculture Supporter Ann Wright Named New USDA Undersecretary

  1. This is great! I wonder if she will be able to do anything to protect small scale farmers from NAIS and the other food safety bills wandering through Congress right now. Any idea if that will be within the scope of her position?

    • That’s a good question. I suspect that current congressional food safety legislation is outside of her sphere of influence because it would be administered by FDA not USDA. NAIS I really don’t know…

      Here is the latest on the House Food Safety Legislation:

      House Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing on Food Safety: On Wednesday, June 3, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to discuss the ‘Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.’ The draft food safety legislation was prepared by full committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) along with committee members John Dingell (D-MI), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Bart Stupak (D-MI), Betty Sutton (D-OH), and Diana DeGette (D-CO). Testimony from the hearing can be found here.

      The opening statements provided ninety minutes of debate over the range of authorities and resources that should be afforded to Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Generally, the bill’s supporters stressed that a new robust food safety system will benefit industry by preventing outbreaks and restoring consumer confidence, while the more hesitant members expressed concerns about increased bureaucracy at FDA, burdens on industry in a struggling economy, and higher prices for consumers.

      Chairman Waxman acknowledged that the proposed $1,000 registration fee in the bill is one of the most contentious issues, but reiterated that appropriations alone will not be enough to allow FDA to perform adequate food safety activities. He believes that industry should “chip in its fair share.” Addressing concerns about the presence of FDA on farms, Waxman stated that FDA will continue to work with state and local authorities with a strong on-farm presence, as it has in the past. “I am confident that farmers have nothing to fear from this bill,” he said.

      First to testify was newly-appointed FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg. Hamburg called the draft a “major step in the right direction” and stated that the bill meets three key FDA criteria by (1) creating a new food safety system focused on prevention, (2) providing the legal authorities to help FDA fulfill its existing and new responsibilities, and (3) providing additional monetary resources.

      Hamburg said that registration fees and recordkeeping systems are “of critical importance” to enhance food safety activities but expressed a desire to work with small businesses to ensure that new regulations aren’t too burdensome. She also made clear that neither the substantial proposed budget increases for FDA included in the Administration’s budget nor the revenue from the registration fee in the bill (expected to bring in about $375 million a year) is sufficient to achieve the food facility inspection goals established in the draft bill.

      A panel of five witnesses also testified, including representatives from the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Tennessee Department of Health, and United Fresh Produce Association. Caroline Smith DeWaal, representing the Food Safety Coalition, called on the House to strengthen the bill by requiring food companies to report when and where pathogens are found and by increasing the frequency of inspections, especially in high-risk facilities.

      Chairman Waxman indicated that the Health Subcommittee may vote on this legislation as early as next week, with the full committee to follow prior to the July 4 recess.

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