Vilsack Floats Idea of ‘Food Council’ for Next Administration

From the Council on Environmental Quality to the Rural Council, the White House has a stable of administration-level groups to help guide farm and food safety policy. But something it doesn’t have is a council to help stakeholders navigate the dozen-plus agencies tasked with regulating agriculture and food safety.

That’s a challenge the next administration should take up, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last week during an advisory committee meeting on agriculture biotechnology.

Vilsack said the incoming administration should consider establishing a “food council” to help unify and coordinate policy areas like food safety, trade and production methods across federal agencies and the private sector.

“We have 15 different agencies that are involved in food safety and regulatory issues of one kind or another, and I think we’re the only major country in the world that has that many fingers in the pie,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack—whose tenure running the USDA ends with the Obama administration—declined when asked to say whether he’d like to head a food council.

The issue came up in as the committee discussed challenges in implementing the recently signed labeling law for foods made with genetically modified organisms. In the run-up to its passage in Congress, the Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to lawmakers expressing concern about the bill’s definition of bioengineering, saying that it could leave out highly refined ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup or canola oil. The USDA’s general counsel, however, said in a follow up letter that the department would include such ingredients when it crafted rules implementing the law.


Vilsack told the committee that those issues have been resolved and that there’s consensus between the FDA and Agriculture Department on scope of the GMO-labeling law.

Vilsack’s comments aren’t the first time someone’s brought up the idea of closer coordination on regulating food and agriculture. In 2015, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Richard Durbin introduced the Safe Food Act (H.R. 609 and S. 287), which would create a single food safety agency by consolidating responsibilities that currently fall under various federal agencies, including the USDA and Food and Drug Administration.

Neither bill has advanced out of committee.