U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, says his agency doesn’t have 50-million dollars to buy more pork as a way to boost the sagging pork industry.
Iowa’s current governor, Chet Culver, along with the governors of eight other states, on Friday asked the U.S.D.A. to buy more pork for government feeding programs. But Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the program doesn’t have that kind of money to spend.
"We are down to our last $7 or 8 million because there’s been such a demand for so many kinds of commodities, including pork. I think in the last fiscal year $62 million worth of pork purchases have been made," Vilsack says. "…So we are trying to meet the demands of everyone."
Vilsack says there may be more money in the pipeline this fall. "When October 1 comes, when the new fiscal year starts, we have a little greater flexibility and at that time we are taking a look at all these requests," Vilsack says, "and we will make determinations at that point in time in terms of what is being requested of us and what we think makes sense."
Over the past few months the U.S.D.A. has used money from the federal economic stimulus to buy dairy products as well as pork. In July, the U.S.D.A. bought 750,000 pounds of ham for government feeding programs, like the free and reduced-price school lunch programs that continue in the summertime.
"We are very sensitive to the concerns of the pork industry. We have tried to respond by asking our institutional purchasers like the Department of Defense and others to purchase more pork products. We’ll continue to do that," Vilsack says. "But I think we are stuck by virtue of the amount of money left in the account that we use to do this, but in October 1 it gets replenished and we’ll be in a different position."
The nine governors also urged the Obama Administration to do what it can to get China to accept U.S. pork imports. Vilsack acknowledges there is a problem, however, as the U.S. is refusing Chinese poultry imports.
"There’s a congressional restriction that the Chinese are quite concerned about and we’re in the process of trying to work our way through a process that would convince members of congress that we, through the U.S.D.A., can ensure the safety and security of any product coming from China," Vilsack says. "Were we able to be successful in concluding that kind of discussion, I think we’d then be able to go back to China and suggest that some of the changes that they’ve made recently, particularly as it relates to (U.S.) pork, but also beef and poultry, ought to be rethought."
Vilsack expects to travel to Asia this fall to try to resolve trade disputes with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Vilsack recently returned from a trip to Africa where he met with representatives from 28 countries to talk about a range of issues, including trade opportunities on that continent.