U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says administrators in his agency have found more money to buy pork products for government feeding programs, like the free and reduced-price school lunch program.
In August, Iowa Governor Chet Culver, the governors of eight other states and pork industry leaders asked the U.S.D.A. to buy more pork. A few days later Vilsack said the U.S.D.A. had used up most of the money it had to buy commodities. Today, Vilsack announced his agency has found more money for pork purchases.
"I asked the team to take a look at other pods of money that might be underutilized to see if we could put together some other resources," Vilsack said during an interview with Radio Iowa. "They were able to find $30 million for additional purchases, which puts the total this year to $147 million of purchases of pork products by U.S.D.A."
Vilsack, who served as Iowa’s governor from January 1999 to January of 2007, became U.S. Ag Secretary this past January. He said by buying $30 million worth of pork, the U.S.D.A. will help support the "depressed" pork market. The pork will be used by food banks and in government programs that provide meals to the elderly as well as in school lunch and breakfast programs.
"I know that schools have been a little bit reluctant in terms of pork purchases because of the misunderstanding about H1N1 and how the major media characterizes it," Vilsack said. "But hopefully with this purchase we’ll be able to reassure school officials that pork is safe and reassure families and consumers that pork is safe."
The commodities the U.S.D.A. buys for government feeding programs must meet quality guidelines and are normally required to be low in fat, sugar and sodium. Vilsack says pork is a high-protein-content item that fits within those guidelines.
"This purchase will help schools provide a more balanced and nutritious meal and at the same time help out our family farmers and not necessarily break the budget," Vilsack said. "So it’s a good solution and I appreciate the hard work of the folks at U.S.D.A. to figure this out and hopefully pork producers around the country and the governors who wrote to us, including Governor Culver, are pleased with our action."
Vilsack made his comments late this morning during a telephone interview.