It was billed as a visit to recognize USDA-sponsored research at OSU’s Center for Advanced Foods Research and Entrepreneurship in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Science. Tom Vilsack, secretary of USDA, toured labs at the Department of Food Science and Technology June 28. He spoke with OSU scientists and saluted their work with:
* A tomato-soy juice that's rich in lycopene and soy isoflavones that could reduce the occurrence of prostate cancer. The research was funded, in part, by a $1.75 million USDA grant.
* A bread that contains enough soy protein to carry a Food and Drug Administration "heart-healthy" claim and rich enough in isoflavones to be studied for anti-cancer properties.
* A "black-raspberry confection" made from freeze-dried black raspberries that could help reduce the recurrence of oral cancers.
All of these products are in clinical trials with patients at the James Cancer Center.
“In medicine they work to fix problems. In agriculture we work to prevent them,” Vilsack said of the research. “It is an amazing story. People across Ohio and across the country should be proud of these accomplishments.”
Vilsack recalled a prior visit to OSU where he learned about the state’s stature as a leading developer of bio-based polymers. He noted that such research helped to stimulate the economy by promoting jobs. And with that he got down to the real reason for his visit.
“Our programs at USDA are all linked to the Farm Bill,” he told the group. “The Senate took a big first step in passing the bill – extraordinarily fast. I’m sure the agriculture committee leadership will also be working to move the bill forward. The problem is the leaders in the House and one leader in particular from Ohio – the Cincinnati area -- has said he is putting his finger on the pause button. As a result it is creating a great deal of uncertainty in the farm community.”
Vilsack noted that he would love to bring some rain to Ohio’s parched fields, but he said the "It's important and necessary that we have some programs in place to help those farmers who, through no fault of their own, are faced with the loss of a crop. "That cannot happen unless we have a food, jobs and farm bill by Sept. 30."
When I asked the secretary about the “Food” part of the bill which accounts for some 80% of the cost, he replied that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is designed to help people who are struggling.
"I think the assumption on the part of a lot of people is that people who get SNAP are on welfare. But 92% of people on SNAP are one of these groups: senior citizens on a very low fixed income; people with a very serious disability; working men and women and their children who are having a tough time. Which of those people do we not want to help?"
He also emphasized the ripple effect that SNAP dollars have, from grocery stores to truck drivers who transport the food all the way back to the farmer. And he said the fraud rate in the program, at 1%, is at its lowest point in history, as is the error rate, at 3.5 to 3.6%.
In contrast, the error rate in the agency's crop insurance program is at 9%, he said.
"I never hear anyone say hey, we need to cut crop insurance because there's a 9% error rate," Vilsack said. "Why not? It's the same dollar."