WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Vilsack as the Joe Biden administration's secretary of agriculture.
Vilsack is the 32nd head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), having served in the role for eight years under former President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2017. He is also the ninth cabinet member of the Biden administration to gain Senate approval so far.
During his confirmation hearing, Vilsack made clear the challenges facing the USDA. "The world and our nation are different today than when I served as agriculture secretary in a previous administration," Vilsack said. "Today, the pandemic, racial justice and equity and climate change must be our priorities."
The 70-year-old pledged that he will work to stabilize and secure agricultural trade policy in the aftermath of the former Donald Trump administration's trade wars levying tariffs on farm products.
Vilsack will also take over the agency amid the coronavirus pandemic that exposed the United States to food insecurity. Some 50 million Americans -- one in seven -- were food insecure in 2020, according to an estimate by Feeding America, a Chicago, Illinois-based non-profit.
Vilsack vowed to bolster the capacity at food banks and prioritize assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
"The USDA needs to do a better job of educating people about the existence of these programs," Vilsack said at the hearing. "It's important to get state and local leaders involved in this as well, and that we make access to these programs more convenient."
Vilsack also said he will focus on climate change by partnering with Congress to achieve President Biden's vision of net-zero agriculture.
Vilsack's smooth confirmation process had been expected. Only seven senators, independent Bernie Sanders and six Republicans, opposed the nomination.
However, Vilsack faced fierce criticism from civil rights activists saying he hadn't done enough to root out racial discrimination within the USDA during his previous tenures there. Enditem