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President-elect Barack Obama, a backer of tighter farm subsidy rules and renewable fuels from rural America, selected Iowa's former governor, Tom Vilsack, as the new Secretary of Agriculture.
If confirmed by the Senate, Vilsack, 58, would be the first Iowan to lead the Agriculture Department since Henry Wallace during the Depression era. Wallace, an editor, economist, and developer of hybrid corn, had a seminal role in the creation of the U.S. farm support system still in use.
Vilsack, a popular two-term governor of Iowa, was the first Democrat into the race for president that eventually was won by Obama. He withdrew from the race in February 2007.
"It's time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that's committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families," President-elect Obama said.
Following the selection announcement, Secretary-designate Vilsack spoke of his commitment to "promote American leadership in response to global climate change," and declared his intent to "place nutrition at the center of all food programs administered by the department."
On his Web site for the presidential transition, Obama says he is committed to ensuring "that our rural areas continue their leadership in the renewable fuels movement." Corn-based ethanol is the major biofuel now produced. The next generation of fuels is expected to use feedstocks like wood chips and grasses, reducing 'food vs. fuel' friction.
Obama also supports strict regulation of pollution from large-scale feedlots, a ban on meatpackers raising livestock in competition with farmers and country-of-origin labels on U.S. food "so that American producers can distinguish their products from imported ones."
Vilsack's major issues as governor were funding for education and bringing more high-tech agribusiness to Iowa. Before election as governor in 1998, Vilsack was mayor of Mount Pleasant and an Iowa state senator. He also served as head of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.