An Open Letter To The USDA

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Mr. Vilsack,

I am writing to share concerns about current aqua/agricultural practices that are effecting our health, safety, economy and future. I know that your mission encompasses vast areas of our economy but it is the Center of Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that will be my focus.

While striving for increased food production the increased use of nitrogen based industrial fertilizers has put all water supply at risk. The problem is succinctly stated in the Environmental Protection Agency paper, aptly enough titled The Problem; “Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.” Human’s suffer by increased exposure to contaminants resulting in increased healthcare costs. Runoff impacted waters are creating fishery “dead zones” resulting in loss of jobs, decreased catches and contaminated harvests. Additionally, crops raised on nitrogen fertilizer enhanced soils are not as nutritious as those raised in diversely organic composted soils. Based on USDA’s own nutritional data the nutrients found in 43 different vegetables were shown to have “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C over the past half century (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, December 2004). Even though the problem has been documented and acknowledged by our own government agencies we continue to encourage bad practice.

Increased food production industrialization seems to ignore current science and common sense. So what can we do? Though certainly not comprehensive, I recommend three immediate actions:
1    End mono-culture farm subsidies thus encouraging crop rotation, better organic farming practices and crop diversification.
2    Recommend a tax on the use of nitrogen based industrial fertilizers that reflects the costs of water degradation, fishery depletion and associated jobs lost.
3    Promote through education and subsidies the small regional multi-crop farmer who is better able to provide product that needs little processing, more economical distribution and provides local jobs.

I look forward to supporting a USDA that values sustainable human welfare as much as it does corporate economic development. You have the position and the power to lead this effort. I encourage you to do so.


Tom Ohling
Full time consumer and registered voter

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