On Wednesday, outgoing USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack fielded questions from the Senate Agriculture Committee on the subject of his department and the state of the farm economy.
Vilsack was questioned on just about every subject, including low commodity prices, GMO labels, regulations, food assistance programs, obesity, and national security.
That last question came from ranking member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who asked Vilsack to elaborate as to what makes food security an issue of national security.
"I was in Jordan, not long ago, talking to the King of Jordan, and we were talking about the Syrian situation," Vilsack told lawmakers, "and his solution, which I think is correct, is he essentially said to me 'Mr. Secretary, is there any way we could reestablish agriculture in Syria? Because if we did, we would have employement opportunities. We would have a chance to create and environment and an economy that would potentially reduce the anxiety that's leading to the refugee crisis, in part."
In fact, Vilsack told lawmakers that in his opinion, a common factor between essentially every hot spot in the world is the fact that none have a functioning agricultural economy, and all of them have a lot of hungry people.
"So if we're serious about protecting our own people, if we're serious about making sure the world is a safer and better place for our kids and grandkids, then we have to understand the role that agriculture in this country, and agriculture around the world, will play in providing that level of security," he said, "and I think, frankly, that there is a lack of appreciation, at times, not certainly in this committee, but in other parts of this town, on the significant role that agriculture plays."
Vilsack attributes American economic muscle to the economy's foundation on agriculture, and said the White House's National Security Council needs to have an agricultural representative to underpin the role he says food plays in national security.