John Block: This and That

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

We have a long agenda of actions that need to be taken and not much time to do the job.

The federal government’s fiscal year ends this month. The Congress needs to approve the level of spending for next year. They aren’t going to get that done – not enough time. Therefore, as we have done in recent years, the Congress will pass some kind of extension for three or four months to continue funding the agencies. Eventually, we will approve funding for the government next year, but not without a big political fight.

Democrats want more money for domestic programs. Many Republicans want more money for the military. But we don’t have the money. I say, don’t give the government any additional money for next year. Our debt is already rising every year – up to 18 trillion dollars. Look what the debt burden is doing to Europe. Look at Greece. Look at my own State of Illinois.

If we feel we absolutely have to spend money on something, then find a way to pay for it. Find a way to pay for a surface transportation bill. The money to fund repair of our roads and bridges is running out. The American Farm Bureau and many other farm groups sent a letter stating, “A large portion of the consumers’ cost of food is directly attributable to the cost of transportation. Strong infrastructure, such as highways and bridges, are hugely important.”

The Senate did pass a six-year transportation bill in July. The House needs to do the same.

It is also urgent that the Congress do something about Vermont’s GMO law. If different states are allowed to write different GMO labeling laws, according to USDA Secretary Vilsack, “You’re going to create such confusion in the marketplace that costs are going to go up. It will be chaotic.” A bill to preempt state GMO labeling passed the House, but not the Senate. Secretary Vilsack said that while federal preemption “is not absolutely necessary, it would provide greater certainty to the marketplace.”

The bottom line is this – labeling a product GMO can give the impression that it may be “unsafe.” That suggestion is not supported by science. We should put our foot down and stop any effort to mislead the consumer.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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