Biden Ag Chief Consults With Food Company CEOs on Racial Equity

Bookmark

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke with top executives of a dozen major food and agriculture companies --including Walmart Inc., Bayer AG and Deere & Co. -- on efforts to advance racial equity as his department grapples with a legacy of discrimination against minorities.

“It’s a recognition that within the food and agriculture sector this is being taken seriously,” Vilsack said in a telephone interview shortly after the virtual meeting Friday. “These are some very important people in very important companies.”

Vilsack said he mainly used the hour-long session to mine the executives’ experience in addressing racial equity within their companies and among suppliers. But he also said that the conversation laid the groundwork for potential future partnerships between the USDA and businesses. He declined to offer further details, saying it was too early in the process.

The nation is at “an inflection point where the public is making the strongest call for action on racial justice and equity in generations,” Vilsack said. He urged the executives in the meeting “to be bold and to continue to set a strong example for others to follow throughout the industry and supply chain,” the Agriculture Department said in a statement on the meeting.

President Joe Biden has made racial equity a priority for his administration after a presidential campaign shaped by Black Lives Matter protests touched off by George Floyd’s death in police custody and the disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.

Debt Relief

The Agriculture Department settled a series of class action suits brought over a pattern of discriminating against minority applicants for farm aid and subsidized loans and Vilsack set up a racial equity commission to “root out” discrimination at the department. Biden’s pandemic-relief package, signed last month, included $5 billion for debt relief for minority farmers and other efforts to address racial disparities.

John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S.; Liam Condon, president of Bayer Crop Science; John May, chairman and CEO of Deere & Co.; Dave MacLennan, chairman and CEO of Cargill Inc.; Jim Collins, CEO of Corteva Agriscience; and Steve Cahillane, chairman and CEO of Kellogg Co. participated in the meeting.

Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes; Shane Grant, executive vice president and CEO of Danone North America; Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani LLC; Sally Grimes, CEO of Clif Bar & Co.; Jeff Dunn, chairman and CEO of Bolthouse Farms; and Kristin Peck, CEO of Zoetis Inc. also participated.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.