Goverment Information: The U.S. Department Of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was founded by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and continues to ensure a safe food supply today. Statistical data, offices, major acts.

In 1776, George Washington proposed that the U.S. Congress establish a National Board of agriculture. Agriculture at this time was a fragmented business, with local markets and customs varying widely. Congress did nothing at the time, but by 1825, both the House of Representatives and the Senate had agriculture committees. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln founded the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At that time, ninety percent of all Americans made at least part of their income from farming. In 1889, the Department of Agriculture was raised to Cabinet status. The first Secretary of Agriculture was Norman Jay Coleman, former Lieutenant Governor of Missouri.

In the early years of this country, meat was a risky business. There were no established rules or regulations concerning slaughter and preservation. Many people became ill and some even died from the bacteria that could live in meat-- even that which looked good to the naked eye. Most could not afford to give up eating meat, however, especially those in urban areas, where fruits and vegetables were scarce. There was also no education about proper meat preparation that might prevent illnesses. The Department of Agriculture set about to change this. The first Meat Inspection Acts were passed in 1890 and 1891. From this time forward the Government had authority to inspect slaughterhouses for hygienic purposes. In 1906, the Food and Drug act was passed, and it was at this time that the USDA began to aggressively educate the population on food handling and preparation.

The Great Depression hit the agriculture industry hard. Organizations such as the International Workers of the World ("Wobblies") had already organized thousands of farm workers. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt felt that if he did not institute some kind of social safety network for agricultural laborers, it would drive them further to the left and possibly plunge the United States into Communism. In 1933, the Agricultural Adjustment Act initiated crop and marketing controls. From 1933 to 1940, New Deal legislation increased government involvement in agriculture, and strengthened the power of the USDA.

During World War II, the USDA was involved in setting price controls and rationing food. Each family was issued a ration card through the Department, allotting them certain amounts of such staples as meat, eggs, and sugar. The USDA also launched the National Victory Garden Program. Even families in urban areas were encouraged to grow their own fruits and vegetables, so that the agricultural industry could concentrate on feeding the troops.

The 1950's and 1960's were generally a good time to be in agriculture. The USDA used food surpluses to feed the needy, both at home and abroad. By the early Seventies, surplus disposal through sales abroad led to the easing of regulation and a greater reliance on the marketplace.

Many people do not realize that the USDA oversees Natural Resources Conservation Service, which strives to reduce soil erosion and protect water quality, and the Forest Service, which manages and protects the Nation's 192 million acres of national forests and rangelands. In 1983, USDA Secretary John Block implemented a payment-in-kind program, resulting in the third largest acreage reduction ever.

The current USDA Secretary is Daniel Glickman. Only 2% of Americans work in agriculture today, but the Department has expanded from its rural roots. Although it still helps rural Americans with everything from farm loans to housing, over half of its budget goes to provide food stamps and meal programs for the elderly and disadvantaged.

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