The United s Department of Agriculture (USDA) is so much more than that purple stamp we see on our purchased meat. As early as 1839 Congress established the Agriculture Division of the Patent Office. Although a somewhat strange combination, the then Commissioner of Patents, Henry Ellsworth had long been a avid collector of various seeds and was well known for this in the Washington, D. C. area (“USDA History”, 2006, screen 1). In the 19th century approximately 58% of the population was involved in farming. The need for a separate department which concentrated on seed propagation and farming techniques was called for.
In 1862, under President Abraham Lincoln the Agriculture Department was formed. Although not a cabinet level department, for the first time there was an autonomous department within the federal government that concentrated solely on agriculture matters (“About USDA”, 2006, screen 1). It was not until 1889 that the USDA became a cabinet level department. Under President Grover Cleveland, the House and Senate passed the bill allowing him to sign it into law. On February 9, 1889, the USDA, in its current structure, was born. Appendix A contains the current organizational chart of the USDA.
Although the demographics of the United States is much different today than it was when the Agriculture Department was first conceived, the USDA has evolved with the emerging technology and changes within our society. Currently there are seven main functional areas, or key mission areas, in which the USDA concentrates it efforts. These key areas include: “the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. Food Safety. Marketing and Regulatory Programs. Natural Resources and Environment. Research, Education and Economics. and Rural Development” (“USDA Mission”, 2006, screen 1).
Some of the key areas within these programs contain many aspects that, in general, citizens may not associate with the USDA. For instances, the USDA is responsible for the administrations of various anti-hunger programs within the United States including: the school lunch program, food stamps, and WIC (Women and Infant Children). Additionally, the USDA is tasked with overseeing the United States’ international anti-hunger food distribution program. They additionally are tasked with establishing and maintaining the transparency of the international markets for agricultural products.
Another tasking of the USDA is the oversight of all the national forests and rangelands, a total of 192 million acres (“About USDA”, 2006). Additionally, the USDA oversees all the conversation programs across the nation for the 70% of the country that is in the hands of private owners. These conservation efforts include soil, water and wildlife conservations projects and coordination of all the volunteer initiatives throughout the country.
Another tasking is the coordination and overseeing of rural cooperatives throughout the country that provide energy, water and telecommunications throughout all the states. Another major area of functionality is the research functional area. Research is conducted and sponsored in a wide range of diverse areas. “USDA is a research leader in everything from human nutrition to new crop technologies that allow us to grow more food and fiber using less water and pesticides” (“About USDA”, 2006, screen 1). The last functional area is the one probably most familiar to average Americans.
The USDA is responsible for the safety of all meat, poultry and eggs produced and marketed. They apply stringent testing and quality assurances to ensure the well being of all citizens.
In conclusion, the USDA can best be summarized by reviewing their mission statement, “We provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management” (“Mission”, 2006, screen 1).
After over 150 years of service the USDA may have changed the scope of their day to day operations and focus, but through all the technological advances and changes their primary focus still is on the safety of all citizens and the conservation of our natural resources to ensure the resources we have will be here for another 150 years.
“About USDA.” (2006). United States Department of Agriculture Website. April 17, 2006
“Mission Statement.” (2006). United States Department of Agriculture Website. April 17, 2006
“United States Department of Agriculture.” (2006). Wikipedia Website. April 17, 2006
“USDA Organizational Chart.” (2006). United States Department of Agriculture Website.
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“USDA Mission Areas..” (2006). United States Department of Agriculture Website.
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