What Is the Purpose of the USDA?

by Kelsey Butler

The United States Department of Agriculture was founded in 1889 to increase federal funding for agricultural activities, and it has since grown into a multi-billion-dollar government department. There are seven divisions that work together to protect public health and conserve environmental resources. USDA programs work toward a sustainable future by educating rural Americans, farmers, private landowners and all consumers about effective business practices, eating healthfully and protecting the environment.

Assisting Economic Growth in Rural America

The USDA Division of Rural Development is tasked with improving economic opportunities in America’s rural communities. It promotes development with grant and loan programs that give rural Americans access to housing and that support local agriculture businesses and farmers. Specific policies are outlined in the Farm Bill, which is passed every five years to amend policies and funding for USDA agencies. The Farm Bill authorizes funding for new community facilities, Internet services, housing and education in rural areas. It also defines a budget for subsidies granted to beginning farmers and for micro-loan programs for local agriculture producers.

Regulating Food Safety

The Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for preventing foodborne hazards and overseeing the labeling and packaging of foods. It inspects local farms, regulates national food safety policies and educates the public on how to safely handle food. This agency also sets forth policies on how food is produced and labeled. For example, if a product claims to be allergen-free, the Food Safety and Inspection Service dictates that the manufacturing facility must adhere to strict policies to prevent contamination. This regulation is critical in creating consumer trust in grocery-store labels.

Improving Public Nutrition and Health

The USDA mission to improve health and access to food nationwide was borne out of the realization that there is an abundance of healthy food in America and no one should suffer from nutritional deficiencies. The Food and Nutrition Service aims to end hunger and ensure that low-income families and children have access to healthy food. This is accomplished by implementing school lunch programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. This agency also works to reduce obesity by educating the public on active, healthy lifestyles.

Managing Public and Private Lands

There are two agencies in the USDA that work to preserve America’s public and private lands. The Forest Service manages the nation’s forests and wilderness areas by supporting state and local governments and by partnering with local groups to plant trees, maintain hiking trails, prevent forest fires and preserve scenic areas. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service works with private landowners to educate them on sustainable practices. This service makes sure landowners have access to quality soil and water and helps conserve wildlife on privately owned farmland.

Promoting Agricultural Exports to Developing Countries

The Foreign Agriculture Service promotes agricultural exports to low-income countries to increase worldwide food security, which means making sure these populations have access to healthy food and the resources to distribute it. Food security is crucial for developing countries that want to improve economic growth. The USDA creates national policies that expand trade of agricultural products from American farmers to foreign countries. It also works directly with local communities in developing areas to promote sustainable food production.

About the Author

Kelsey Butler is pursuing a master’s in pharmacology at the University of Vermont. She previously majored in psychology with a double minor in chemistry and pharmacology, and hopes to pursue a career in medicinal chemistry.

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