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The U.S. Dairy Export Council commends the Senate's Tuesday confirmation of USDEC President and CEO Tom Vilsack to serve the country once again as U.S. Agriculture Secretary.

“I want to congratulate Secretary Vilsack and thank him for the great work he has done for America’s dairy farmers through his leadership at the U.S. Dairy Export Council,” said Thomas Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), USDEC’s parent organization. “The Secretary has been a driving force in continuing to create viable global markets for dairy through USDEC, and he will continue to be a strong voice for agriculture in his role at USDA.”

Vilsack oversaw USDA for all eight years of the Obama Administration. He took the helm of USDEC in January 2017, and now leaves USDEC to join the Biden Administration’s Cabinet.

With Vilsack’s departure, Gallagher announced the promotion of Krysta Harden from USDEC chief operating officer to USDEC president and CEO. Before joining USDEC, Harden was executive vice president of global environmental strategy at DMI, where she helped steer the U.S. dairy industry’s sustainability initiatives. At USDEC, Harden will continue to be active in global organizations, including the World Economic Forum, World Federation of Exchanges, Global Child Nutrition Foundation, and the upcoming U.N. World Food Systems Summit.

Vilsack ends his USDEC tenure after a banner year for U.S. dairy exports. U.S. dairy suppliers shipped more than 2 million tons of milk solids overseas for the first time. That means more U.S. milk crossed national borders in 2020 in the form of cheese, dairy ingredients and other products than ever before.

A trade organization, USDEC paves the way for its member companies' global growth by advancing trade policy, providing regulatory guidance and expanding global marketing, among other services.

“I'm sad to see Secretary Vilsack leave,” said USDEC chairman Larry Hancock, a Texas farmer, “but I'm happy that the dairy industry's loss is the country’s gain. Secretary Vilsack will do for U.S. agriculture what he has done for U.S. dairy, which is to unite people under a shared vision of growth, optimism and hope.”

Summary of accomplishments during Secretary Tom Vilsack’s 2017-2021 tenure at USDEC:

  • Established nearly a dozen partnerships in key target markets with organizations including Singapore Polytechnic’s Food Innovation & Resource Centre and China’s Jiangnan University to deepen U.S. engagement in foreign markets, demonstrate U.S. dairy expertise to overseas customers, and raise the profile of the United States as a committed global dairy supplier.
  • Opened the U.S. Center for Dairy Excellence in Singapore, giving the U.S. dairy industry its first shared physical presence in a key growth market outside the United States.
  • Invested in new people in USDEC’s network of overseas offices to cultivate supplier-customer relationships and provide deeper, on-the-ground insights on the unique dairy and nutritional needs of specific regions.
  • Oversaw a series a new programs and promotions, including creating the USA Cheese Guild, the USA Cheese Specialist™ Certification Program and more than 20 social media channels in key markets, to build demand for U.S. cheese by engaging and educating culinary professionals, retailers and consumers on U.S. cheese quality, tastes and applications.
  • Helped bring dairy-positive trade agreements across the finish line, most prominently the Phase 1 deal with China and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a pact containing groundbreaking measures to reform Canada's trade-distorting pricing system and protect common cheese names in Mexico.
  • Successfully concluded a decade-long effort to convince China to approve permeate as an ingredient for use in human food and beverage products, opening a brand new and potentially major market for U.S. dairy suppliers.
  • Expanded staffing to take a larger, proactive leadership role in international standard-setting bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the World Organization for Animal Health to minimize potential barriers to dairy trade and support the adoption of science-based standards.
  • Communicated the United States’ unparalleled approach to sustainability to global markets, emphasizing U.S. dairy’s longstanding commitment to healthy people, a healthy planet and healthy communities at a time when overseas businesses and consumers are increasingly prioritizing the environment, animal health and packaging waste in food-purchase decisions.
  • Increased collaboration with international organizations such as the Pan American Dairy Federation and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture to promote and defend the essential role of dairy in the global food system, support science-based policymaking and highlight the benefits of international trade in economic development.