What does the United States Department of Agriculture do?

Licia Morrow

The United States Department of Agriculture, commonly referred to as the USDA, was established by President Abraham Lincoln as “The People’s Department.” This sector of the United States government oversees education, production, research, and many other areas relating to food, the environment, and farming. While less than 2% of the United States population is employed in the farming industry, they supply food for the United States as well as other countries around the world. The USDA employs over 100,000 people in more than 7,000 locations worldwide.

The USDA improves the food supply by developing new crops and livestock.
The USDA improves the food supply by developing new crops and livestock.

The main goals of the United States Department of Agriculture include creating and maintaining a model for food production, environmental concerns, and a safe and healthy food supply. The department strives to keep the industry of American food production competitive around the world, while balancing a concern for natural resources and conservation. Under the agency's large umbrella, individual areas focus on specific sectors of the nutrition and food production industry.

USDA inspectors monitor the safety of the food supply.
USDA inspectors monitor the safety of the food supply.

The Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services branch of the USDA creates and supervises domestic agriculture programs, humanitarian relief, and expanding global markets. This section attempts to provide relief to other countries through food programs, while the Food Nutrition and Consumer Services branch provides domestic food assistance programs such as the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program, free and reduced school lunches, and dietary guidelines, including the food pyramid diagram.

The USDA was established by President Abraham Lincoln.
The USDA was established by President Abraham Lincoln.

Another section of the United States Department of Agriculture is Food Safety, which inspects milk, poultry and eggs, but also utilizes science to develop regulations for proper food production. This branch works to ensure a safe food supply, prevent contamination, as well as educate the public on the proper handling of food. Marketing and Regulatory Programs works to market the U.S. food supply domestically and internationally, as well as to research industry practices and to monitor the health of animals and plants.

Natural Resources and Environment supervises the Forest Service and runs programs designed to improve the conservation practices of farmers. The Research, Education, and Economics sector gives support to colleges and other types of educational facilities, and helps agricultural programs such as FFA and 4-H. Research and testing in this area is utilized and applied to many areas including obesity, alternative food uses, genomics, and environmental issues. The area referred to as Rural Development helps communities with energy, infrastructure, business development and ventures, water and sewer, and housing.

Less than 2 percent of the United States population is employed in the farming industry.
Less than 2 percent of the United States population is employed in the farming industry.

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Discussion Comments


The Department of Agriculture could be trimmed down greatly. Much of the USDA functions as pork barrel spending does in a overly large bill. Under the USDA, there is many welfare programs: WIC, free lunches, subsidies for cities and colleges, food pyramid guidelines, and 4H programs. The function of meat/produce inspection can be one of the only arguable functions of the Department of Agriculture.

First of all, federal money is mishandled badly as George Washington said in his farewell address. People in Vermont can pay more in federal money than citizens in Utah; and Utah can end up with more federal cash. The government is very bad with handling funds. The corruption and greed always come into play.

Every hand-out program is tough to turn away from. Taxpayers are picking up the tab for people on WIC who didn't plan for a child. By giving welfare programs it allows citizens to act more foolishly in life because they know there is a safety net. They rely on that safety net and they won't want to ever leave the safety net. You have to remember the if you give a mouse a cookie principle.

Students can always bring their own lunch to school instead of receiving it for free. They're are many non-profit (non-government) institutions willing to help people out.

Colleges receiving money from the USDA will always rely on them for money. This also allows for higher administration pay. Professors and administration have rich salaries in part thanks to federal money. Colleges are capable of fund raising without having to accept federal USDA grants.

The food pyramid is a catastrophe. It changed in 2005 wasting more money. The government cannot even get your dietary health correct. People are more than capable in going to the library, internet, or asking parents/grand parents what is good/bad to eat.

4H is an honorable activity. The people associated with 4H are more than capable of raising funds for their own projects. Again someone paying federal taxes might not have an interest in 4H but ends of paying for their activities.

The inspection of food can be argued as needed, but it should be constitutional acceptable.

Thanks for reading my thoughts. I hope it sparks ideas and possibly changes your frame of mind.


@ ValleyFiah- Thanks. I browsed the site again and realized how easy it was to navigate. I actually like this new version better. It really teaches the user about healthy eating habits in a way that is customizable to the individual user of the site. I like that the department added tips on healthy exercise regimens and the likes. Too many people do not know what type of exercise requirements they need. Add this to the fact that we have technology do everything for us; we probably spend less time on what is considered "normal activity" than we did twenty years ago. I know my computer has taken a central role in my life, so it has been especially important for me to actually schedule in time for exercise and health. It seems like this new pyramid is definitely a product of good agricultural research.


@ GlassAxe- I was confused by the new USDA food pyramid myself, but after playing around with it for a few minutes, I was able to figure it out. The new food pyramid is an interactive tool that lets you input information about activity level, age, sex, height, and weight to come up with a customized food pyramid that suits your needs. It shows you what percentage of your diets should consist of certain foods so that you can maintain your weight.

If you are outside of the healthy weight range, it will also give you an idea of the amount of exercise needed to reduce your weight as well as resources on the negative effects of obesity. I think it is a very neat and useful tool. If you play around with it, you can come up with customized recommendations for you and your entire family.


I do not understand how the United States Department of Agriculture food guide pyramid works. Can someone explain to me how to use the new pyramid? It does not show what how much of each item I should intake a day. I am trying to teach my daughter about healthy eating and I wanted to show her the food pyramid that I was taught when I was a kid, but it is so much different.

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