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Ag Secretary Announced: Tom Vilsack

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 15:46:00 PM PST


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Well, weeks after being counted as "out of the running," Vilsack was announced as our new Secretary of Agriculture. The general reaction I'm hearing is not a very happy one, but also "he's not the worst pick." How's that for a ringing endorsement?

Iowans who I've spoken to tell me about their disappointment in Vilsack's vote (as a state senator) to take away local control on hog factory farms in Iowa. During his time as governor "Vilsack oversaw the largest proliferation of hog confinements in the states history." These new hog CAFOs put tens of thousands of independent family hog farmers out of business in the state. The end result of this was a "decimation of rural Iowa" and serious degradation of the state's drinking water.

Iowans also remember the rides on Monsanto's corporate jet that Vilsack - the Biotech "Governor of the Year" - enjoyed during his time in office. He repayed Monsanto by working with the Republican floor manager in the House, promising to do everything he could to get a seed bill to pass. This bill took away county power to regulate GMOs within county borders.

Says one Iowan:

While Tom Vilsack is not the worst pick, he certainly does not have a history of serious reform that was promised by Barack Obama during his campaign for change.

For some quick info on him, I recommend reading A Different View of Vilsack and see a statement by Organic Consumers director Ronnie Cummins on Vilsack and an Organic Consumers alert opposing Vilsack for Ag Secretary (below).

Jill Richardson :: Ag Secretary Announced: Tom Vilsack
Six Reasons Why Obama Appointing Monsanto's Buddy, Former Iowa Governor Vilsack, for USDA Head Would be a Terrible Idea
Organic Consumers Association, November 12, 2008

1. Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's support of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn:
http://www.gene.ch/genet/2002/...
http://www.organicconsumers.or...

2. The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.
http://www.bio.org/news/pressr...

3. When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child of economic development potential was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.

4. Vilsack was the origin of the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, which many people here in Iowa fought because it took away local government's possibility of ever having a regulation on seeds- where GE would be grown, having GE-free buffers, banning pharma corn locally, etc. Representative Sandy Greiner, the Republican sponsor of the bill, bragged on the House Floor that Vilsack put her up to it right after his state of the state address.

5. Vilsack has a glowing reputation as being a schill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto. Sustainable ag advocated across the country were spreading the word of Vilsack's history as he was attempting to appeal to voters in his presidential bid. An activist from the west coast even made this youtube animation about Vilsack
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...
The airplane in this animation is a referral to the controversy that Vilsack often traveled in Monsanto's jet.

6. Vilsack is an ardent support of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more fossil energy to produce them as they generate, while driving up world food prices and literally starving the poor.

Web Note, Nov. 20, 2008: Although the Organic Consumers Association is happy that former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack apparently supports a modest reduction in our nation's annual $17-25 billion subsidies (for example the often voiced reform for a $250,000 limit to individual farms per year) to chemical, energy-intensive and genetically engineered crops such as corn, soybeans, and cotton, our position is that all "non-green" subsidies should be eliminated. We can no longer afford to use U.S. tax money to subsidize chemical and energy-intensive crops that basically prop up factory farm profits and the junk food industry, make consumers unhealthy, waste valuable non-renewable resources, and destabilize the climate. We need massive subsidies instead to help American farmers and ranchers make the transition to healthy, energy-efficient, carbon-sequestering, organic crops and farm practices--before it's too late.
http://www.organicconsumers.or...

Similarly, we are glad Vilsack has apparently reversed his previous vocal support for genetically engineered crops, including controversial and dangerous biopharmaceutical crops, but we'd prefer a USDA Secretary who calls for on an outright ban on biopharm crops, cloned animals, and an end to all taxpayer subsidies for genetically engineered crops. If Vilsack actually is appointed USDA Secretary we'll definitely remind him of his stated position below--that he supports mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients and strict liability for companies and farmers causing genetic pollution with their GMO seeds and crops.

Finally, we hope Tom Vilsack (and Barack Obama) will admit that corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel, although popular with Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and subsidized corn and soybean farmers in Vilsack's home state of Iowa, are a dangerous hoax, and that the only way the US will be able to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution by 80% by 2050 (as Obama has promised), and to survive in an era of Peak Oil and evermore expensive energy, is to convert our nation's industrial, petroleum-based food and farming system (which eats up 19% of our energy and generates 37% of our greenhouse gases) to a solar-based, relocalized/regionalized system of organic agriculture as outlined in Michael Pollan's recent essay in the New York Times http://www.organicconsumers.or...

We're happy Tom Vilsack voices support for long overdue "Livestock Market Reforms," but we believe it's now blatantly obvious that factory farms or CAFO should be banned, before they do any more damage to animals, human health, water quality (including massive dead zones in the oceans), and our already destabilized climate.

We look forward to mobilizing America's 50 million organic consumer to pressure Tom Vilsack or whomever Barack Obama appoints as the new Secretary of Agriculture.

Ronnie Cummins, Director, Organic Consumers Association

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I would like to know (4.00 / 2)
when Obama's transition team approached him for this job.

Last month Vilsack told the Des Moines Register that he wasn't being considered for any position in Obama's cabinet.

Was that true, or was it a head fake to distract the activists who were opposing him?


Path to Vilsack (4.00 / 1)
The question of how Obama settle on Vilsack is a good one.

I posted on this at Beyond Green, but I didn't go into this aspect of the story. It's possible that Vilsack was indeed telling the truth to the Register when he said he wasn't under consideration. I can see Obama going back to Vilsack more recently based on dissatisfaction over his other choices and/or an inability to get the farm lobby to swallow more reformist picks (remember their rumored resistance even to Vilsack).

Given Obama's amazing needle-threading instincts with his Veterans Affairs pick Shinseki, along with Chu at DOE and Duncan for Education, it's hard to believe he would have abandoned them for Ag. I'm not suggesting that Vilsack is necessarily a closet reformer. I'm just saying the politics of the situation might have led Obama to him in a way that doesn't necessary indicate what Obama's policy priorities really are. I'm hoping we find out more at the press conference today.


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