(Promoting organics is the only way to a clean environment...and health. - promoted by Asinus Asinum Fricat)
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is suddenly adopting the progressive rhetoric of food activists like Michael Pollan and Nicholas Kristof, who've both called for big changes in the USDA. In an interview with the Washington Post, Vilsack just announced a previously unheard-of concept for the USDA: That it should also represent people who eat food, not just the people who grow food, which both Pollan and Kristof have been busily promoting.
"This [USDA] is a department that intersects the lives of Americans two to three times a day. Every single American," Vilsack told Wa Po. "So I absolutely see the constituency of this department as broader than those who produce our food -- it extends to those who consume it."
Given USDA's historic stance as a walled castle of agribusiness, it's amazing that Vilsack is going on the record with such a progressive statement. Even better, Vilsack currently has a huge opportunity to really put words in to action for change, by appointing Chuck Hassebrook as his deputy secretary, something Kristof also supported in an op-ed piece. The director of the Center for Rural Affairs, Hassebrook is not only a visionary in terms of reforming the way government deals with agriculture, but he's also got huge grassroots traction. A petition supporting his candidacy from Food Democracy Now! has gotten almost 85,000 signatures.
|We blogged previously about Washingtonians who oppose Hassebrook as deputy secretary, but there's another big player in the ag drama. Blue Dog Dem and Chair of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D in name only, Minnesota) is a cheerleader for corporate farming, and has supported all kinds of policies that aren't necessarily good for the health of the eaters of America--genetic engineering for crops, environmentally questionable confined animal feeding operations, trading in crop futures...y'know, all the 20th century modernizations that have driven US farming into enslavement to corporate interests. Peterson's now proudly strolling around DC, telling reporters and aides that he's been very actively involved in killing the candidacy of progressive noms for deputy secretary, based on differences of opinion. Jim Weisemeyer from Agweb.com writes that when Rep. Peterson was asked about deputy secretary candidates, Peterson said "...it appears to have slowed down...possibly because I and others had some real problems with some of the people they were considering, and I made my views known...." Beltway ag insiders report that the main target of Peterson's ire has been Chuck Hassebrook.
Peterson is wildly opposed to Hassebrook's ethical position on capping government subsidies for farmers; Peterson believes there should be no limit on the amount of government cash farmers get. Hassebrook has argued for subsidy caps because the payments are based on acreage, and farmers who own more acreage get larger payments, which puts small operations at an unfair disadvantage in the ag marketplace. We're really wondering how Peterson came to his conclusion that subsidies should be unlimited; he voted against Barack's Economic Stimulus package because he believes it's a wickedly bad financial move on the part of government. Aren't unlimited subsidies for farmers also the kind of thing that should make Peterson's hackles rise? It's pork barrel spending pure and simple, and makes no financial sense. Barack himself is an advocate for capping subsides for farmers, so Peterson's going against the Big Guy on multiple fronts.
Worse, Peterson now seems pretty tone deaf when it comes to Tom Vilsack's enlightened position. In the same Wa Po story noted above, Vilsack said that part of his new vision for USDA is to "expand farmers' choices to include opportunities in energy and in the growing market for organic and whole foods."
Peterson has gone on the record about organics, and it ain't pretty. Here's a really interesting bit of an article from Financial Times:
Collin Peterson, chairman of the House of Representatives agricultural committee, says the farm sector that raises organic produce and grass-fed beef for local consumers needs little federal help.
"It is growing, and it has nothing to do with the government, and that is good," he told the FT. "For whatever reason, people are willing to pay two or three times as much for something that says 'organic' or 'local'. Far be it from me to understand what that's about, but that's reality. And if people are dumb enough to pay that much then hallelujah."
In addition to Vilsack's support of organics, Barack's also said he'd like to support organics; this is part of the Obama Biden Rural Agenda. In terms of ag policy making, Peterson needs to enter the the 21st century and the Obama administration. Not only are the eaters of America depending on him, but his re-election might be in the balance, if the huge support of Food Democracy Now! is any indication.