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Barack Obama

"Helping Farmers Grow More Food"

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Jan 25, 2011 at 19:23:28 PM PST

Food and agriculture came up exactly once in the State of the Union. It's disappointing but not shocking. Here's what Obama said:

This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take responsibility - helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

He said it so fast that I missed it while listening and had to check the transcript to get the actual quote. Clearly, he's referring to the Feed the Future program, a program that I've had a rather hard time getting information about. But I will keep trying.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

WTF? Michelle Obama Wants Healthy Food, But Obama Appoints Candy Exec

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 22:37:02 PM PDT

I'm officially calling bullshit on the Michelle Obama "Let's Move" campaign. If the Obama administration had any sincerity in their efforts to help Americans eat healthier diets, then Obama's top political appointments and policy decisions would look a lot different.

Case in point: Obama just appointed Catherine Woteki of the candy company Mars, Inc. to a top post at the USDA. For the past five years, she's been the global director of scientific affairs for Mars, Inc. If confirmed, she will now serve as the USDA's undersecretary for research, education, and economics.

I highly recommend reading Tom Philpott's piece on Woteki (at the link), where he describes how she'll be working directly under the biotech-loving former Monsanto guy Roger Beachy, and how, when she worked at the USDA in the Clinton years, she felt that "the government's only responsibility to the public concerning the technology is to support it vigorously." What a team these two will be.

Oh, and to Michelle Obama: If I were you, I'd make the President sleep on the couch.

Discuss :: (6 Comments)

Obama names Siddiqui as recess appointment

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 28, 2010 at 06:11:15 AM PDT

President Barack Obama made 15 recess appointments on March 27, noting that the president's nominees "have faced an unprecedented level of obstruction in the Senate." The 15 nominees included in yesterday's announcement "have been pending for an average of 214 days or 7 months for a total of 3204 days or almost 9 years."

The full list of appointees, with short bios, can be found here. Of particular interest to the La Vida Locavore community: Obama has named Islam Siddiqui, Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America, to be the Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Jill reported here a few weeks ago that more than 100 organizations opposed Siddiqui's nomination "as a textbook case of the 'revolving door' between industry and the government agencies meant to keep watch." I posted Siddiqui's official bio after the jump.

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Ha! Obama Ag Policy is Schizophrenic

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 11:00:51 AM PST

Great one by Marion Burros on Politico: "President Obama agriculture picks sow confusion:

The Obama administration's competing agricultural policies could prompt a bad case of indigestion - or whiplash.

Longtime food policy observers are having a difficult time squaring the Department of Agriculture's entrenched preference for high-tech industrial agriculture that emphasizes biotechnology and genetically engineered crops with its newfound interest in helping those who favor low-tech ag: small farmers, advocates of organic and local food and champions of sustainability.

Margaret Mellon, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, describes the USDA as schizophrenic. "It wants to promote both organic and sustainable local," she said. "It is also committed to promotion of biotech here and around the world. So far, there has not been collision between those two priorities, but I'm not sure that situation will last much longer."

She's got it soooo right. I think this idiotic contradictory policy is due to a fundamental lack of understanding of agriculture... and a very good understanding of politics. Obama's doing very well to try and please two very disparate constituencies - the biotech/pesticide lobby and health & environmentally conscious citizens. You can't have it both ways, but they sure are trying.

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Message to President Obama: Why Trade Will Not Save Rural America

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Feb 04, 2010 at 06:00:00 AM PST

This excellent response to Vilsack's recent op ed in the Des Moines Register and Obama's State of the Union is cross-posted from Civil Eats with the permission of the author, Paula Crossfield.

Message to President Obama: Why Trade Will Not Save Rural America

February 3rd, 2010  By Paula Crossfield

In Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's op-ed this week in the Des Moines Register, he recognized that hunger could not be solved by raising production, because production is in fact at record highs. Grappling with how these increases in productivity have not led to increases in profit, he explained that even though we've lost a million farmers in the last 40 years, "income from farming operations declined as a percentage of total farm family income by half." He continued, "Today, only 11 percent of family farm income comes from farming, which may explain why fewer young people go into farming and why many families rely on off-farm income opportunities to keep their farms." Vilsack gets the situation right, but his remedy is wrong. Instead of encouraging diversity and altering the pattern of overproduction which pits large farm owners against small by shrinking margins, the Obama administration's way of dealing with the discrepancy in rural America is through increasing trade.

More below...

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Obama Proposes Budget, Pushes GMOs, and Falls Short on School Lunch Reform

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Feb 03, 2010 at 06:00:00 AM PST

Following the State of the Union, Obama released his proposed budget. For agriculture, there are few real surprises and one big disappointment. I've heard a lot of talk for a long time about giving $1 billion to child nutrition. That includes suggestions FROM OBAMA (like this one from one year ago) to do exactly that. But in this proposed 2011 budget, he pulls a clever trick on us. He still proposes $1 billion but now it's to be shared between child nutrition and WIC.

Unlike other nutrition programs (such as food stamps) that are entitlements, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) must have funds appropriated by Congress. For entitlement programs, the government spends as much money as it takes to pay for everyone who is eligible for the program. That's not the case for WIC. And when the economy is down (as it is now), the number of people eligible for WIC goes up. (To be eligible for WIC, you must be a pregnant or breastfeeding mom or a child under age 5 with a household income of less than 185% of the federal poverty level.)

After splitting out part of the extra $1 billion for WIC, according to Kim Severson of the New York Times, the remaining money for school lunch amounts to less than 20 cents per meal. Quite frankly, this is pathetic. The School Nutrition Association asked Congress for an extra 35 cents per meal, and I thought THAT was pathetic. This is far worse. Tom Philpott agrees (and cleverly references the Depression-era hit song "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"... or two dimes in this case).

In other parts of his proposed budget, Obama gives a record amount to ag & food research (much of which will go to biotech), money to promote agricultural exports, and (the one bright spot) conservation money for Chesapeake Bay.

Among the USDA's goals, he ironically lists "Ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious and balanced meals." (A great idea, if only he would fund it!) And, sadly, he says "Help America to promote agricultural production and biotechnology exports as America works to increase food security." Dumping cheap commodities on other countries to undermine their food sovereignty is bad in itself, but a specific emphasis on biotechnology by the Obama administration is especially upsetting.

See Obama's budget fact sheet below...

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Breakdown of the State of the Union

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Jan 27, 2010 at 22:42:45 PM PST

Obama just gave his State of the Union. He only mentioned foodie issues once:

And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make kids healthier. (Applause.) Thank you. She gets embarrassed. (Laughter.)

However, he did talk about several things that affect the issues we discuss on this site. Here are my opinions about what he said in his speech.

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Obama to Mention Food in SOTU

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Jan 27, 2010 at 14:52:47 PM PST

During tonight's State of the Union address, Obama is expected to mention food and health. The big clue is that two food and health visionaries were invited to sit with Michelle Obama during the speech. Obama Foodorama says:

Mrs. Obama has two notable guests from the food and health world. The foodie is Jeffrey Brown, a New Jersey grocer who has done significant work to combat what are known as food deserts, places where fresh and healthy food is unavailable, or too expensive for families on limited incomes. The health honcho is Mayor Mick Cornett, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who has started an anti-obesity campaign and put his entire city on a diet; the campaign focuses on both healthier eating and fitness.

According to a White House source, the President is expected to actually mention the importance of building more supermarkets in urban areas, both as a way of reducing food deserts, and making healthier food more affordable for families. And yes, as a way of boosting local economies, fostering better communities, and creating jobs. Even if the President doesn't work supermarkets and food access into his speech, a grocer and healthy eating advocate being honored with seats in the First Lady's box during the President's much-anticipated speech speaks volumes about the seriousness with which the White House is approaching the need for improving America's national foodscape. It also speaks to the importance of Mrs. Obama's healthier food and fitness initiatives for the success of many of the President's programs, from health care reform through education, and even defense. And of course, both Brown and Mayor Cornett's presence are due to Mrs. Obama's own role as the administration lead on child obesity initiatives.

Of course, Obama's efforts for improving food are kind of lame considering that:

a) He's calling for a spending freeze (a McCain-like tactic that runs 100% contrary to Keynesian economics);
b) The Supreme Court just decided that corporations can spend as much as they want on political races; and
c) Instead of getting rid of the filibuster or passing things through reconciliation (which takes 51 votes), the wimpy Democrats have to make every single bill conservative enough to gain the votes of 60 Senators, including people like Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, and occasionally Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

I appreciate the nice foodie mentions in the SOTU, but really... why bother?

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

Obama Admin Loosens Eligibility Requirements for Ag Subsidies

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Jan 05, 2010 at 14:40:50 PM PST

In the fall of 2008, the GAO found that the USDA had screwed up. While the very wealthy were ineligible for commodity subsides, the USDA wasn't talking to the IRS to make sure that those who were ineligible were actually excluded. It was a $49 million "oops" that sent free cash to 2500 people who shouldn't have gotten it. The Obama administration has been working to fix this. In March they said that farmers would have to sign a form allowing the IRS to send income information to the USDA for verification, and now there is more news.
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Obama's Broken Promises, Disappointing and Dangerous by Jim Goodman

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Dec 04, 2009 at 22:01:25 PM PST

Posted with the author's permission

Obama's broken promises, disappointing and dangerous
by Jim Goodman

"And it means ensuring that the policies being shaped at the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are designed to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence peddlers, but the family farmers and the American People." President-elect Barack Obama, December 17 2008, Chicago, Illinois.

The message was one of hope, the words of a newly elected President echoing the Populism of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the promise of John F. Kennedy. It stopped there, the delivery of the promise fell short.

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One of the Top White House Visitors? Chamber of Commerce

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Nov 26, 2009 at 18:07:41 PM PST

The Obama administration released its list of visitors to the White House since inauguration. Among the most frequent visitors? U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue. The WaPo article adds about him:

whose organization has complained bitterly of being left out of energy, health-care and financial reform efforts and who is leading opposition to White House plans on those issues. Donohue nonetheless visited the White House nearly a dozen times from February to June, including three encounters with the president, the records show.

I don't even see how they have the nerve to complain. Left out? You're having personal meetings with the president! That's far more than the rest of America gets. Not only that, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is ROUTINELY the top spender on lobbying. In the first quarter of this year, they spent nearly $10 million. I guess they felt so "left out" that by the third quarter, they more than tripled spending to equal over $34 million. That's a lot of money, all spent on convincing our government to act against the welfare and wishes of the American people.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Happy Thanksgiving La Vida Locavores!

by: Curtis Abbey

Thu Nov 26, 2009 at 12:09:28 PM PST

Photo by Kellen Henry

Photo by Kellen Henry

MANY More below the fold

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Government Works: Putting America Back To Work

by: Curtis Abbey

Sat Nov 14, 2009 at 09:07:00 AM PST

I believe government works. The Republican party says government doesn't and shouldn't work unless the discussion is about defense spending.

A year ago it was chaos, it looked as if the economy was going to implode. Like many generations before us we learned the lesson that an unregulated market builds bubbles. On the inflate many get rich off of transaction fees and rising asset values. When the bubble pops the negative feedback loops or vicious cycles are devastating. We saw the transferred devaluations move from housing values to Wall Street securities and from there to all sectors of the economy. Autos, small banks, 401ks, mutual funds, university endowments. It wasn't clear when the wave would stop but we knew something had to change. The government's normal economic tools were used up after too many bubbles and they were wrong in scale for the job. As a last resort the government stepped it up with once in a lifetime moves like TARP and the ARRA also known as the stimulus. Yet 9 months after the stimulus was passed it's critics are fiercely attacking it. They say it's not working, it's wasteful, it should stop.

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Vilsack Lays Out Priorities for Child Nutrition But Says Very Little

by: Jill Richardson

Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 14:49:54 PM PDT

This week, Tom Vilsack had a conference call with reporters (you can listen to it at the link) about the Obama administration's priorities for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. All in all, he said very little. He made no comment about whether or not the USDA would adopt the recently announced Institute of Medicine recommendations for school lunch, for example. And while he noted that the Obama administration wants an additional $1 billion per year for the next 10 years for child nutrition, he did not say what he or Obama wanted as the reimbursement rate - the amount spent per school breakfast or lunch.

In general, he wants three things. First, better access to school nutrition programs for children. Second, healthier school lunches. Third, less errors made by the federal government in managing the school lunch program.

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Happy National School Lunch Week

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Oct 14, 2009 at 06:00:00 AM PDT

The second week in October is National School Lunch Week, and the President is required to issue a proclamation for it. The text of Obama's proclamation is below.
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