The following is from the Obama Foodorama blog A Daily Diary of The Obama Foodscape, One Bipartisan Byte At A Time
There's a single word for President Obama and Ag policy in the first 100 days: Unprecedented.
It's now fairly obvious that the President is in firm possession of the deep understanding that food and Ag policy is connected to everything, that it's the critical starting point for every policy discussion. Whether it's green recovery, health care, the economy, the credit markets, homeland security, etc, Ag policy is entangled with and impacts every other area of policy the President is addressing. Obama has surrounded himself with cutting-edge thinkers who are savvy multi-taskers, who also manage to work food and Ag into their platforms, even when their jobs ostensibly have nothing to do with food and Ag policy. A few examples: Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary, has publicly worried that climate change is going to rapidly decimate California Ag and vineyards. Van Jones, the Green Collar advisor for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, has big plans for greenroof food gardens in urban areas, and eventually even the White House (giving new meaning to "small" and "local" farming). Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who has a long resume in social justice, will be crucial for creating a just food economy, in which we do not rely on migrant or slave labor, and even the poorest among us have access to good, nutritious food. We have Kathleen Sebelius, the newly confirmed Secretary of Health and Human Services, who still happens to be the governor of Kansas (pictured last night after being confirmed). Just days ago, Governor Sebelius, ethical foodist, made a crucial legislative veto regarding hormone labeling on milk, back in her home state. We have Rahm Emanuel, secret foodist, who's walking around the Hill debating farm subsidies (and carbon credits, for that matter); and his brother Zeke, health policy advisor for the President, who moonlights as a restaurant critic.
And of course there's Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Perhaps the busiest man in the administration next to the President himself, Secretary Vilsack has gone from admitting he didn't know how many people worked for him at USDA, waaaay back on day four of the Obama era, to making rapid changes in how the USDA runs, where the money goes, and what the agency's focus will be, in accordance with the President's directives. Secretary Vilsack seems to be super smart and creative, and while he'll you that he's not a farmer and doesn't have a farming background, his particular skill set is incredible if we think about the bigger future of agriculture. The USDA has suddenly become the new new energy department--and while this may seem like a disconnect from Ag policy, it's critical for the project of divorcing ourselves from fossil fuels, which is the only way we'll ever have true changes in the Ag economy, and move toward a more sustainable model...which of course leads to true changes in our environment, and the larger economy. Sec V has long experience with alternative energies, he's a big proponent of Corn Ethanol, a controversial biofuel; and he accompanied the President to Iowa on Earth Day, to promote wind energy. He's making huge changes in infrastructure and promoting the Green Recovery, he's dealing with food labeling and food safety, he traveled to the G8 in Italy to discuss hunger issues. And also like the President and First Lady, Secretary Vilsack has become crucial to children's health issues, because a huge part of USDA's budget goes toward nutrition programs. Sec V has also planted an organic garden---an unexpected turn of events, and he didn't stop there. The landscaping for the entire six-acre USDA complex on the National Mall will become organic. And everyone's getting in on the gardening thing: the President planted trees on April 21, with former President Bill Clinton and the First Lady, at the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden. And, lest we forget, Sec V also joined the First Lady when she was planting her own Kitchen Garden (in pic). He's donating USDA bees to the White House beehive. Sec V is sort of thrilling these days.
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:
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.
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
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.