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GMW: Obama on Vilsack - the Death of Hope?

1. Obama on Vilsack
2. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff on Vilsack
3. Ronnie Cummins on Vilsack
4. Author, Michael Pollan on Vilsack:

TAKE ACTION: Say NO to Vilsack

NOTE: Item 1 should dispel any illusions that Obama appointed Vilsack despite his being a Monsanto shill and an ethanol booster. Obama says that's precisely why he appointed him.
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To lead a Department of Agriculture that helps unlock the potential of a twenty-first century agricultural economy, I can think of no one better than Tom Vilsack.

As governor of one of our most abundant farm states, he led with vision, promoting biotech to strengthen our farmers and fostering an agricultural economy of the future that not only grows the food we eat, but the energy that we use. Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad, but in our farm fields here at home. That's the kind of leader I want in my cabinet.
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2. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff on Vilsack:

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama on Wednesday chose Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa who has longstanding ties to agribusiness interests, as agriculture secretary - his weakest selection so far.
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3. Ronnie Cummins on Vilsack:

AMY GOODMAN: Ronnie Cummins, you are executive director of Organic Consumers Association. Your response to Governor Vilsack...?

RONNIE CUMMINS: Well, the organic community and sustainable ag community are very disappointed in the appointment of Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. You know, Obama promised us change. What he's given us here at best is small change. We've got a big problem; we need big change.

This notion that genetically engineered crops can feed the world or that, you know, corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biofuels can solve the energy crisis are, of course, completely discredited. If they're serious about solving the climate crisis, they need to take note of the fact that American industrial agriculture uses about 19 percent of all of our fossil fuels and cranks out about 37 percent of our climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases. So if we're going to solve the climate crisis with a 80 or 90 percent reduction in greenhouse pollution, not 70 percent, we're going to have to transform America's energy-intensive, chemical-intensive genetically engineered agricultural system into an organic [inaudible] in transition to organic system, which can sequester 40 percent of all of our greenhouse gases in the soil, which uses 30 to 50 percent less energy and which can produce healthy food, as opposed to the, you know, current food system, which is subsidized factory farms  and junk food.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you expand particularly on what have been Vilsack's stands when it comes to genetically modified foods?

RONNIE CUMMINS: Yes. Vilsack has been an ardent promoter, not only of genetically engineered foods and crops, but also of the extremely controversial biopharmaceutical crops, which involves [inaudible] pharmaceutical drugs or industrial chemicals into food crops. Even, you know, quite a few people in the biotech industry are alarmed by these biopharmaceuticals, since you could get dangerous drugs throughout the food supply. But Vilsack supported biopharm crops when he was governor.

He went further than that. In the year 2005, Vilsack championed a law in Iowa that's been introduced all over the country, backed by Monsanto and the Farm Bureau. This law, this preemption law, as they're called, basically takes away the right of municipalities or counties to regulate genetically engineered crops. Vilsack rammed this through, even though it's extremely unpopular with not only consumers, but small farmers. Vilsack has repeated the myth of the biotech industry that genetically engineered crops can help feed the world, when in fact genetically engineered crops do not produce a higher yield. And he's spoken about their environmental benefits, when the sum total of ten years of genetically engineered crops in the United States have increased the use of pesticides, not decreased them.

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4. Author, Michael Pollan on Vilsack:

"The food system is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gases," Pollan told NPR's Renee Montagne. "It is responsible for the catastrophic American diet that is leading 50 percent of us to suffer from chronic disease, and that drives up health care costs."

A secretary for food, Pollan said, could put the focus on diversifying America's farms and using local food sources around the nation.

But those topics weren't in the spotlight when Obama selected Vilsack to be agriculture secretary, said Pollan, who also wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Botany of Desire.

"I was very disappointed in that news conference," he said, "not to hear Vilsack use the word 'food' - or 'eaters.' And the interests of everybody except eaters was discussed: farmers, ranchers, people concerned about the land."

And so, he said, it's difficult not to see the choice of Vilsack as "agribusiness as usual."

As for the possibility that a change in America's agriculture priorities could raise the cost of food, Pollan said that other factors can also lead to higher prices.

"It's the embrace of corn-based ethanol that has driven up all food prices," Pollan said. "It's not making agriculture more sustainable."