Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy

Listen Obama: Six Excellent Candidates to Consider for Top Positions in USDA

The Secretary of Agriculture Position has not been filled yet but is likely to be announced in the coming week.  Negotiations are still underway.  We need to flood Obama office with our insistence that his three top choices be dismissed.  Please see the article below. 

--- (Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, Alice Waters, et. al.--- are backing these 6 candidates:

1. Gus Schumacher, former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture.

2. Chuck Hassebrook, executive director, Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Neb.

3. Sarah Vogel, former Commissioner of Agriculture for North Dakota, lawyer, Bismarck, N.D.

4. Fred Kirschenmann, organic farmer, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Ames, Iowa, and president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Pocantico Hills, NY.

5. Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State, former policy analyst in Minnesota's Department of Agriculture under Governor Rudy Perpich, co-founder of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

6. Neil Hamilton, Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and director of the Agricultural Law Center, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.

Our strongest strategy is to work as a unified front and support these six candidates.  Please spread this to everyone you know in your networks ­ there is still time to act on this.  Also there will be many positions to fill besides the top one ­ we need to keep these good names in circulation .

Obama's USDA Short List Solidly Supports Agribusiness 
by Pamela Drew

On the campaign trail Obama pitched the idea of change we can believe in, but in the area of agriculture policy it's starting to look like change that agribusiness can count on as more of the same. The Washington Post published a short list of candidates for Secretary of Agriculture along with their qualifications. Since the WaPo omitted some of the candidates most important areas of influence and ties to agribusiness it might be useful to take a look at where these administrators for "change" have their loyalty.

First on the Washington Post list is Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas. Only 22 Congressional Districts get over 50% of the USDA subsidies and Kansas takes two of the top three spots for USDA payments in those two districts alone. The USDA subsidies in Kansas totaled $9.7 billion from 1995-2006 and the top 5% of recipients were paid almost 50% percent of that. The concentration is in the largest commodity crops of corn and soy, which in American crops means solidly for Monsanto's gmo varieties. Hooray for agribusiness, but the biotech support goes far beyond simple subsidies. Kansas was at the forefront of efforts to attract Ventria biopharm rice growers. The Kansas City Star reported the efforts in 2006 along with reaction from Union of Concerned Scientists.

While it may be an advantage to grow pharmaceutical rice in a state like Kansas with no commercial rice production, it's still a "bad idea" to produce pharmaceutical compounds in food, said Jane Rissler, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"This is not agricultural production - this is drug production," Rissler said. "This is pharmaceutical production and pharmaceutical production in food plants should be discouraged."

Next up on the short list is Charles W. Stenholm, former Congressman from Texas. Good time Charlie seems to have kept his hand in the Texas farming, though the subsidy checks are mailed to a Washington D.C. The bulk of Stenholm's payments come from upland cotton, ironically a huge biotech crop, that has just this week been the source of a contamination accident that Monsanto called no threat to consumers and FDA reported without fanfare. Charlie is currently working as an agribusiness lobbyist, which is a classic, revolving door move for a Congressman who had his top campaign contributors include the herbicide makers that form the Crop Protection Association. Hey, it's no accident that 42% of the almost $20 billion a year in subsidies is paid to the 22 Congressional Districts with Members sitting on the Agriculture Committee.

Last, but certainly not the least agribusiness could have in the USDA's top spot, is Dennis Wolff.

Currently serving as the Secretary of Agriculture in Pennsylvania Wolff is a real standout as a former dairy farmer who has actively campaigned for Monsanto's bovine growth hormone treatments as a dairy management tool, which consumers should have no right to know about. Last year Wolff lent his name and support to a handful of Monsanto dairy farmers in an astroturf campaign led by Daniel Brandt and his brother Karl.

Lancaster Farming reported, Brandts manage one of the highest producing herds in Pennsylvania, posting a herd average of 31,973 pounds of milk on 96 cows for May 2007. Brandt estimates a potential gain of 15 pounds of milk per cow per day from using rbST on his intensely managed herd. Monsanto gives a typical figure of 10 pounds increase per cow per day.

Of course this isn't about the money it is about "choice" for consumers, right? My review of the specifics were written in November 2007 in Pennsylvania Shoppers Too Dumb to Buy Milk.

Wolff said: "Consumers are getting confused with the extra labels. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is not in a position to say use rBST or not. The key word is 'choice.' If producers are asked to give up a production efficiency, and if that efficiency nets them $3,000 or $10,000 a year for their dairy farm. That's a lot of money. That's money for insurance premiums or groceries. I would hate to see a safe and approved management tool taken away. What we oppose is the negative advertising or the selling of fear. All milk is healthy milk.

Long time blogger on the benefits of hormones for dairy cows, Etherton is generally referred to as "Dr. Etherton" by the PR campaigns that feature him as an expert and there isn't one Monsanto front group that doesn't feature his views.

Etherton isn't afraid to offer his assurances about human health effects, despite having no medical degree. Out on the stump for taking hormone free claims off of consumer packaging Etherton told the following to a gathering of farmers.

Dr. Terry Etherton, Ph.D. department head, Penn State University department of Dairy and Animal Science, presented the realities of science and his assessment of the 'rBST-free' labeling issue. Etherton said: "There is a significant element of deception in differentiating whether milk is produced using rBST or not. ..There is no way on this green earth for rBST to have a biological effect on a human."

Interestingly, Etherton's view is not shared by most of the countries of the world where the rBGH is banned over concern for increased risk of certain cancers and diabetes. According to the CDC the rate of diabetes in America has doubled between 1990 and 2005, but of course there would be no reason to suspect that correlates with the introduction of hormone dairy into the US food supply when we have assurances from "experts" like Terry Etherton who "know" it is safe. Isn't it just the people who don't understand science and are afraid of technology who create unfounded fear over things like rBHG dairy?

Sure it is, like the lemmings and know-nothing reactionaries at the American Medical Association. The AMA is promoting a "Do No Harm" policy in foods that excludes hormone treated dairy. In fact the AMA is late to the party in objecting to this decade long debate over rBGH.

The public health committee confirmed earlier reports of excess levels of the naturally occurring Insulin-like-Growth Factor One (IGF-1), including its highly potent variants, in rBGH milk and concluded that these posed increased risks of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lymphoma, arthritis from the elevated levels of IGF-1 hormones

The AMA and World Health physicians and scientists may not agree with Dennis Wolff and other Monsanto dairy farmers that all milk is safe milk, but having these corporate views dominating the USDA certainly heralds change we can make believe in.


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