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New Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack is a Strong Supporter of Genetically Engineered Food & Crops

1. 'Sack it to 'em
2. Obama picks Vilsack as Agriculture secretary

NOTE: The paucity of hope? "Mr Ethanol" seems to have picked the biotech and agrofuel industry's place man. This appointment saps hope for a sustainable future and will help create as much trust in US agriculture as US financial institutions. As Bernie Madoff leaves by one door...
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1. 'Sack it to 'em
Tom Philpott
Grist, 16 Dec 2008

*Brushing aside pressure, Obama taps a big-ag man as USDA chief

"Tom Vilsack was one of the first governors to see the promise of biotechnology. He has a very balanced view of agriculture and understands its potential." -- Ted Crosbie, vice president of global plant breeding and director of Monsanto's Iowa operations

"Governor Vilsack would be an outstanding choice for Secretary of Agriculture. He would bring great leadership and experience to the position. Governor Vilsack understands what it takes to increase agricultural productivity to meet growing global demand for food and feed." -- Paul Schickler, president of Dupont's Pioneer Hi-Bred, one of Monsanto few rivals in the genetically modified seed industry. (Both quoted from a Dec. 16 Des Moines Register piece.)

In 2007, Thomas Vilsack ended an eight-year stint as Iowa's governor. Before that, he had served as a state senator. During his time in Iowa politics, he promoted the interests of large agribusiness firms in several ways.

As a state senator, he voted for the infamous House File 519 in 1995, which stripped counties of the right to impose restrictions on CAFOs. In 2005, as governor, he signed into law House File 642, which barred local governments from regulating the planting of genetically modified seed.

In 2001, the Biotechnology Industry Organization named him "governor of the year" for his "support of the industry's economic growth and agricultural biotechnology research." Vilsack also briskly promoted biofuels as governor; he served as chair of the Governors' Ethanol Coalition.

After stepping down after his second term in 2007, Vilsack ran for president. When that bid failed, he joined the Minneapolis-based corporate law firm Dorsey & Whitney. The firm's broad range of corporate clients include food giants Cargill and Conagra. According to Dorsey & Whitney's website, Vilsack was hired to focus on "strategic counseling and advising clients in the fields of energy conservation, renewable energy, and agribusiness development." He also serves as a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University's Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products, where he sits on the advisory board with representatives of Monsanto, Dupont's Pioneer Hi-Bred, and the World Bank.

President-elect Obama has reportedly plucked Vilsack from those posts and tapped him to be USDA chief. The decision comes after a wave of hope that Obama might choose a less agribusiness-oriented candidate. I'll be writing more on this pick in the days to come.
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2. Obama picks Vilsack as Agriculture secretary
By John McCormick and Mike Dorning
LA Times, December 17 2008,0,2833044.sto ry

*The former Iowa governor had campaigned for Hillary Rodham Clinton during his state's caucuses.

Reporting from Washington and Chicago -- Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who aggressively campaigned for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton before his state's caucuses in January, will be named Agriculture secretary by President-elect Barack Obama, three Democratic officials confirmed Tuesday.

The formal announcement was expected this morning at a news conference in Chicago.

Vilsack declined to comment on the report. "Those questions should be answered by the transition office and the president-elect," he said.

The former two-term Democratic governor has been a supporter of renewable energy and pushed for development of Iowa's ethanol industry. The state is one of the nation's top producers of corn and has a large meat-packing industry.

During the campaign for the Iowa caucuses, Vilsack was the top Clinton official in the state and often appeared with the New York senator. He also frequently questioned Obama's preparedness for the presidency.

But after Obama won the Democratic nomination, Vilsack campaigned for his general election effort in Iowa and other states.

Vilsack would be the fourth high-level appointment of a former presidential campaign rival to Obama's team, following Clinton for secretary of State, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden for vice president and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for Commerce secretary.

"He knows production agriculture, and he knows the changes we need to ensure its profitability and future, including for young and beginning farmers and ranchers," Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement.

Iowa's Republican senator also endorsed the selection.

"He has a firsthand look at the role of agriculture in our global economy," Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a statement. "I'm happy for him, happy for Iowa, and this is welcome news for agriculture."

A former mayor and state legislator from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Vilsack campaigned for president himself, but dropped out of the race in February 2007 after just 86 days of campaigning.

While running for president, he took an unusual position for a farm-state official, arguing to cut subsidies for agricultural commodity crops and channel the money toward improving environmental practices. He has argued that agricultural policy should focus on production of renewable energy. He also wrote newspaper articles before the election in support of Obama's energy policies.

In an essay published in October, he urged greater investment in cellulosic ethanol, bio-fuel production plants and wind farms, and advocated "carbon credits" for farmers whose production reduces greenhouse gases associated with global warming.

Some advocates of organic food, meanwhile, have criticized Vilsack as being too supportive of biotechnology company efforts to market genetically modified foods.

In 1998, Vilsack was elected Iowa's first Democratic governor in 32 years. He won reelection in 2002 but did not run a third time, keeping a term-limit promise he had made.

A native of Pittsburgh, he was one of three finalists to be Sen. John F. Kerry's running mate in 2004.