Organic Consumers Association

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Obama Administration's Ag Policy: Token Nods to Organic, and Policy Power Behind Industrial Ag

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A year and a half ago, I complained that President Obama's food and ag policy was "giving me whiplash," because the administration seemed to keep zigzagging between progressive change and the agrichemical status quo. 

Since then, a definite pattern has emerged: The administration puts real policy power behind the status quo -- see, for example, the recent deregulation of controversial genetically modified crops -- and deploys what the political scientists call "soft power" (usually through Michelle Obama) to hector people to eat a little better and chide corporations to clean up their junk food a bit.

Two events last week offered a nice snapshot of what might be called Obama's dual policy on ag.

In Washington on Wednesday, President Obama honored Wendell Berry with the National Humanities Medal. "The author of more than 40 books, Mr. Berry has spent his career exploring our relationship with the land and community," Obama declared, before ceremoniously draping the medal around Berry's neck.

Berry, 76, is probably industrial agriculture's fiercest critic. He is certainly its longest-running. His seminal book The Unsettling of America came out in 1977 -- long before other prominent critics like Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, or Vandana Shiva published their own famous critiques. In an interview after the ceremony, Berry told his local paper, the Louisville Courrier-Journal, that "the president whispered to him during the ceremony that he admired his poetry." (In addition to his nonfiction, Berry also writes poetry and novels.) Berry added that he had the chance to thank Michelle Obama for planting her famous organic garden on the White House lawn. 

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