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USDA Secretary Nominee causes conflict

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

As former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack begins his confirmation hearings in Congress, a controversy is brewing in the organic food and farming industry concerning his appointment. For the last eight years, Bush administration officials at the USDA have been widely criticized for “monkeywrenching” the National Organic Program. They have been accused of not enforcing the law and, among other improprieties, allowing giant factory farms to produce organic milk, meat, and eggs. Understandably, the industry viewed Barack Obama’s election as a likely turning point. President-Elect Obama, and his family, will be the first residents of the White House with a history of eating, and support for, organic food. “We were and still are optimistic that when Mr. Obama talked about ‘change’ during his campaign, that he included a shift away from corporate agribusiness domination at the USDA,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute.

Over 130,000 petition signatures have been collected by two advocacy groups, urging the Obama transition team to appoint a USDA secretary who would embody that change. When Obama tapped former Governor Tom Vilsack, an Iowa lawyer with strong past backing for genetic engineering and a close relationship with corporate agribusiness interests, some organic proponents expressed their opposition. The Organic Consumers Association, the largest group of its nature, is now in the midst of a pressure campaign, backed by 40,000 signatures, calling on Congress to reject the Vilsack nomination. The success of the Organic Consumer Association’s outreach prompted a group of the organic industry’s corporate CEOs to launch their own counter petition drive in support of the Obama nominee. Officers of some of the largest corporate entities like Whole Foods, Stonyfield and United Natural Foods Inc., the nation’s near-monopoly organic and natural foods distributor, have signed on in support of Mr. Vilsack. Their petition, totaling about 500 signatories, includes many Iowa residents who personally worked with Mr. Vilsack when he was governor. “We hate to see what appears to be the grassroots lining up in opposition of this nominee and corporate investors breaking with their most dedicated customers. This split is not healthy for the organic community,” Kastel added.




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