New Secretary of Agriculture Just Business as Usual at the USDA?

President-Elect Obama announced his choices for two important cabinet positions this week, naming his Secretary of Interior and Secretary of Agriculture. As a westerner, I understand why Ken Salazar was tapped for the Interior post, and I think he’ll do a great job of balancing resources like clean water and open lands with the energy needs of the country.

What I don’t understand is his choice of former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for the head position at the USDA.

Tom Vilsack is a great pick if you’re a large agribusiness executive, because he’s a big supporter of ethanol and soy biofuels, he supports animal cloning and he thinks genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops are a good thing. However, for people that want more clean organic food production and less chemical-laden frankenfoods, like me, he’s just the latest fox in the chicken coop.

A recent article in the Des Moines Register quoted Bruce Babcock, director of Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, as saying, “He is not a foodie but represents mainstream production ag.” I have to ask, why don’t we have a foodie in that position? What about Michael Pollan, or Elliot Coleman, or Wendell Berry? Or anybody but another big ag advocate.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is very opposed to the thought of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture and has started a petition asking Congress to block Vilsack’s confirmation at

“Vilsack’s nomination sends the message that dangerous, untested, unlabeled genetically engineered crops will be the norm in the Obama Administration. Our nation’s future depends on crafting a forward-thinking strategy to promote organic and sustainable food and farming, and address the related crises of climate change, diminishing energy supplies, deteriorating public health, and economic depression.” – Ronnie Cummins, OCA Executive Director

As Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack would be the top man at the USDA, which employs more than 100,000 people and controls about $95 billion in its budget every year. The USDA sets our agricultural policy, controls crop subsidies and also deals with food safety as well as administering the Food Stamp Program. That’s a lot of power. OCA’s Cummins adds:

“Obama’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture points to the continuation of agribusiness as usual, the failed policies of chemical- and energy-intensive, genetically engineered industrial agriculture. Americans were promised ‘change,’ not just another shill for Monsanto and corporate agribusiness. Considering the challenges we collectively face as a nation, from climate change and rising energy costs to food insecurity, we need an administration that moves beyond ‘business as usual’ to fundamental change—before it’s too late.”

What are your thoughts about Vilsick as Secretary of Agriculture? Add them in the comments.

Photo by Stewart, licensed under Creative Commons


Nathaniel Barjona

thought you guys loved Obama????? he's in bed with all those who gave him $ and got him elected...labor, agriculture, pharma etc etc Are you still going to call all who oppose obama policies racist????

Elainna Crowell
Elainna Crowell8 years ago

I am disappointed and very, very angry. I object to industrial style agriculture and believe it will further erode the health of the land base and drive farmers even deeper into debt!