Obama's Broken Promises to Farmers Disappointing and Dangerous

By Jim Goodman

“And it means ensuring that the policies being shaped at the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are designed to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence peddlers, but the family farmers and the American people.” — President-elect Barack Obama, Dec. 17, 2008, Chicago, Illinois.

The message was one of hope, the words of a newly elected President echoing the populism of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the promise of John F. Kennedy. It stopped there; the delivery of the promise fell short.

We have gotten a New Deal, albeit one that is more protective of those who caused the economic and agricultural crises than of those who suffer from them. We also have a new version of “The Best and the Brightest” in the Obama administration. Their faulty counsel extends beyond war into food and trade policy.

The campaign promises were not worth the notepads they are written on. The promises were broken and business at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will carry on much as it did during the Bush administration.

Instead of going outside the agribusiness and agrochemical industries, Obama has kept the revolving door spinning and appointed the very lobbyists and special interests he said would find no home in his administration.

Monsanto stalwarts Michael Taylor, special assistant to the FDA commissioner for food safety and Roger Beachy , head of National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Rajiv Shah, head of US Agency for International Development (USAID) where his pro-biotech leanings will continue to be pushed on the developing world. Perhaps it is a good fit, as Obama noted “The mission of USAID is to advance America’s interests by strengthening our relationships abroad”. Advancing America’s interests and giving real aid to those in need are not the same thing. Advancing interests implies control and empire building.

Islam Siddiqui, chief agriculture negotiator, office of US Trade Representative, is a particularly troubling nomination. He is no friend of consumers, considering his most recent employment at CropLife America (CLA), the pesticide industries main trade association. As a registered lobbyist and vice president of regulatory affairs, Siddiqui was responsible for setting and selling CLA’s international and domestic agenda, which was to weaken regulations on ag chemicals worldwide.

He is no friend of farmers either, and not just organic farmers, even though he has a long history of distaste for organic agriculture. He promotes agribusiness, chemical companies, processors and grain marketers who make their profits by buying low, processing and selling high. In his world, a farmers job is to maintain corporate profits.

As an unabashed “free trader,” he is a strong supporter of the World Trade Organization and its ability to strong-arm countries into accepting unwanted US imports. He openly derided the European Union’s rejection of hormone-treated beef, Japan’s desire to mandate labeling of Genetically Modified (GM) food and he pushed to permit pesticide testing on children. In his world consumers should be forced to accept whatever food products are thrown at them.

Forced trade, telling countries they must accept our products whether they want them or not is not trade, it is nothing short of blackmail.

His “public service” career has been dedicated to selling more pesticides and GM seed to farmers world-wide and easing restrictions on their use. The beneficiaries of these policies were not farmers or consumers but the agribusiness corporations that Siddiqui worked for. That is not public service, that is promoting private interest.

Siddiqui has not worked in the best interests of farmers or consumers, rather he has consistently promoted the interests of multi-national corporations, grain companies, meat processors and chemical companies over those of the farmer or consumer. If appointed, why should we believe that that the leopard will suddenly be changing its spots?

President Obama noted as a candidate: “We’ll tell ConAgra that it’s [USDA] not the Department of Agribusiness. We’re going to put the peoples interests ahead of the special interests.”

Just another empty promise.

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wis., and a Food and Society Policy Fellow of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. This also appeared at CommonDreams.org.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2010


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