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Agricultural Reform Vilsacked by Obama

Tom Vilsack never got very far with his presidential campaign in 2008. Some said that he was just running for Vice President. It now appears that he was aiming even lower. Tom Vilsack will be announced as Barack Obama’s choice of Secretary of Agriculture today.

To be fair, the position of Secretary of Agriculture is an important position with a great deal of power to affect one of our most important choices – what we’ll have to eat. For that reason, many progressives hoped that Barack Obama might have the courage to appoint someone who understood the need to reform the nation’s food infrastructure, which currently focuses on providing cheap, but unhealthy, calories packed with high fructose corn syrup and corn-fed livestock. Some even hoped that Obama might appoint Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Significant food reform is not what we can expect from a Secretary Vilsack. As the Governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack defended the interests of industrial agriculture, and did plenty of favors for giant agricultural corporations like Monsanto. Iowa agriculture is no longer typified by small family farms, but by gigantic fields of genetically engineered corn and soybeans, interspersed with concentrated feeding lots in which cattle and pigs pumped full of antibiotics stand in their own filth all day long.

Agricultural pollution from Iowa is so bad that it significantly contributes to dead zones all the way down in the Gulf of Mexico. It contributes to global warming too, with methane oozing out of manure lagoons near livestock factory farms adding significantly to the concentration of greenhouse gases in our planet’s atmosphere.

None of these problems got better when Tom Vilsack was Governor of Iowa. Vilsack has seemed more interested in promoting big agribusiness as it is than in reforming it. Vilsack’s idea of environmentalism has been to promote biofuels, which actually aren’t much more efficient than fossil fuels, and still emit carbon dioxide when burned. Biofuels also cause serious problems in agricultural commodities markets, as acreage that would be used for food is switched over to fuel production.

Tom Vilsack stands with the status quo in agriculture, so much so that the Organic Consumers Association specifically asked that Vilsack not be appointed as Secretary of Agriculture. In just one week, ten thousand Americans signed a petition concurring with the OCA’s anti-Vilsack stance. Barack Obama’s choice of Vilsack is a disappointing signal that the Obama Administration will not be a source of agricultural reform, and may actually be a source of roadblocks to reform.

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