Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama Names Secretary Of Agriculture

Today, President-elect Barack Obama chose Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, as his choice for Secretary of Agriculture and many in the progressive food community see it as a potential step backward in the fight against obesity, fossil fuel pollution (with increasing reliance on foreign oil) and regulation of big agribusiness. I heard Michael Pollan interviewed on NPR this morning giving his thoughts and one of the most notable things he said was the press conference to announce the new appointee included an intense discussion of the state of agriculture, subsidies and energy, but lacked any sort of true mention of 'eaters' or 'food'.

Pollan and Nicholas Kristof of the Times, having advocated and outreached to Obama in the last couple months, to implore him to change the name of the position from 'Secretary of Agriculture' to 'Secretary of Food' went clearly left unheard. Though Pollan is not completely down on the administration's choices in regard to food policy, his chagrin was notable and he places much of his reliance for 'change we can believe in' on a strong ethanol opponent recently appointed to the position of Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu. "The food system is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gases," Pollan told NPR's Renee Montagne.

"It is responsible for the catastrophic American diet that is leading 50 percent of us to suffer from chronic disease, and that drives up health care costs...It's the embrace of corn-based ethanol that has driven up all food prices," Pollan said. Vilsack, a proponent of ethanol, will hopefully find contention from Chu in this new administration. It seems clear that Obama (who seemingly had/has a real grasp on food issues) is not making quality, sustainability and health (and FOOD) as high priority as energy and business. As Pollan stated, it's hard not to see this choice as 'agribuisness as usual'.

Please refer to these links for some great articles/insights/information:
Vilsack Picked for Agricultural Secretary (NYT)
Michael Pollin on Vilsack, Agriculture --And Food (NPR)
Obama's 'Secretary of Food' (Great Op/Ed Piece in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof)

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