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December 5, 2008

Obama's USDA Short List Solidly Supports Agribusiness

By Pamela Drew

On the campaign trail Obama pitched the idea of change we can believe in, but in the area of agriculture policy it's starting to look like change that agribusiness can count on as more of the same. Since the WaPo omitted some of the candidates most important areas of influence and ties to agribusiness it might be useful to take a look at where these administrators for "change" have their loyalty.


On the campaign trail Obama pitched the idea of change we can believe in, but in the area of agriculture policy it's starting to look like change that agribusiness can count on as more of the same.

The Washington Post published a short list of candidates for Secretary of Agriculture along with their qualifications. Since the WaPo omitted some of the candidates most important areas of influence and ties to agribusiness it might be useful to take a look at where these administrators for "change" have their loyalty.

First on the WaPo list is Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas.

Only 22 Congressional Districts get over 50% of the USDA subsidies and Kansas takes two of the top three spots for USDA payments in those two districts alone. The USDA subsidies in Kansas totaled $9.7 billion from 1995-2006 and the top 5% of recipients were paid almost 50% percent of that.

The concentration is in the largest commodity crops of corn and soy, which in American crops means solidly for Monsanto's gmo varieties. Hooray for agribusiness, but the biotech support goes far beyond simple subsidies. Kansas was at the forefront of efforts to attract Ventria biopharm rice growers. The Kansas City Star reported the efforts in 2006 along with reaction from Union of Concerned Scientists.

While it may be an advantage to grow pharmaceutical rice in a state like Kansas with no commercial rice production, it's still a "bad idea" to produce pharmaceutical compounds in food, said Jane Rissler, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"This is not agricultural production - this is drug production," Rissler said. "This is pharmaceutical production and pharmaceutical production in food plants should be discouraged."

Next up on the short list is Charles W. Stenholm, former Congressman from Texas. Good time Charlie seems to have kept his hand in the Texas farming, though the subsidy checks are mailed to a Washington D.C. The bulk of Stenholm's payments come from upland cotton, ironically a huge biotech crop, that has just this week been the source of a contamination accident that Monsanto called no threat to consumers and FDA reported without fanfare.

Charlie is currently working as an agribusiness lobbyist, which is a classic, revolving door move for a Congressman who had his top campaign contributors include the herbicide makers that form the Crop Protection Association. Hey, it's no accident that 42% of the almost $20 billion a year in subsidies is paid to the 22 Congressional Districts with Members sitting on the Agriculture Committee.

Last, but certainly not the least agribusiness could have in the USDA's top spot, is Dennis Wolff.

Currently serving as the Secretary of Agriculture in Pennsylvania Wolff is a real standout as a former dairy farmer who has actively campaigned for Monsanto's bovine growth hormone treatments as a dairy management tool, which consumers should have no right to know about. Last year Wolff lent his name and support to a handful of Monsanto dairy farmers in an astroturf campaign led by Daniel Brandt and his brother Karl.

Lancaster Farming reported, Brandts manage one of the highest producing herds in Pennsylvania, posting a herd average of 31,973 pounds of milk on 96 cows for May 2007. Brandt estimates a potential gain of 15 pounds of milk per cow per day from using rbST on his intensely managed herd. Monsanto gives a typical figure of 10 pounds increase per cow per day. www.lancasterfarming.com/node/649

Of course this isn't about the money it is about "choice" for consumers, right? My review of the specifics were written in November 2007 in Pennsylvania Shoppers Too Dumb to Buy Milk.

Wolff said: "Consumers are getting confused with the extra labels. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is not in a position to say use rBST or not. The key word is 'choice.' If producers are asked to give up a production efficiency, and if that efficiency nets them $3,000 or $10,000 a year for their dairy farm... That's a lot of money. That's money for insurance premiums or groceries. I would hate to see a safe and approved management tool taken away. What we oppose is the negative advertising or the selling of fear. All milk is healthy milk.

Long time blogger on the benefits of hormones for dairy cows, Etherton is generally referred to as "Dr. Etherton" by the PR campaigns that feature him as an expert and there isn't one Monsanto front group that doesn't feature his views.

Etherton isn't afraid to offer his assurances about human health effects, despite having no medical degree. Out on the stump for taking hormone free claims off of consumer packaging Etherton told the following to a gathering of farmers.

Dr. Terry Etherton, Ph.D. department head, Penn State University department of Dairy and Animal Science, presented the realities of science and his assessment of the 'rBST-free' labeling issue. Etherton said: "There is a significant element of deception in differentiating whether milk is produced using rBST or not. ..There is no way on this green earth for rBST to have a biological effect on a human."

Interestingly, Etherton's view is not shared by most of the countries of the world where the rBGH is banned over concern for increased risk of certain cancers and diabetes. According to the CDC the rate of diabetes in America has doubled between 1990 and 2005, but of course there would be no reason to suspect that correlates with the introduction of hormone dairy into the US food supply when we have assurances from "experts" like Terry Etherton who "know" it is safe. Isn't it just the people who don't understand science and are afraid of technology who create unfounded fear over things like rBHG dairy?

Sure it is, like the lemmings and know-nothing reactionaries at the American Medical Association. The AMA is promoting a "Do No Harm" policy in foods that excludes hormone treated dairy. In fact the AMA is late to the party in objecting to this decade long debate over rBGH.

The public health committee confirmed earlier reports of excess levels of the naturally occurring Insulin-like-Growth Factor One (IGF-1), including its highly potent variants, in rBGH milk and concluded that these posed increased risks of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lymphoma, arthritis from the elevated levels of IGF-1 hormones http://www.psrast.org/bghcodex.htm

JECFA The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is an international expert scientific committee that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It has been meeting since 1956, initially to evaluate the safety of food additives.

The AMA and World Health physicians and scientists may not agree with Dennis Wolff and other Monsanto dairy farmers that all milk is safe milk, but having these corporate views dominating the USDA certainly heralds change we can make believe in.


Center for Responsive Politics, Charles V. Stenholm 2001-2002 Fundraising Summary.
Center for Responsive Politics, Charles V. Stenholm Career Fundraising 1989-2008.
Environmental Working Group, Total USDA - Subsidies in United States. (1995-2006).
Environmental Working Group, Farm Bill 2007 Policy Analysis Database.
Kansas City Star, Kansas trying to lure California biotech rice firm. July 17, 2006.
Kimberly Kindy, In Transition: Agriculture. Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2008.
Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD, "Do no harm." June 26, 2008.
Political Friendster, Dennis C. Wolff.
Political Friendster, Terry Etherton.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, EPA and USDA Conclude That Accidental Release of Genetically Engineered Cotton Poses No Safety Risk to Humans or Animals. Dec. 3, 2008.

Submitters Website: http://pameladrew.newsvine.com/

Submitters Bio:

Pamela Drew tracks the legislation, politics, science and spin surrounding the genetically altered foods. She is a freelance researcher, writer and documentary film producer living in New York City, where she works with advocacy groups and small producers to create sustainable farming practices and community based agriculture programs. Pamela is the executive producer of the controversial film 'Roundup Ready Nation ~ dying for profits' www.roundupreadynation.com