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.
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