I'm a staff writer for the Justmeans Sustainable Food blog, which means I have an excuse to spend a bit of time each week researching topics that I'm really passionate about, like local food systems, community garden projects, food security, and farm to institution efforts. Offline, I coordinate a community garden project on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington....
Obama's Ag Policy and Sustainable Agriculture Don't Really Mix
Not all idealistic farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates really thought that Obama would truly shake things up in industrial agriculture and our national food system, but his presidency has produced more disappointment than perhaps anticipated. While Obama's ag policy has remained steadily vague and middle of the road at best, a recent addition has meant a further loss of points among sustainable foodies. About a month ago, Obama appointed and Congress approved Catherine Woteki as USDA undersecretary for research and economics.
This is no small thing, as Woteki has a long history of involvement in the food industry and has always been closely aligned with and involved in big food and genetically modified foods. Most recently she worked for Mars as the global director of scientific affairs. As the undersecretary, Woteki will be in charge of all of the USDAs research budget, and oversee the USDA's agricultural grants program. Woteki's position will supervise the newly installed chief of USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture , Roger Beachy. Previously Beachy was president at Danforth Plant Science Center, an organization that is basically an extension of the GM giant Monsanto. As the cheif of NIFA, Beachy manages the distribution of USDA grant money for agriculture. With Woteki as his supervisor, big agriculture and GM reaserch should have no trouble getting USDA funding, while sustainable agriculture will likely be overlooked.
In spite of these disheartening additions to Obama's food and agriculture team, in conjuction with some other unsavory big agribusiness characters in the USDA, there are still some bright spots pushing for organic and sustainable, like Kathleen Merrigan and, from a distance, Michelle Obama. But how effective can they be if they're working alongside a growing number of deeply embedded agribusiness representatives?
The continuation of Obama's poor choices is disheartening. In a time when our food system is faced with crisis we should be focusing on sustainable agricultural innovation, not seeking the expertise of Monsato's ex-researchers. And as the collective health of our nation spirals downward and obesity is rampant, we should be putting all of our strength behind movements like Michelle Obama's healthy food campagin, not hiring a woman who has worked for one of the biggest junk food and convenience food purveyors on the planet. We need people who are committed to farmers and committed to the health of our entire food system: the land, the people who steward it, and those who eat from it. We need more people who believe in the potential of sustainable agriculture and are willing to help fund new directions in sustainable agriculture and sustainable farmers in the USDA.
photo credit: kyle woollet