Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tom Vilsack In Line For USDA Helm

After listening to the confirmation hearing for Obama's pick to lead the USDA, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, I've concluded that his fate as our next Secretary of Agriculture is sealed - regardless of the Organic Consumers Association's 40,000-signature strong petition calling on Congress to reject the Vilsack nomination.

Mr. Vilsack gave eloquent, if noncommittal, answers to questions, succeeding I thought in easing concerns of both USDA-entrenched "production agriculture" supporters, and those desiring a stronger role for organics, local food, sustainably grown crops, and methods that will impact the global climate crisis.

One example: When Republican Pat Roberts from Kansas defended crop subsidies (funding for commodity crops like corn, soy, wheat, rice) - surely anxious that Obama would follow through with his promise to decrease them - and asked for his comments, Vilsack replied:
"I think it's incumbent upon [the USDA] to recognize the importance of that farm safety net. ... I think it's also important to make sure that people who deserve to get support are getting that support, and folks who don't deserve to get it aren't getting it."
A non-answer if there ever was one, but well-stated.

I don't believe change will come by steamrolling, but by working with people whose ideas may be 180º from your own. Obama is demonstrating a desire to work with people who might not hold his views - something I wish our soon-to-be former President would have done. His selection of Vilsack, as I'm coming to see, falls in line with that methodology.

Vilsack has a tightrope to walk; I haven't seen yet that he's fallen well to either side. The actions he takes after January 20 will be more telling.

By the way, the topic of genetic engineering never came up. The discussion surrounding biofuels, however, doesn't bode well for anti-GE advocates, since increasing crop yields (which can make biofuels cheaper to produce and more affordable for consumers downstream) is one of the purviews of the biotech (read: genetic engineering) industry.

No comments: