Environment

White House Garden Won't Make Up for Obama's Nomination of Pesticide Lobbyist for US Chief Agriculture Negotiator

Obama's statements about food and agriculture trend moderate to progressive, but his nominations for top positions in his administration tell a different story.

Barack Obama came to power by calling for a change in politics as usual, but he's not delivering on that promise. While his rhetoric is a breath of fresh air compared to the inflammatory and often dishonest statements of politicians past, his actions don't live up to his promise of change. In classic politician form, Obama has placated advocates of sustainable agriculture by planting an organic garden and appointing Kathleen Merrigan to the number two spot at the USDA while simultaneously pursuing a rather unsustainable agenda. Obama's own statements about food and agriculture trend moderate to progressive, but his nominations for top positions in his administration tell a different story.

Case in point: Islam A. Siddiqui. Siddiqui is Obama's nomination to serve as the United States' Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. His most recent position was as Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs for CropLife America, a leading biotech and pesticide industry group. "Vice President for Regulatory Affairs" is corporatespeak for "lobbyist." Prior to Siddiqui's confirmation hearing this week, 80 organizations and 38,000 individuals mobilized against him. The New York Times printed an editorial saying that the point of view a biotech and pesticide industry lobbyist would bring to the administration "seems too narrow a perspective given the administration's interest in the more organic approach favored by many consumers and farmers."

In his confirmation hearing, Siddiqui pledged to work to lift the EU's ban on importing genetically modified crops and to conclude the highly controversial Doha rounds, the current trade negotiation round of the World Trade Organization that stalled over agricultural issues including U.S. farm subsidies. In other words, he'll continue his work as a CropLife lobbyist from inside the Obama administration. (Siddiqui did say he supports all types of agriculture, including organics, but this is a common line taken by advocates of biotech and pesticides. They say that people have a right to grow food organically if they wish, but biotech and pesticides are required to feed the world -- a claim that has been proven false.)

The Siddiqui nomination proves that the government may have changed from red to blue but the real deciders of U.S. policy -- multinational corporations -- are still in power just as much as they ever were. While a UN and World Bank commissioned report -- the largest assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology in history -- found that the answer to world hunger lies in agroecology, not biotechnology, high-input industrial agriculture and free trade, the U.S. continues to pursue a policy entirely counter to the findings of the report. (CropLife, by the way, was included in the writing of that report but walked away from it in protest of its findings.) The inauguration of Obama brought an acceleration, not a change in course, to the United States' corporate-led strategy to deliver new markets to CropLife's member organizations (biotech and pesticide companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical and Syngenta) in the name of feeding the world's hungry.

Obama was remarkable for coming to power on a wave of popular support, yet he continues to act like politicians past who rely on corporate money to stay in office. By nominating Siddiqui, Obama gives us more proof that the change he represents is more rhetoric than substance. It is refreshing to have a president who doesn't engage in negative campaigning and who is well liked by other world leaders, but it is not enough if U.S. policy does not change for the better as well.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It and is a Commonweal Institute fellow.
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