President Obama knows that agribusiness cannot be trusted with the policy and regulatory powers of government. On the campaign trail in 2007, he promised:
We'll tell ConAgra that it's not the Department of Agribusiness. It's the Department of Agriculture. We're going to put the people's interests ahead of the special interests.
But, starting with his choice for USDA Secretary, the pro-biotech former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack, President Obama has let Monsanto, Dupont and the other pesticide and genetic engineering companies know they'll have plenty of friends and supporters within his administration.
President Obama has taken his team of food and farming leaders directly from the biotech companies and their lobbying, research, and philanthropic arms.
Michael Taylor, former Monsanto Vice President, is now the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
Roger Beachy, former director of the Monsanto-funded Danforth Plant Science Center, is now the director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Islam Siddiqui, Vice President of the Monsanto and Dupont-funded pesticide-promoting lobbying group, CropLife, is now the Agriculture Negotiator for the US Trade Representative.
Rajiv Shah, former agricultural-development director for the pro-biotech Gates Foundation (a frequent Monsanto partner), served as Obama's USDA Under Secretary for Research Education and Economics and Chief Scientist and is now head of USAID.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who took Monsanto's side against organic farmers in the Roundup Ready alfalfa case, has been nominated to the Supreme Court.
Now, Ramona Romero, corporate counsel to DuPont, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
DuPont's lengthy record of lies, crimes and misdeeds are well known, and the company's efforts to deceive the public and cover-up risks of its products continue to this day.
DuPont brought genetically engineered "Bt" crops to market, despite concerns raised by scientists, environmentalists and organic growers who noted that the Bt crops threaten to destroy the usefulness of Bt sprays, valued by many as the world's safest and most important biological pesticide.
Genetically engineered Bt is not the same as the long-used Bt sprays. It is an activated, high-dose toxin. DuPont claims its Bt products are safe, but there is evidence that Bt crops can trigger allergies and there have been many reports of sickness and death in animals exposed to Bt crops.
Installing a DuPont lawyer at the USDA would create a terrible conflict that would no doubt be resolved in favor of this powerful company rather than the people's interest in food safety, public health and environmental sustainability.
President Obama should stand by his promise, and withdraw his nomination of Ramona Romero, or the Senate should refuse to confirm it. This would be a positive step in turning the Department of Agribusiness back into the Department of Agriculture.
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