(NaturalNews) Agriculture Secretary Nominee Tom Vilsack is a two-term Iowa governor (1999-2007) and a trial lawyer. He sailed through his confirmation hearing last week for the position of Agriculture Secretary, but he does not enjoy the same popularity with growers and consumers of organic foods. On the same day that Barack Obama became the 44th president of the US, Tom Vilsack was unanimously confirmed as the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
The confirmation process that Vilsack and his other cabinet peers have recently gone through is quite simple. After being announced, the nominee then goes through a committee hearing. This is where Senate committees hold sessions to question the nominee to determine the merits of the candidate. Then the committee votes to confirm or deny the nominee. If the nominee passes this step the next step is a vote by the entire Senate. Passing this vote results in final confirmation to a cabinet position.
Vilsack owns a 590 acre Iowa farm and approximately half of his farm is planted with crops. He testified to the confirmation committee that he supports federal programs designed to assist organic agriculture. He has not demonstrated this support adequately to consumers of organic foods or persuaded them that he will safeguard their interests, however.
Vilsack has a record of supporting the genetic engineering of crops and this is considered a threat by and to organic farmers who are not able to get organic certification for their produce if it is contaminated by the pollen created by transgenic crops. The official policy of the Department of Agriculture is that GMO crops do not need to be regulated or labeled as such.
Vilsack is considered by some in the organic
community to be an ally of the corporate agri-giants and their interests. For this reason, a petition drive for the purpose of expressing opposition to his nomination has begun.
A statement from the Organic Consumers Association states their disappointment in the controversial appointment of Vilsack. At this time this petition has gathered more than 100,000 emails and signatures from organic consumers and farmers who object to Vilsack`s appointment of Agriculture Secretary.
This same association has also petitioned President Obama`s team to choose Jim Riddle to lead the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (which oversees organic food, farming, and standards). Riddle is an organic farmer from Minnesota and is the former leader of the National Organic Standards Board. He also has a long history of supporting sustainable and organic farming.
In response to this petition, a group of the organic industry`s corporate executives has launched its own petition to support Vilsack`s nomination. Large corporations like Whole Foods, Stonyfield, and United Natural Foods, Inc. have signed this latter petition. This second petition has gathered approximately 500 signatures and many of these are Iowa residents wishing to support Vilsack.
The Cornucopia Institute (an advocacy group supporting family farmers) has described the USDA`s National Organic Program (NOP) as "dysfunctional" to the Obama administration and is urging the Obama administration to improve this program. In a letter, the Cornucopia Institute described the NOP`s negative relationship with most organic farmers, organic consumers, and any groups that represent them. They contend that the NOP has not been impartial in matters involving large corporations versus smaller organic farmers.
Organic farmers have many environmental issues they are concerned about, including GMO crops, clean water supplies, pest control, hormones in milk, the honeybee colony disorder, manure management, land designation for biofuels, and global warming.
In his confirmation hearings, Vilsack promised that if he is placed in the position of Secretary of Agriculture he will promote renewable energy as a means of boosting rural economies. He also included "global climate change," reducing US forest lands, and the current health care crisis in a list of issues he wants to work on.
"All of these serious challenges require a compelling new vision for the department, with the attention, dedication and leadership to make it happen," Vilsack stated. "The president-elect has called on each of us to meet these challenges."
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