by Kathy Ozer and Marcia Ishii-Eiteman
"Lobbyists won't find a job in my White House." President Obama assured us with this claim upon inauguration. And yet he just nominated to two key posts "Big Ag" industry power brokers, who come straight from the chemical pesticide and biotechnology sectors. While they may not be registered as lobbyists, both men come from organizations representing powerful agribusiness interests, which every year spend millions of dollars in lobbying to advance their companies' chemical and transgenic products.
Obama has tapped Roger Beachy, long-time president of the Danforth Plant Science Center (Monsanto's nonprofit arm) as chief of the USDA's newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Created by the 2008 Farm Bill, NIFA is the new means of awarding the USDA's external research dollars. As the director of NIFA (a nomination that doesn't require congressional approval), Beachy will oversee the distribution of nearly $500 million in grants and other research funding. Sustainable agriculture initiatives are likely to suffer, as research dollars are awarded to projects that promote Beachy's vested interests in biotechnology.
Islam Siddiqui, currently the VP of Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife USA, was nominated to the post of Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative's office. Why the president would nominate someone from the group that infamously chided the First Lady for refusing to use pesticides on the White House garden is a bit of a mystery, but perhaps it has something to do with all the money and work as a fundraiser that Siddiqui put into Obama's campaign. This critical position is designed to use free trade agreements to open up foreign markets for U.S. agriculture goods—mostly to promote chemical-intensive, genetically modified products that undermine local food cultures in developing countries.
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