Brushing aside pressure, Obama taps a big-ag man as USDA chief
"Tom Vilsack was one of the first governors to see the promise of biotechnology. He has a very balanced view of agriculture and understands its potential."
— Ted Crosbie, vice president of global plant breeding and director of Monsanto’s Iowa operations
"Governor Vilsack would be an outstanding choice for Secretary of Agriculture. He would bring great leadership and experience to the position. Governor Vilsack understands what it takes to increase agricultural productivity to meet growing global demand for food and feed."
– Paul Schickler, president of Dupont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred, one of Monsanto’s few rivals in the genetically modified seed industry. (Both quoted from a Dec. 16 Des Moines Register piece.)
In 2007, Thomas Vilsack ended an eight-year stint as Iowa’s governor. Before that, he had served as a state senator. During his time in Iowa politics, he promoted the interests of large agribusiness firms in several ways.
As a state senator, he voted for the infamous House File 519 in 1995, which stripped counties of the right to impose restrictions on CAFOs. In 2005, as governor, he signed into law House File 642, which barred local governments from regulating the planting of genetically modified seed.
In 2001, the Biotechnology Industry Organization named him "governor of the year" for his "support of the industry’s economic growth and agricultural biotechnology research." Vilsack also brisky promoted biofuels as governor; he served as chair of the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition.
After stepping down after his second term in 2007, Vilsack ran for president. When that bid failed, he joined the Minneapolis-based corporate law firm Dorsey & Whitney. The firm’s broad range of corporate clients include food giants Cargill and Conagra. According to Dorsey & Whitney’s website, Vilsack was hired to focus on "strategic counseling and advising clients in the fields of energy conservation, renewable energy, and agribusiness development." He also serves as a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products, where he sits on the advisory board with representatives of Monsanto, Dupont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred, and the World Bank.
President-elect Obama has reportedly plucked Vilsack from those posts and tapped him to be USDA chief. The decision comes after a wave of hope that Obama might choose a less agribusiness-oriented candidate. I’ll be writing more on this pick in the days to come.
UPDATE: Read more reactions to Vilsack.