[HCCN] President offers USDA to agribusiness

Dick Atlee atlee at umd.edu
Thu Oct 29 20:42:48 EDT 2009

“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.”  -- Candidate Obama in Iowa

Apparently not.  In addition to the endless issues we are dealing with, 
we now have the President's invitation to agribusiness to walk through 
the revolving door and take over the USDA at a time when we need 
responsiveness to agricultural issues of climate change, sustainability 
and trade policy.  You might consider signing the following letter at


“Dear President Obama,

We urge you to withdraw the nomination of Islam Siddiqui as Chief 
Agriculture Negotiator and to reconsider your support of Roger Beachy as 
director of the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). 
Siddiqui is CropLife’s current vice president of science and regulatory 
affairs, and until last month, Beachy was the head of Monsanto’s de 
facto nonprofit research arm. As two textbook cases of the “revolving 
door” between industry and the agencies meant to keep watch, Siddiqui 
and Beachy’s industry ties demonstrate that both men are too beholden to 
corporate agriculture to serve the public interest.

Appointing Siddiqui to this critical post within the U.S. Trade 
Representative’s office sends a clear signal to the rest of the world 
that the U.S. plans to continue down the worn and failed path of 
chemical-intensive industrial agriculture by pushing pesticides, 
inappropriate biotechnologies and unfair trade arrangements on nations 
that do not want and can least afford them. Siddiqui’s professional 
record is revealing on several points:

•  Siddiqui was a paid lobbyist for 3 years for Croplife America, which 
represents the chemical pesticide and ag biotechnology interests. 
Members include Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta.
•  CropLife America's regional partner had notoriously “shuddered” at 
Michelle Obama's organic White House garden for failing to use chemical 
pesticides and launched a letter petition drive, urging the First Lady 
to consider using insecticides and herbicides in her garden.
•  CropLife America has consistently lobbied the U.S government to 
weaken and thwart international treaties governing the use and export of 
toxic chemicals such as PCBs, DDT and dioxins.
•  Siddiqui’s past service at the USDA included overseeing the initial 
development of national organic food standards that would have allowed 
GMOs and toxic sludge to be labeled “organic”— until over 230,000 
consumers forced their revision.

As the global food crisis deepens and we head into the Doha round of 
trade talks at the WTO, the U.S. needs a lead negotiator who understands 
that the current configuration of trade agreements works neither for 
farmers nor for the world’s hungry. All eyes are on the U.S. to 
demonstrate international leadership in this arena by withdrawing 
support for an industrial model of agriculture that imperils both people 
and the planet, by undermining food security and worsening climate change.

In his capacity as director of NIFA, Roger Beachy will be in charge of 
the nation’s agricultural research agenda and purse strings for the next 
six years. Given Beachy’s previous career running the Danforth Plant 
Science Center, a nonprofit closely linked to and funded by Monsanto, we 
believe that billions more in government funding will be funneled into 
genetic engineering and chemical pesticide research. Meanwhile the real 
solutions to our growing agricultural problems, provided by sustainable 
and organic agriculture research, will suffer from a lack of federal 
funding and attention.

Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, 
agricultural biotechnology—of the kind aggressively promoted and 
marketed by CropLife— has failed to deliver on any of its promises of 
higher yields for U.S. farmers, “enhanced nutrition” or 
drought-resistance for developing country farmers. What Monsanto’s 
research agenda has yielded is skyrocketing herbicide use, resistant 
“super-weeds”, rising debt for farmers, polluted waterways, threats to 
the health of farmworkers and rural communities, and unparalleled 
corporate consolidation in the agrochemical and seed industries. The top 
10 agribusinesses control 89% of the agrochemicals market, 66% of the 
modern biotech market and 67% of the global seed market.

With farmers here and abroad struggling to respond to water scarcity and 
increasingly volatile growing conditions, we need a resilient and 
restorative model of agriculture that adapts to and mitigates these 
effects of climate change. In the most comprehensive analysis of global 
agriculture to date, the International Assessment of Agricultural 
Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), states 
unequivocally that “business as usual is not an option.” We need a model 
of agriculture that regenerates soil health, sequesters carbon, feeds 
communities, and puts profits back in the hands of farmers and rural 
communities. Industrial agriculture—and Roger Beachy, Islam Siddiqui and 
CropLife in particular—favor none of these solutions.

While we appreciate your Administration’s recent gestures in support of 
local food systems, we fear these initiatives will not fulfill their 
potential unless the monopolistic power and political influence of the 
agricultural input industry is directly confronted. We therefore 
respectfully ask you to withdraw your appointments of Siddiqui and 
Beachy, and replace them with candidates who have a sustainable vision 
for U.S. agriculture and trade.

As parents, farmers, advocates, scientists and people who eat food, we 
remember your promise on the campaign trail: “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.” We, the undersigned, are writing to hold you to that 

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