The United States Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, recently met with high-ups at Monsanto and other companies to discuss agricultural ‘advances’ for 2016. But was this really a ‘forum,’ or a way for Vilsack to promote Monsanto? And why were Monsanto insiders ever appointed to protect the safety of our food?
Vilsack’s meeting sounds more like a master conflicts of interest group get-together for the biotech and industrial agricultural model, especially when you consider who was leading the discussion:
- Vilsack was named Governor of the Year by the biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership.
- When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child of economic development potential was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.
- The undemocratic and highly unpopular 2005 seed pre-emption bill was Vilsack’s brainchild. The law strips local government’s right to regulated genetically engineered seed (including where GE can be grown, maintaining GE-free buffers or banning pharma corn locally).
- Vilsack is an enthusiastic supporter of corn and soy-based biofuels, which use as much or more fossil fuel energy to produce them as they generate, while driving up world food prices and literally starving the poor. Funny how GM corn and soy now proliferate the US landscape, under heavily government subsidized funding, no less.
- Overall, Vilsack’s record is one of unquestioning support of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or factory farms and animal cloning. 
Moreover, there were no working organic farmers called to the table to participate in this discussion, even though more than 90 percent of Americans have made it clear they want GM food labeled, or aren’t interested in eating it at all.
As Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack was a leading advocate for Monsanto, genetic engineering, and factory farming. President Obama proudly lauded his new Agriculture Secretary for “promoting biotech,” even though during Obama’s own presidential campaign he promised to label genetically modified organisms, and never did. 
Vilsack has, in fact, promoted the most controversial and dangerous forms of agricultural biotechnology, including pharma crops, plants genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals. When grown outdoors on farmland, where most pharma crop trials have occurred, pharma crops can easily contaminate conventional and organic varieties.
Vilsack did ask his ‘panelists’ what role government should play in big data involved in agriculture. He received a number of answers: better technology infrastructure in rural America; greater emphasis on science, technology, math, and engineering education, particularly for girls and minorities; and more involvement by the cooperative extension services across the country. 
There was no mention of stewarding the land, replenishing soils with organic material, or making sure heirloom seeds are available to promote biodiversity. No mention of taking toxic chemicals out of the land. No mention of giving small farms their rights back.
Vilsack, who used his position to promote some of the most dangerous biotechnology practices, met with Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director for Congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, Cory Reed, a senior vice president with Deere & Co, and Robert T. Fraley, chief technology officer at Monsanto Co., the St. Louis-based biotechnology firm.
Featured image taken and modified from: Bloomberg via Getty Images
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.