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2009-11-17

Obama Nominates Pesticide Executive to Be Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the US Trade Representative

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President Obama’s nominee for the Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the office of the US Trade Representative, Islam Siddiqui is currently a vice president at CropLife America, a coalition of the major industrial players in the pesticide industry, including Syngenta, Monsanto, and Dow Chemical. He was previously a lobbyist for CropLife and also served in the US Department of Agriculture under President Clinton and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. A coalition of over eighty environmental, family farm and consumer advocacy organizations have sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee urging them to reject his nomination. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: At the end of the broadcast, we’ll look at poverty in the world and the UN food summit, but right now we look at President Obama’s nominee for the Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the office of the US Trade Representative. Islam Siddiqui is currently vice president at CropLife America, a coalition of the major industrial players in the pesticide industry, including Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow Chemical. He was previously a lobbyist for CropLife and also served in the US Department of Agriculture under President Clinton and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Over forty-six agribusiness groups signed a letter supporting his nomination, but a coalition of over eighty environmental, family farm and consumer groups sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee urging them to reject his nomination. The letter says Siddiqui’s record and statements, quote, "show his clear bias in favor of chemical-intensive and unproven biotechnology practices that imperil both our planet and human health while undermining food security and exacerbating climate change,” unquote. Siddiqui defended his record at a Senate committee hearing earlier this month, and a final vote is expected before the World Trade Organization ministerial conference November 30th.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman is a senior scientist at the Pesticide Action Network of North America and one of those leading the charge against Siddiqui’s nomination, joining us here in San Francisco.

Welcome to Democracy Now! What are your concerns with his nomination?

MARCIA ISHII-EITEMAN: Thank you, Amy. Well, it’s very good to be here.

Our concerns are quite simple. Putting a pesticide pusher in charge of US agriculture, particularly in the Trade office, is bad government. It’s not what Obama promised us during his campaign trail. He did say no lobbyists in the White House. And we know that Islam Siddiqui is a former paid lobbyist for CropLife and is currently and has been for the last many years a senior executive at this association.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what CropLife is.

MARCIA ISHII-EITEMAN: CropLife is the pesticide industry’s trade association. They’re the major lobbying group. And as you mentioned earlier, their members consist of Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, all the major pesticide and biotech manufacturers. What their agenda is is actually quite straightforward. It’s opening new markets for pesticides and for the genetically engineered seeds that go with them. Their agenda is also to weaken international environmental treaties and any kind of environmental protections or regulations that might somehow get in the way or constrain the production, sale and export of their products.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the organizing that’s going on right now and if you see Siddiqui’s nomination as indicative of the whole approach of the Obama administration. I mean, you have Michelle Obama, the main advocate now for organic farming, or at least organic gardening at the White House.

MARCIA ISHII-EITEMAN: Correct, and it’s rather ironic in that this appointment of a CropLife representative, Mr. Siddiqui, he comes from the very same organization that infamously shuddered at Michelle Obama’s planting of this White House organic garden.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain.

MARCIA ISHII-EITEMAN: Well, when she first announced and began developing this organic garden at the White House as a way of highlighting to the public and letting people know that local fresh and organic produce is actually healthier for our bodies and for our children, CropLife’s regional partner in the Midwest sent a letter to Michelle Obama expressing their deep concern that she was setting a bad example for the rest of the country by not using their chemical pesticides. And then they organized a letter writing campaign to urge her to abandon this practice and start using pesticides as soon as possible.

So there’s a great deal of irony here, but the problem is — goes deeper than the irony, and it even goes deeper than this revolving door that we’re seeing. I think what we have with the Obama administration is a very mixed bag of let’s try to do both and everything together, but predominantly, at the basis of the administration’s agriculture policy is a commitment to a fundamentally flawed industrial model of agriculture that is chemically intensive, energy and water intensive, and that is not the solution for the kinds of changes that the planet and US farmers, in particular, are facing in the coming years and decades with climate change, water scarcity and this rapidly diminishing supply of fossil fuels. What we really need to be doing is getting off the pesticide GMO treadmill and moving as quickly as possible on to the right kind of agroecologically based farming that history and science now tells us is really the most robust way forward.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think his nomination squares with the nomination of Kathleen Merrigan, an advocate of sustainable agriculture, as Deputy Agriculture Secretary?

MARCIA ISHII-EITEMAN: That, there’s a quite a contradiction here. You know, we get, on the one hand, Tom Vilsack as head of USDA, very fine personal qualities, but a very strong commitment, again, to genetically modified organisms and biotech as the latest shiny new technology that we can put on the rest of the world. Then we have Kathleen Merrigan, yes, who is well known for her interest and support of organic farming. So what we have is this very inconsistent policy. But underneath — and perhaps what’s most important is where the key people in the administration and in US agriculture are going. And so, putting Siddiqui in charge of the US Trade Office is very telling.

It’s a bankrupt policy for this country and for the rest of the world. It may seem that, oh, it’s right, what we need is to have agricultural exports increasing and to get our GMOs onto the market, but we’re really behind the times. The rest of the world does not want our GMOs. They have made that clear. Trying to push them forward, in the face of history, in the face of science, is not the best solution. The most comprehensive assessment of agriculture today, the UN-led International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, or the IAASTD report, has said very clearly that business as usual is not an option. We must shift away from these uniform, single, high-tech, and frankly corporate control solutions, like chemical pesticides and biotech, towards agroecological, resilient and regenerative farming systems. But these kinds of changes are really anathema to CropLife and to the kinds of crop protection products that Mr. Siddiqui has been promoting throughout most of his career.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of the United Nations, we’re going to turn now to the United Nations food summit that’s taking place in Rome. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, I want to thank you very much for being with us, senior scientist at the Pesticide Action Network. We will link to their letter to the Senate committee on our website at democracynow.org.

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