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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: OCA's Round Up of President-Elect Obama's Secretary of Agriculture Candidates

The Organic Consumers Association has compiled detailed biographies of 10 possible Secretary of Agriculture candidates. The time is now! President-Elect Obama is extremely close to naming a new Secretary of Agriculture. The Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its $90 billion annual budget, including the National Organic Program, food stamp and nutrition programs, and agriculture subsidies. Through the Organic Consumers Association web portal, you can now directly communicate with the President-Elect about your choice for Secretary of Agriculture and your vision for our nation's food system.

The Time is Now! Take Action to Tell President-Elect Obama to Appoint a Secretary of Agriculture with Strong Organic Values! Click Here!

The Good:

Gus Schumacher

Gus Schumacher, Jr. is the former Under Secretary, for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gus was responsible for the domestic commodities, insurance and farm credit operations of USDA. In addition, he was in charge of USDA's international trade and development programs. Prior to his appointment in August 1997, he was the Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service for 3 years. Before coming to USDA, Mr. Schumacher served as the Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture and at the World Bank. From a farm family in Lexington, Massachusetts, Mr. Schumacher attended Harvard College and the London School of Economics and was a Research Associate in Agribusiness at the Harvard Business School. (From W.K. Kellogg Foundation)

Chuck Hassebrook

Chuck Hassebrook has been with the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska for more than 25 years, developing strategies for rural revitalization, devising farm program payment limitations and enhancing federal funding for rural programs. The Center for Rural Affairs has helped nearly 5,000 small businesses get started or survive in Nebraska, and has assisted in the development of nearly one dozen cooperatives. Hassebrook was instrumental in the passage of Initiative 300, Nebraska's anti-corporate farming amendment. He also was involved in the passage of federal agricultural tax reforms in the 1980s, research and rural development provisions of recent federal farm bills and a pioneering package of rural development initiatives passed by the Nebraska Legislature. In addition to his work with the Center for Rural Affairs, Hassebrook serves on several boards and committees, including the University of Nebraska's Board of Regents and the Nebraska Rural Development Commission. He also has served on the National Commission on Small Farms, and co-chaired the USDA Agricultural Science and Technology Review Board. He has spoken extensively on federal farm and rural policy. (from W.K. Kellogg Foundation)

Sarah Vogel

Sarah Vogel (born 1946) is a North Dakota politician and lawyer who served as the North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture from 1989 to 1997. She is also a lawyer, specializing in agricultural law.[1] Prior to her service as North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture, Sarah Vogel was a champion of family farmers during the 1980's farm crisis, most significantly as lead attorney in the Coleman v. Block litigation. Coleman v. Block was a national class action case, filed by Sarah Vogel on behalf of 240,000 farmers, which resulted in an injunction prohibiting USDA from foreclosing on nearly 80,000 farm families. Sarah Vogel currently practices law with three other attorneys at the Sarah Vogel Law Firm in Bismarck, North Dakota. (From Wikipedia)

Fred Kirschenmann

Fred Kirshenmann has been the director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture since 2000. He is president of Kirschenmann Family Farms, a 3,500-acre certified organic farm in Windsor, North Dakota, where he also was president (1990-1999) of Farm Verified Organic, a private organic certification agency. He is a leader of the organic/sustainable agriculture movement, and has served on many boards and advisory committees of such organizations. He has completed a five-year term on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards Board, and has chaired the administrative council for the USDA's North Central Region's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. He recently completed work for the North Dakota Commission on the Future of Agriculture, and was a charter member of the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society in 1979. He has been a member of the board of directors for the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture since 1994, and was president in 1997. He has authored or co-authored numerous articles and book chapters dealing with ethics and agriculture. (From the Leopold Center)

Mark Ritchie

Mark Ritchie serves as Minnesota's Secretary of State, the state's chief elections officer. Mark previously worked in the administration of Minnesota's Governor Rudy Perpich in the Department of Agriculture, responsible for addressing the economic crisis facing family farmer and rural communities. Mark served for twenty years as the president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a Minnesota-based public research center working with businesses, churches, farm organizations, and other civic groups to foster long-term economic and environmental sustainability in Greater Minnesota. In 2003 Mark led National Voice, a national coalition of over two thousand community-based organizations from across the country working together to increase non-partisan civic engagement and voter participation. National Voice, through their "November 2" media campaign, registered over 5 million new voters nationwide, making the effort one of the largest non-partisan voter mobilizations in our nation's history. Over four hundred Minnesota churches, businesses, unions, schools, and community groups participated in the campaign. (From IATP)

Neil Hamilton

Neil Hamilton is a lawyer and agricultural economics writer. Hamilton currently holds the Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law at Drake Law School (Des Moines, Iowa), where he is also the Director of the Agricultural Law Center. He is also chairman of the Agriculture Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools. Before coming to Drake Law School in 1983, he taught at the University of Arkansas. He was an Iowa Assistant Attorney General from 1979 to 1981. Hamilton is a past president of the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA). He has authored books and articles on agricultural and environmental law. Hamilton writes The Food Chain, a column in the Des Moines Register.(From Wikipedia)

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a syndicated columnist, liberal commentator, populist activist and author. After managing the presidential campaign of populist former Senator Fred R. Harris of Oklahoma in 1976, he returned to Texas to become the editor of the magazine The Texas Observer. His first run for office was for the Democratic nomination for the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates the oil industry), which he narrowly lost. Hightower was elected Agricultural Commissioner in 1982, serving in that capacity until 1991. His tenure was noted for fostering organic production, alternative crops, direct marketing by small farmers, strong gross materials regulations, and other programs. During that time, he also became a leading national spokesman for populist and progressive Democrats.  (From Wikipedia)

The Time is Now! Take Action to Tell President-Elect Obama to Appoint a Secretary of Agriculture with Strong Organic Values! Click Here!

The Bad: Charlie Stenholm

Charlie Stenholm is a former Democratic Representative from Texas (1979-2005). During his time in Congress, he was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, made up of conservative democrats. Stenholm championed agribusiness' interests in the 2002 farm bill, which lead to bloated subsidy payments to corporate farms and chemical agriculture. Stenholm is currently a lobbyist at Olsson Frank Weeda and has represented the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the American Petroleum Institute and agribusiness. He has lobbied to open up drilling in protected areas in the US. As a lobbyist, Stenholm represented the horsemeat industry and even advocated against a measure to stop wild horse slaughter. Stenholm is quoted as encouraging livestock producers to drop the words, "animal waste" from their vocabularies. It's "surplus animal nutrients that can be converted into energy." Stenholm was widely criticized after 9/11 for spending more time on trips paid for by lobbyists than addressing the pressing issues of national security.

The Ugly: Dennis Wolff

Dennis Wolff is the Secretary of Agriculture for the State of Pennsylvania. Wolff also is a dairy farmer and owns Pen-Col Farms, a 600-acre dairy cattle operation. Wolff has championed agribusiness interests as Pennsylvania's Secretary of Agriculture, including banning local dairies from marketing their products as free of Monsanto's rBGH. Wolff is a member of the Agriculture Technical Advisory Committee to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO has been largely credited with forcing so-called "free trade" on farmers and consumers around the globe, undermining national sovereignty and food safety. Finally, Wolff  was a strong proponent of the "ACRE" initiative (Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment), which gives the Pennsylvania state attorney general’s office the authority to sue municipalities over local farm ordinances deemed to exceed state law.

The Probable: John Salazar

John Salazar is a three-term Democratic Congressman from Colorado and a member of the Blue Dog Democrats. Salazar is a potato seed farmer and cattle rancher, and one of only a handful of active farmers in Congress. Salazar was an early supporter of Barack Obama and has strong support from organized labor. Salazar serves on the House Committee on Agriculture, has been a strong supporter of the cattle industry. Salazar has also advocated for alternative energy as part of a national agriculture policy, especially ethanol. Salazar received a score of 70 from the League of Conservation Voters, but has often sided with cattle and industrial agriculture interests, including a measure to allow the poisoning of wildlife in cattle pasture. According to media reports, Salazar has the inside track for the nomination for the Secretary of Ag position. From the organic consumer's perspective he isn't the ideal pick, but he is a vast improvement over the previous appointments.

The Time is Now! Send a Note Today and Tell President-Elect Obama to Appoint a Secretary of Agriculture with Strong Organic Values! Click Here!