Another Monsanto Man in Key USDA Post?

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GRIST- Like a tractor driven by a drunk, the Obama administration keeps zigzagging on food/ag policy–sometimes veering in the direction of progressive change, other times whipping back toward the agrichemical status quo.

In the last couple of days, there’s been a sharp turn toward the status quo. As I reported yesterday, Obama plucked Islam “Isi” Siddiqui from the nation’s most powerful agrichemical lobby group and made him our chief negotiator on ag issues in global trade talks. This is a major coup for Big Ag. Ramming open foreign markets for our cheap food commodities and pricey ag inputs is critical to the industry’s future profits–and perilous for global food security and the environment.

And today, Obama’s Big Ag side got the best of him again. He tapped Roger Beachy, long-time president of the Danforth Plant Science Center, as chief of the USDA’s newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). A creation of the 2008 Farm Bill, the NIFA “replaces the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, which distributes $200 million in competitive grants and about $280 million in ‘formula funding’ to land-grant universities,” Science blog reports.

Science continues:

The Farm Bill adds another $106 million annually of competitive funding for research into organic farming, biomass, and fruits and vegetables. It also calls for a “distinguished scientist” to be appointed for a 6-year term as director.

So this is a critical post. If the sustainable farming movement is going to scale up and really start providing a large portion of the nation’s calories–and deliver on its potentially huge environmental promises–than we’re going to need a significant commitment of federal research dollars.

And what are we getting with the appointment of Beachy? The Danforth Plant Science Center, nestled in Monsanto’s St. Louis home town, is essentially that company’s NGO research and PR arm. According to its website, the center “was founded in 1998 through gifts from the St. Louis-based Danforth Foundation, the Monsanto Fund (a philanthropic foundation), and a tax credit from the State of Missouri.”

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Photo by flickr user Tim Psych

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