Endorsing IAASTD and nominations for USDA positions

January 19, 2009

To the Obama administration:

As the nation’s largest consumer-owned grocery retailer, we wish to congratulate you and ask that you work to represent the interests of sustainable food. We have a number of specific recommendations and requests.

FYI, PCC Natural Markets, began as a buying club of 15 families operating out of a basement back in 1953. Now, with nine beautiful state-of-the-art retail stores, we generate $133 million in annual sales with 1,000 employees and 45,000 active member/owners.

We work closely with family-scale farmers, fisherman and ranchers as well as large, national operations and distributors. In these relationships over the past 55 years, we’ve come to understand that how our country produces food is intertwined with climate change, energy policy, health care, and ultimately our national security.

We must say we’re very disappointed in the nomination of Tom Vilsack to be Secretary of Agriculture. He has been an unabashed cheerleader for genetically modified crops, reportedly initiating a 2005 bill to prevent local jurisdictions from having any authority to restrict or regulate GM crops. He also has supported animal cloning, unsustainable corn- and soy-based biofuels, and concentrated animal feedlots.

We ask that future appointments to the USDA reflect a better understanding of the research and science about the above policy positions, which do not bear out under scrutiny. They are not sustainable and every one of them has resulted in demonstrated damage to farmers, our export markets, climate change, public health, food security, the environment, and our national and global security as a whole.

Research repeatedly shows that the dominant industrial agriculture model exacerbates soil erosion, water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, and diminished ability to withstand drought. For instance, despite industry hype for nearly 20 years, genetic modification has not produced even one crop or animal with enhanced yield, nutrition or ability to withstand drought, salt or other extreme conditions.

Research repeatedly shows that small-scale, traditional organic farming not only can reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also feed the world. Hunger is not a result of inadequate food supply but lack of access. More than enough food is produced today to provide plenty of meat, dairy, vegetables and fruits to each and every person on the planet; the hungry just don’t have the money or the means to get it.

We ask that the Obama administration join 58 other governments from around the world by signing on and endorsing the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The IAASTD report is a unique and unprecedented effort to achieve sustainable agricultural and food systems worldwide. It resulted from a four-year study of the intertwined problems of global agriculture, hunger, poverty, power and influence. More than 400 scientists, civil leaders, corporate and government representatives were involved, working under the auspices of the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The IAASTD concluded that investing in small-scale, low-input, agro-ecological and organic farming that makes use of traditional knowledge will be more effective in meeting today’s challenges than the energy-and chemical-intensive industrial agriculture model. It notes that industrial agriculture has degraded the natural resources on which human survival depends and contributes daily to worsening water, energy and climate crises. The report also documents the unfair influence of crop subsidies and transnational agribusiness. It advocates farmers having control over resources, more equitable trade agreements, and increasing local participation in policy- and decision-making processes.

Of the 61 countries participating, only the United States, Australia and Canada have not signed on to the IAASTD strategy.

We also ask you that you appoint the following agricultural policy experts to key positions:

Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the senior Washington, D.C. representative since 1988. Hoefner has worked on nearly every federal agricultural budget and appropriations bill for the last several decades, as well as each of the omnibus farm bills from 1977 to 2002. Hoefner has been associated closely with efforts to create such federal programs as the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, Integrated Farm Management program, Beginning Farmer Down Payment Loan Program, Continuous Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Fund for Rural America, Organic Certification Cost-Share, Value-Added Producer Grants, Adjusted Gross Revenue insurance, family farm and rural policy programs within the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems, and the Conservation Security Program. Hoefner recently served on the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, and the Blue Ribbon Panel for the USDA Conservation Effects Assessment Project.

Kathleen Merrigan, Director, Agriculture, Food and Environment M.S./Ph.D. Program, Assistant Professor, and Director of the Center on Agriculture, Food and the Environment, Tufts University. Former Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; creator of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, mandating national organic standards and a program of federal accreditation.

Gus Schumacher, former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at USDA from 1997 to 2001, Schumacher oversaw the Farm Service Agency, the Foreign Agricultural Service, and the Risk Management Agency. He previously served as administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, worked as a senior agri-lender for the World Bank, and as Commissioner of Food and Agriculture for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He has a degree in economics from Harvard College, attended the London School of Economics, and was a research associate at the Agribusiness Program at the Harvard Business School

Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Nebraska. Hassebrook has expertise in commodity program reform, rural development policy, research and extension and was instrumental in passage of Initiative 300, Nebraska's anti-corporate farming amendment. He was involved in passing federal agricultural tax reforms in the 1980s, research and rural development provisions of recent federal farm bills, and pioneering rural development initiatives passed by the Nebraska legislature.

Sarah Vogel, former two-term Commissioner of Agriculture for the state of North Dakota, Vogel has expertise in ag law; She has represented farmers and ranchers in a variety of cases involving seed integrity, crop insurance, and farm foreclosures; the latter was named one of the top three agricultural cases in the 20th Century by the American Agriculture Law Association.

We know our nation needs some dramatic changes and how we produce food is no exception. Agriculture is central to so many other problems. The policies and people you choose are vital to implementing solutions.

Sincerely,

Tracy Wolpert
Chief Executive Officer

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