Denise O'Brien on prospects for a "secretary of food"

Like many Iowa progressives, I strongly supported Denise O’Brien (creator of the

Women, Food and Agriculture Network) for secretary of agriculture in 2006. Still have my O’Brien for Secretary of Agriculture t-shirt, in fact.

Although she fell short in the election, the sustainable food movement continues to grow, with unprecedented online and real-world activism about whom the president should appoint for secretary of agriculture and what policies that person should implement. Some people think it’s time the U.S. had a “secretary of food” focused on a broader range of interests than the agribusiness sector.

Kerry Trueman asked O’Brien about these efforts and posted her answer at Open Left. Excerpt:

As a farmer of thirty plus years, I am intrigued by all of the emails, blogs and websites devoted to the selection of the United States Secretary of Agriculture. My mind swirls with all sorts of fantasies of what a progressive “Secretary of Food” could do for our country. But alas, today as I check out the latest candidates, I am brought back to the unfortunate reality of our current situation – the United States, just like our little state of Iowa, is owned solely by big agribusiness interests with the American Farm Bureau Federation leading the corporate interest pack. It has often baffled me how an insurance company has been able to “speak for the farmers” when they are certainly not a farm organization. […]

Sure, it would be swell to have a person at the head of the Department of Agriculture who understands what the food movement is about, but seriously, that would be an incredible leap for corporate interests. Food justice is just not a concept that sector can even begin to grasp.

I have had firsthand experience taking on corporate ag and although I was not successful in my bid for the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, my friends all tell me I scared the sh… out of them! What this indicates is that we all must continue to work for food democracy. In my humble opinion, food democracy is about economic democracy. That is where we need to be heading.

Food Democracy is the “right of all people to an adequate, safe, nutritious, sustainable, food supply.” The Food Democracy blog is here. The Food Democracy Now petition to Barack Obama is here. As of 5 pm on Tuesday, nearly 54,000 people had signed. OrangeClouds115 reported today that the people who drew up the petition have been in communication with Obama staffers, and the petition itself has reached the desk of some senior advisers.

I have no illusions about Obama appointing a USDA head who is committed to sustainable agriculture, but it’s good that his people know that large numbers of Americans are going to watch his agricultural policies closely.

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