Congratulations are in order to Tom Vilsack today. As I predicted, the Senate confirmed him as Secretary of Agriculture by a unanimous vote. The same measure, approved shortly after Barack Obama's inauguration, also confirmed five of the new president's other appointees: Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and White House Budget Office director Peter Orszag.
The Sunday Des Moines Register ran an article featuring Drake University Law Professor Neil Hamilton, who predicted that Vilsack will do more to reform the US Department of Agriculture than some of his critics anticipate:
His critics see Vilsack as "coming from only part of agriculture, and I don't think that probably is accurate," Hamilton said in an interview after Vilsack's Senate confirmation hearing last week. Hamilton, who has long been an advocate of locally grown food systems, a priority of Vilsack's critics, attended the hearing and chatted with the former governor afterward.
Hamilton persuaded Vilsack as governor to form a state food policy council to promote local food systems, among other ideas.
At last week's Senate confirmation hearing, Vilsack promised to promote local foods.
Discussing Vilsack's record on agriculture issues, Hamilton told the Des Moines Register that
Vilsack couldn't have been expected to be anything but an advocate of biotechnology or ethanol when he was governor. "It would have been hard to be the governor of Iowa, just as it's hard to be the senator from Illinois, without being a supporter of ethanol," Hamilton said in a reference to Obama, a leading supporter of corn ethanol as an Illinois senator.
"The fact that you can see a role for genetic modification and science in agriculture doesn't necessarily mean you don't also see an opportunity for local food and organic" agriculture, Hamilton continued. [...]
Hamilton said he is "very confident that whether it's a year, two years, or four years, that most of the people" who signed the Food Democracy Now! petition "will be impressed and pleased" with Vilsack.
Hamilton was one of the six potential nominees for secretary of agriculture on the Food Democracy Now! petition. He is also one of the "sustainable dozen" that Food Democracy Now! is recommending for undersecretary posts within the USDA.
Those senior USDA appointments will set the tone for Vilsack's tenure. I have no idea whether any of the "sustainable dozen" have a chance to be hired. Unfortunately, Jill Richardson reports that some strong advocates for industrial agriculture are being considered for high-ranking positions: Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff may become deputy secretary of agriculture, and Joy Philippi, former past president of the National Pork Producers Council, may become an undersecretary of the USDA. (In 2007, Philippi was a co-chair of Rural Americans for Hillary.)
Today, I am hopeful that Hamilton, who knows Vilsack well, is right about the governor's plans for the USDA.
I look forward to writing regularly here about the Obama administration's food and agriculture policies. La Vida Locavore will be following these issues in even more detail, so bookmark that blog if you are interested in these subjects.