… USDA must remove all barriers to a national transition to organic agriculture…
Stop Ag Secretary Vilsack from Undermining Climate Initiative to Transition Agriculture
Beyond Pesticides (DC)
October 12, 2021
Beyond Pesticides is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., which works with allies in protecting public health and the environment to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides.
Tell President Biden and Congress that there is no room for agriculture policies that are not in line with the Executive Memorandum and directive Modernizing Regulatory Review. USDA must remove all barriers to a national transition to organic agriculture.
One of President Biden’s first actions, on the day of his inauguration, was the Executive Memorandum and directive Modernizing Regulatory Review, requiring the heads of all executive departments and agencies to produce recommendations for improving and modernizing regulatory review, with a goal of promoting public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations. This mandate should reverse the trend of regulatory review, which has so far protected the status quo, rather than advancing urgently needed change.
Why, then, do we see Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack opposing moves in the direction laid out by the Presidential directive? A recent Mother Jones article by Tom Philpott focuses on Mr. Vilsack’s opposition to the “Farm to Fork” initiative in the European Union, which aims to “push the continent’s agriculture in a healthier, more resilient direction, to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in farming, and encourage people to eat less meat.”
As Mr. Philpott points out, “Vilsack’s disdain for the EU’s plan—which dates to last year when he worked as a dairy industry executive—cannot arise from a sense of U.S. superiority. Our diet-related public health troubles are deeper than Europe’s; and climate change and widespread water pollution are ravaging our two most important farming regions, California’s Central Valley and the Midwestern corn belt.”
Farm to Fork sets its sights on reducing reliance on polluting, energy-intensive agrochemicals by setting targets of reducing fertilizer use by 20% and pesticide use by 50% by 2030. It also calls for a 50% reduction in antibiotics in livestock—a major contributor to antibiotic resistance—and a reduction in red meat and processed food. These goals are eminently consistent with President Biden’s goals as expressed in the Executive Memorandum. Is Secretary Vilsack out of step with his boss? Or is the directive just a whitewash concealing business as usual?
Mr. Philpott believes that clues lie in Mr. Vilsack’s friendship with leaders of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Brazil. UAE, with its large reserves of oil and natural gas, provides the raw material for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, a driver for chemical-intensive agriculture, as well as the basis for pesticide manufacture. Brazil is the world’s third-largest user of pesticides (after China and the U.S.), is home to meatpacking giants JBS and Marfig that supply U.S. markets and is known for its environmental and human rights abuses in transforming rainforests into industrial agriculture. UAE and Brazil may be ideal partners for promoting industrial agriculture, but their policies are antithetical to those advanced by the mandates issued by the president.
We urgently need a new direction for agriculture—one that moves toward organic agriculture and away from the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and abusive land practices. Mr. Vilsack should get with the president’s agenda or get out!
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