(Beyond Pesticides, November 4, 2009) Environmental and farm groups are asking the Senate to reject the Obama Administration pick for chief agriculture trade representative because of positions that he has taken in support of genetically modified organisms as a spokesman for the agrichemical industry, his attack of the European Union (EU) moratorium on genetically engineered crops as lacking “sound science,” and his organization’s outright opposition to organic agriculture and First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to advance organic gardening. Groups are calling for the rejection of the nomination of Islam Siddiqui, PhD, vice president for science and regulatory affairs at CropLife America, to be the chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. Dr. Siddiqui’s confirmation is scheduled for today in the Senate Finance Committee.
The National Organic Coalition (NOC) sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance intending “to bring to the committee’s attention serious concerns and questions” surrounding the nomination of Dr. Siddiqui, including positions that promoted hazardous and unnecessary chemical dependency, as well as his advocacy of genetically modified organisms. NOC states in its letter that, “We have no reason to believe that, at this time, [Dr. Siddiqui’s] history of positions makes him the appropriate person for the job,” and urges that the “nomination is rejected in favor of a candidate with a fresh and critically needed sustainable approach to trade policy.” The letter goes on to request that the committee and the candidate answer some important questions before moving ahead with final confirmation. For example, how will the candidate:
(i) ensure that past ties with organizations that have challenged the legitimacy of organic agriculture as a solution to polluting practices will not undermine Congressional intent to specifically support organic methods?
(ii) guarantee that he will reverse past positions that challenge sound science that has led to the European Union decision to restrict the use of genetic engineering in agriculture?
(iii) support efforts of the Administration to educate the public on organic gardening and agriculture, and food security through local-based food systems?
(iv) engage in decision making supported by scientific integrity?
The letter also raises questions such as, “What role did Dr. Siddiqui play in the USDA initial recommendation that biotechnology, sewage sludge and irradiation are allowed in the production and process of food labeled organic? The Department position was reversed after extraordinary public outcry. Has Dr. Siddiqui reversed his position?” NOC and other groups including Beyond Pesticides and Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) believe that this nomination undermines other efforts of the Obama administration to promote organic and sustainable agriculture.
Dr. Siddiqui is responsible for regulatory and international trade issues at CropLife, a trade association representing producers and distributors of “crop protection products” -commonly known as pesticides. He was a registered lobbyist for CropLife from 2001 to 2003. Dr. Siddiqui has made disturbing statements over the years while he worked as an industry lobbyist regarding the use of hormones and genetically modified organisms (GMO). In 1999, for instance, he derided the European Union’s ban on hormone-treated beef. According to reports, when the French agriculture minister expressed concern that the hormones could cause cancer in 20 to 30 years, Dr. Siddiqui reportedly said of the minister, “He wanted assurances that 30 years from now, nothing would happen. No one in the scientific community can give you that kind of decision.” As then-special assistant for trade to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Dr. Siddiqui expressed concern about possible GMO labeling requirements by Japan when he met senior officials of the Agriculture Ministry in Tokyo. Dr. Siddiqui was quoted as saying, ”˜We do not believe that obligatory GMO labeling is necessary, because it would suggest a health risk where there is none. Mandatory labeling could mislead consumers about the safety of these products.’”
Croplife America has been an aggressive promoter of chemical-dependent agricultural practices and an opponent of organic methods. When the White House announced plans to establish an organic garden on its grounds this year, CropLife played the lead role in challenging the credibility of the effort. Instead of supporting this form of agriculture, CropLife said it “shuddered at the thought that the White House garden will be organic.” CropLife was also instrumental in securing an exemption for American farmers from the 2006 worldwide ban of the highly controversial chemical methyl bromide, a pesticide that depletes the ozone layer. CropLife also pushed an amendment to the 2008 Farm Bill that would have prohibited the Secretary of Agriculture from restricting pesticides in the administration of the Conservation Title. The amendment was ultimately rejected in favor of conference report language that suggests that the Secretary should not regulate pesticides, a statutory duty already under EPA authority.
Another nomination, that of Roger Beachy, PhD, as director of the USDA’s newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), has also been met with ire. This office comes with a $500 million budget, and control over the U.S. ag research agenda for years to come. Mr. Beachy was a long-time head of Monsanto’s defacto nonprofit research arm.
On November 4, 2009, The New York Times editorialized against the appointment of Mr. Siddique. Read it here.
Take Action: Join Beyond Pesticides and coalition groups including PANNA, National Family Farm Coalition, Food & Water Watch, Farmworker’s Association of Florida, Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, Food Democracy Now!, Greenpeace, and Center for Food Safety in calling on President Obama to advance his stated vision for sustainable and green agriculture.