July 26, 2004 (ENS): The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) has been "hijacked" by
the agribusiness industry, according to a report by
a coalition of family farm and public interest groups.
Many key policymaking positions at the agency are now
held by individuals who previously worked for the industry,
the report says, and regulatory policy at the USDA reflects
a focus on advancing the goals of a few major corporate
The report, titled "USDA INC." was commissioned
by the Agribusiness Accountability Initiative and was
released Friday at a conference in Omaha sponsored by
the Organization for Competitive Markets. The department
did not comment on the report.
The initiative includes representatives from Defenders
of Wildlife, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy, Public Citizen, the American Corn Growers Association,
Center of Concern, Farm Aid, and the Organization for
"In its early days, USDA was known as the People's
Department," said Fred Stokes of the Organization
for Competitive Markets, which first proposed the paper.
"Today, it is, in effect, the Agribusiness Industry's
Department, since its policies on issues such as food
safety and fair market competition have been shaped
to serve the interests of the giant corporations that
now dominate food production and distribution."
Among several examples, the report 40 page report documents
the USDA's continuing support for - and promotion of
- agricultural biotechnology, despite a lack of consumer
acceptance and concern by farmers over the impact on
exports due to international resistance to genetically
The report notes that Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman
served on the board of directors of Calgene Inc., a
biotechnology company that was later taken over by Monsanto,
and the agency's head of biotech regulation, Neil Hoffman,
worked for Paradigm Genetics, another biotech firm.
"It is not surprising that USDA is slavishly following
the agenda of agribusiness when you consider who holds
many of the top jobs at the department," said Philip
Mattera, director of the Corporate Research Project
of Good Jobs First and author of the report. "The
upper ranks of USDA are filled with industry veterans,
while people formerly associated with family farm, consumer
or public interest groups are just about nowhere to
The report documents how the USDA has taken industry
friendly positions on mad cow disease, cattle industry
competition, slaughterhouse inspection practices and
concentrated animal feedlot operations.
In each of these cases, the report notes the presence
of industry veterans among the chief officials responsible
for adopting or maintaining these questionable policies.
In addition to working directly for agribusiness companies
such as ConAgra and Campbell Soup, top USDA officials
came to the department from industry trade associations
such as the Food Marketing Institute and producer groups,
including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association
and the National Pork Producers Council.
These industry groups are closely aligned with big
processing companies and are partially funded by them.
The report recommends the department revise its ethics
rules to prevent government officials from overseeing
policies that directly affect the interest of their
former employers. It also calls on Congress to take
on a more active review of regulatory appointees and
for additional research into "revolving door"
conflicts of interest at the agency.
In addition, the alliance suggests Congress evaluate
whether the USDA can continue to serve both as a promoter
of U.S. agricultural products and a regulator of food