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A not-so-new, brief essay

Sustainable USDA picks?

TH - Dubuque - Agriculture Article.

The old guard really guards only the past

So far, say the foodies who backed Barack, the new prez is buckling to the status quo by appointing ag biz-types at the USDA rather than fighting for a new team with new ideas.

Maybe, but the old guard -- big farm groups, ag biz -- is scared by the change Obama represents and here's why: The old guard is using its clout in Congress and the press to hammer foodie efforts to influence USDA sub-Cabinet appointments that are seen as threats to Big Ag's stranglehold on the USDA.

For example, an Iowa-based sustainable agriculture and rural advocacy group, Food Democracy Now!, spent the Obama transition period floating a Web-based petition that endorsed a list of "sustainable" USDA appointees.

The list included more mild than wild folks: Gus Schumacher, Massachusetts' former ag director and USDA undersecretary; Mark Ritchie, Minnesota's secretary of state and former head of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the widely respected Center for Rural Affairs; and Sarah Vogel, a North Dakota attorney and that state's former commissioner of agriculture.

Within weeks, the petition garnered nearly 75,000 signatures. Signers included celebrity chefs like Alice Waters, acclaimed writers like Wendell Berry and ag economists such as Missouri's John Ikerd.

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