Is The Fox Guarding The Hen House?

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack during a campaign event in Newton, Iowa.
© Susan Walsh, AP Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, slated to reprise that role in the Biden administration, speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Senate has approved Tom Vilsack for Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture with a vote of 92-7 on February 23, 2021

…And this confirmation would keep me up at night if I wasn’t farming with my fork.

Vice President Kamala Harris swears in Tom Vilsack for USDA Secretary

The USDA can be a very important role to ease hunger in the US while providing a working model for community food security globally. The USDA could make my five steps to farming with your fork a seamless activity by supporting and advocating for small scale ranchers, farmers, and food producers.

With Tom at the reigns of the USDA – I am very wary because in my experience it’s not what you SAY but what you DO. His past actions (or lack of) in this same role during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017 leaves me thinking he will not serve my interest. All I have to offer him are heirloom seeds, funny stories about my worm compost bin named Larry’s place, along with ideas, tips, and inspiration for the staff of the USDA. I do not currently have cash $ he may require to listen to me because after his first time as USDA Secretary he went on to earn $999,421 a year with Dairy Management Inc. as their highest paid executive.

Vilsack served as Governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007. Iowa is the state housing large acreage mega farms growing one to two different crops. As a result of mono-cropping these farms rely on genetically modified seeds combined with harmful pesticides and herbicides to trick seeds into growing AND producing.

Photo by Kim Mendoza

Under Tom Vilsack’s leadership this happened:

  • As commissioner of the USDA, he set up a national group called the Governors’ Biotechnology Partnership. He was then given a Governor of the Year Award by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include Monsanto.
  • As USDA Secretary from 2009-2017, he approved more new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) than any Secretary before him or since.
His GMO list includes:
  1. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets. A judge ruled that innevitable contamination would cause the “potential elimination of farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food.”
  2. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, the first genetically modified perennial crop. By the end of the Obama administration, it had gone wild, costing American alfalfa growers and exporters millions of dollars in lost revenue.
  3. Monsanto’s DroughtGard corn, which claimed a 4 percent yield advantage in field tests against conventional corn. The GMO corn was eclipsed by conventional corn grown after cover crops, which demonstrated an 11 percent advantage–during the 2012 drought.
  4. Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant Xtend soy and cotton. Off-target drift of the volatile herbicide these crops are engineered to resist has destroyed millions of acres of non-resistant soy, as well as nurseries, vineyards, vegetables, trees, native plants and ornamentals, since Vilsack approved the new GMOs in 2015 and Obama-Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency cleared new versions of the weed killer in 2016. It’s been a nightmare for farmers and state pesticide regulators fielding complaints of crop destruction. Arkansas put a ban on using dicamba after May 25 and Illinois restricted dicamba use to June 30-July 15, but that hasn’t stopped the damage in those states or across the country.
  5. Scotts Miracle-Gro Roundup Ready lawn grass. Vilsack told the company it didn’t need federal approval or permits to conduct field trials or sell the seed commercially, even though a different type of genetically engineered grass had already escaped from company test plots.
  6. Syngenta’s Agrisure corn. Vilsack stood idly by as this seed that contained genetically engineered traits–that were illegal in China–was sold to U.S. farmers. The corn crop was rejected, costing farmers, including those who didn’t grow the new GMO, at least $1.51 billion. Seven years later, Syngenta (now owned by ChemChina) will soon be mailing settlement checks to impacted farmers.
  7. Syngenta’s ethanol-only corn, containing an engineered enzyme that makes the corn unsuitable for processing and consumption. Vilsack’s approval was over the opposition of the Corn Refiners Association, the National Grain and Feed Association, the North American Millers’ Association, the Pet Food Institute and the Snack Food Institute.
  8. Dow (now Corteva)’s 2,4-D-tolerant Enlist corn, cotton and soy. A known endocrine disruptor and possible human carcinogen, 2,4-D is linked to cancer, thyroid disorders, decreased fertility and birth defects. Vilsack’s USDA projected that the new GMOs would mean the amount of 2,4-D sprayed would grow between 200 and 600 percent by 2020.
  9. J.R. Simplot Company’s Innate potatoes. Four years after Vilsack approved this RNA interference (RNAi) GMO, Caius Rommens, the former Monsanto scientist who invented it, exposed the dangers of his work, including the accumulation of at least two toxins that are absent in normal potatoes.
  10. Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ Arctic Apple. This apple that is bright green when juiced, and doesn’t turn brown when it is bruised or starts to go bad, was the first USDA approved GMO created with RNA interference. Granted, it was FDA, not USDA, that should have investigated evidence that the double stranded RNA survives digestion and enters the bloodstream and tissues of the body, where it can influence the functioning of the eater’s cells. But, Vilsack should have examined the plant pest risks: The chemical compound that is shut off in order to prevent the apple from browning is the same that protects it from insects, injury and disease.
  11. Cloned animals. When Vilsack was asked in 2010 if cloned cows or their offspring had made it into the North American food supply, he claimed he didn’t know. Needless to say, this aroused alarm. Europe moved for an embargo on imports of cloned animals and their produce and offspring. As did the National Organic Standards Board, but Vilsack never issued regulations to make that official and he left the door open to the progeny of animals derived using cloning technology being allowed in USDA Organic. Since clones are most likely to be used as breeding stock, especially dairy bulls, it is very likely that the offspring of cloned animals are being used to produce organic milk and other food.
  12. Synbio dairy substitutes. Vilsack allowed companies like Perfect Day to begin using genetically-altered yeast cultures to manufacture synthetic dairy substitutes―with no regulations to protect consumer health or the interests of family dairy farmers.
  13. Lab-made meat. Vilsack let companies like Memphis Meat begin engineering cell-cultured meat under his watch without invoking the USDA’s regulatory authority to inspect or label it.

I’m trying to figure out who will he “work for” this go-round as Secretary of the USDA.

“Agitation and activism are the best ways to move policy in any desired direction, but this requires sustained effort, a luxury for people struggling with basic survival concerns. That’s why anyone not worried about food and housing should keep their public officials on speed dial.”

– Inspirational observation here from Karma Compass for 2021 and beyond.

Would love to know your insights and thoughts on how we can work with Secretary Vilsack to ensure the USDA steers this massive tax funded agency towards supporting farming with your fork.

The Author of this content loves to entertain critical thinking and problem solving. This may be a side effect of her Permaculture training.



  1. Another whole world of information I had no educated background about. Praise for those who continue to spend time and energy to help us see the larger picture.

    1. Thank you for your active engagement and for looking deeply at the various ways of seeing, Jonelle.

  2. I’ve got heart palpitations from reading your insights into this post. Definitely, we are in a moment of crisis with leadership. Real people with real stories, like you and yours, don’t often get heard. I’m glad that we can make a stink about the direction our country moves in. How do we disrupt power and the status quo? One interruption at a time! Thank you, Dovanna.

    1. Thank you Edissa. If we inspire each other to take one piece of this “justice, equality, and freedom” puzzle we are working to “put together” – then it’s not overwhelming.

  3. You continue to remind me that farming and gardening is an act of resistance and resiliency and why. This article was a great reminder and also gave some facts I was unaware of.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s