BY PHILIP MATTERA
CORPORATE RESEARCH PROJECT OF GOOD JOBS FIRST
Released At the Food and Agriculture Conference of The Organization for Competitive Markets
IN ITS EARLY DAYS, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was dubbed the “People’s Department” by President Lincoln, in recognition of its role in helping the large portion of the population that worked the land. Some 140 years later, USDA has been transformed into something very different. 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, processing and distribution. We call it USDA Inc.
The reorientation of USDA has been occurring over many years, but it has now reached a dramatic stage. Thanks to its growing political influence within the Bush Administration, Big Agribusiness has been able to pack USDA with appointees who have a background of working, lobbying, or performing research for large food processing companies and trade associations. Conversely, there are virtually no high-level appointees at USDA with ties to family farm, labor, consumer or environmental advocacy groups.
The extent to which agribusiness has packed USDA with its people is apparent when looking at
the biographies of the top officials of the Department, up to and including Secretary Ann Veneman.
In addition to her time as a public official, Veneman served on the board of biotech company Calgene
(later taken over by Monsanto). Many of Veneman’s key aides and the heads of various USDA agen-
cies are political appointees who spent much of their career working for agribusiness companies and
For example, Veneman’s chief of staff Dale Moore was executive director for legislative affairs of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a trade association heavily supported by and
aligned with the interests of the big meatpacking companies, such as Tyson and Cargill. Deputy Secretary James Moseley was a co-owner of a large factory farm in Indiana. Floyd Gaibler, a Deputy
Under Secretary, used to be executive director of the dairy industry’s National Cheese Institute. Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations Mary Waters was a senior director and legislative counsel for ConAgra Foods, one of the country’s largest food processors.
These industry-linked appointees have helped to implement policies that undermine the regulatory mission of USDA in favor of the bottom-line interests of a few economically powerful companies. This paper documents USDA’s abandonment of its public mission from two perspectives. Through five case studies, it both reviews the questionable policies the Department has adopted in key areas and the background of the key officials who helped to determine those policies.