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October 27, 2009
3:46 PM

CONTACT: Sustainable Agriculture Advocates

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Pesticide Action Network (415) 981-6205 ext 325

Katherine Ozer, National Family Farm Coalition (202) 543-5675

Alexis Baden-Mayer, Organic Consumers Association (202) 986-6186

Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety (202) 547-9359 x14

Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida (407) 886-5151

Broad Coalition Decries White House Defense of Pesticide Lobbyist Nomination

Weak Defense of Siddiqui Contrasts with Clear Pro-GMO, Anti-Organic Record

WASHINGTON - October 27 - Sustainable agriculture advocates from around the country today expressed deep disappointment with the Obama Administration's defense of nominating Islam Siddiqui, a former pesticide lobbyist as our chief agriculture trade representative at the office of the United States Trade Representative. An article in yesterday's Politico ["Ag Nomination Steams Greens"] noted the controversy surrounding his nomination by environmental and family farm groups.

Siddiqui is currently a vice-president at Croplife America. Croplife is an agrochemical industry trade group representing Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow Chemical, among others. Croplife America's regional partner, Mid America CropLife Association, notoriously "shuddered" at Michelle Obama's organic garden and launched a letter writing campaign in protest. Katherine Ozer, Executive Director for the National Family Farm Coalition, said, "We are still baffled by the White House nominating a pesticide lobbyist for this key position, severely undermining their credibility and rhetoric about the need for Americans to have access to local, healthy, sustainable food."

The White House issued a defense of Siddiqui that unravels under scruitiny, "During his time at USDA, Dr. Siddiqui led the first phase of development for national organic natural food standards in the United States." Organic Consumers Association was formed in the wake of this controversial first phase, and expressed surprise and shock that the White House would use this to bolster the case for Siddiqui. Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director for OCA, said, "Our organization was formed in 1998 due to the massive backlash consumers had against USDA's initial controversial proposed regulations for organic food that would have outrageously allowed for toxic sludge, irradiated foods and genetically modified organisms to be labeled ‘organic.' Only after an unprecedented 230,000 consumers wrote USDA to protest the rules were they strengthened. This only confirms to us why Siddiqui is the wrong choice for this position."

Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network, noted the double standard of ostensibly advocating for more sustainable food at home while Siddiqui's appointment in fact advances an agenda that undermines developing countries' capacity to feed themselves: "Putting a CropLife official and former paid lobbyist in charge of U.S. agricultural trade policy sends the worst kind of message to the world. This appointment tells the world that the U.S. will continue to value the interests of our massive chemical pesticide and biotech industry over any serious concern for public health, the environment or the well-being of farmworkers and communities around the world. We will be calling on the Senate Finance Committee to reject this nomination." Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, added, "An Administration that nominates the top salesman of the pesticide/biotech industry to represent U.S. agricultural interests overseas cannot be taken seriously as an advocate of sustainable agriculture. The U.S. should promote organic and sustainable farming, not pesticides and GM crops."

Farmworker groups fighting for years to regulate pesticide use were also disappointed by the White House's defense of Siddiqui. The Farmworker Association of Florida, which represents 6,700 farm worker families working in the tomato and citrus industries, remains disturbed by the appointment. "Siddiqui's role at USTR will not be about promoting organic products, but eliminating trade barriers for developing countries to accept toxic chemicals and pesticides," said Tirso Moreno, general coordinator for FWAF. "That is CropLife America's agenda. They continue to try to stop any international attempts to help us regulate pesticide uses. Farmworkers have the highest rate of chemical-related illnesses of any occupational group. Our community suffers from nausea, liver damage, birth defects, and cancer as a result of exposure to these poisons. For the health of farmworkers around the world, we urge that his nomination be rejected."

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