When it comes to public relations there is spin and there is downright deceit. A recent press release from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) on the potential link between antibiotic resistant bacteria and industrialized farming definitely falls into the latter category. At issue here is a statement released by National Pork Producers Council President Doug Wolf on the new Government Accountability Office report, "Antibiotic Resistance: Agencies Have Made Limited Progress Addressing Antibiotic Use in Animals." Wolf says, “Not only is there no scientific study linking antibiotic use in food animals to antibiotic resistance in humans, as the U.S. pork industry has continually pointed out, but there isn’t even adequate data to conduct a study.” He continues, “The GAO report on antibiotic resistance issued today confirms this." Wolf’s comments are hogwash and he knows it. The truth is that the GAO report does nothing of the sort, nor was that ever its intention. Even from the report title it’s already pretty clear what the overall conclusion is: key government agencies – namely the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) which are primarily responsible for ensuring food safety in the U.S. – are not doing enough to combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria to public health.
Last month, we posted some possible Obama appointees for the Secretary of Agriculture position in “Wanted: an rBGH-free Appointment.” We voiced our support for the picks touted at FoodDemocracyNow.org and also skepticism at the change-making capabilities of potential candidate Dennis Wolff. Since then Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has been put forth for the post, leaving the sustainable agriculture movement somewhat nonplussed (see The Ethicurean’s post, “AgSuck”). Rumors are now circulating that Vilsack may be shifted to the office of Secretary of Commerce in light of a federal probe into possible ethics violations by former pick Gov. Bill Richardson (NM). While these rumors are unconfirmed by the Obama administration, they turn the public eye once again to this all-encompassing post and the issues in its jurisdiction. If Vilsack is in fact relocated, this would reopen the debate over who best to oversee this kitchen sink of an agency and the seventeen secretaries and officers answering to him or her.
Regardless of who is ultimately chosen as Secretary of Agriculture, there remain seven Under Secretary positions to fill – positions which may hold more collective sway even than that of their boss. For a nice visual representation of USDA structure and a list of these positions check out the USDA’s Organization Chart. Food Democracy Now has expanded its list of recommendations to a “Sustainable Dozen” – twelve possible picks for these positions at the USDA. If you have not yet signed the petition and would like to endorse these candidates, visit www.fooddemocracynow.org to add your name.