Few questions, more praise, for Siddiqui at confirmation hearing


Few questions, more praise, for Siddiqui at confirmation hearing

Monday November 09 2009
Volume: 51 Issue: 36
Food Chemical News
No fewer than 80 chiefly environmental advocacy groups have issued a statement painting Islam Siddiqui as too pro-pesticide and biotech to be chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative. Regardless, most of the Senate Finance Committee members at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing can’t wait to see him in the job.

Senators took turns, during the two hour event, telling Siddiqui and two other prospective appointments to the USTR how eager they are to work together to address the numerous trade concerns facing the U.S. The focus with regard to Siddiqui was on his four years of service at USDA during the Clinton administration (1997-2001), and in California, where he served in the state’s department of food and agriculture for 28 years (1969-1997).

Only Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) raised the issue surrounding Siddiqui’s eight years (2001-present) as both vice president of science and regulatory affairs and vice president for agricultural biotechnology and trade for CropLife America, a group that includes such members as Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Chemical and DuPont, all companies known for producing both pesticides and genetically modified crops.

Wyden asked Siddiqui if he would like to address the concerns raised by some 80 organizations, including the National Family Farm Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, Friends of the Earth and theOrganic Consumers Organization, in a statement issued Nov. 2.

CropLife has lobbied the U.S. government to “weaken and thwart international treaties” regarding the use of pesticides and toxic chemicals like PCBs, DDT and dioxins, the groups charge. When First Lady Michelle Obama announced her plan to develop an organic garden at the White House, one of CropLife’s partners “shuddered” at thethought, and CropLife sent her a letter in March encouraging the use of chemical pesticides in the garden instead, the groups say.

The groups assert that Siddiqui demonstrated “a disturbing disregard for allowing countries to exercise the ‘precautionary principle’ in regulating genetically modified crops” while working for CropLife.

Additionally, while he was at USDA, the groups say Siddiqui “oversaw the controversial release of the first proposed organic standards that would have allowed toxic sludge, genetically modified and irradiated foods to be labeled ‘organic.'”

In addition to the letter signed by the 80 groups, a “parallel groundswell” of 38,000 “concerned individuals” signed a petition asking President Obama to rescind Siddiqui’s nomination, the Nov. 2 press release indicates.

Siddiqui responded that his record speaks for itself. “There is no evidence of any discrepancy or recommendations against sustainable agriculture,” he said.

Siddiqui said he watched the Green Revolution growing up in India, which has made him a “true believer in all processes and systems. I will do my best to represent all interests.”

Siddiqui pledged to work hard, if confirmed, to promote U.S. agricultural interests around the world, with a specific focus on the World Trade Organization.

“The United States has the most sustainable [agricultural] system in the world, whether you use a sustainable or an organic process,” Siddiqui told the committee. “If confirmed, I will work with all stakeholders to promote U.S. exports.”

Confirmation appears imminent

Regardless, Wyden’s questioning seemed to have little impact on the other committee members, many of which took turns sharing their enthusiasm for Siddiqui’s long career in agriculture and his “unique qualifications” that they say make him a “strong” nominee for the position.

“I have received two letters in support of your nomination, both from [former Agriculture Secretary] Dan Glickman and another from 46 groups representing farmers and other producers, who have advocated their respect for your position embodied by the majority of people around the world” in support of sustainable, organic and conventional agricultural methods, said Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. She read from a recently released letter from Bill Gates, who called on a combination of sustainable and organic agriculture to feed a growing world.

“There is no doubt in my mind Mr. Siddiqui is qualified for this position,” she said.

Also discussed at the hearing were nominations for Michael Punke to be deputy U.S. trade representative in Geneva, and Michael Mundaca, to be assistant secretary of the treasury for tax policy.
— Amber Healy [email protected]

Posted in Agra Watch Blog Posts, Food Justice Blog Posts, Trade Justice Blog Posts.

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