Think of Ann Veneman as the Paul Wolfowitz of food policy.
Just as Wolfowitz used his position as the Bush administration's deputy secretary of defense to spin whacked-out neoconservative theories into the justification for an illegal and unnecessary war, so Veneman used her position as the administration's secretary of agriculture to spin equally whacked-out theories about the genetic modification of food and free trade into disastrous policies for farmers and consumers.
And, just as Wolfowitz is being rewarded for his missteps and misdeeds with a prominent new position as president of the World Bank, so Veneman is also moving onto the world stage, as the likely nominee to be the next executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
When Veneman was nominated to serve as George W. Bush's first secretary of agriculture, this column detailed the many reasons why that was a horrible idea. A militant advocate for the genetic engineering of food and an unblinking proponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. entry into the World Trade Organization, and other trade policy moves that were designed by agribusiness conglomerates to benefit agribusiness conglomerates, Veneman was on the wrong side of every issue that mattered to working farmers in the United States and abroad. And as a veteran beneficiary of agribusiness largesse - as a lobbyist, corporate board member and industry insider - she was not about to start listening to reason simply because she was briefly leaving the private payroll to take a government check.
Veneman lived up to the most dire expectations regarding her nomination, creating a record of service to the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of farmers and consumers. She drew the boos of farmers on her rare visits to rural America. And for good reason. She turned the Department of Agriculture into an echo chamber for the advocates of free trade agreements that have dramatically undermined the income and long-term viability of U.S. farmers, and for Monsanto and other firms that are seeking to force farmers to plant genetically modified crops and inject cows with bovine growth hormones.
Worst of all, on issues such as the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States and Canada, she seemed at every turn to be more interested in the business and trade impacts of those revelations than the very real public health issues that they raised.
Veneman has stepped down as secretary of agriculture but, in what has now become a pattern for the Bush administration, her years of disservice have been rewarded with selection to serve as the new executive director of UNICEF, the U.N. agency that is responsible for protecting children's health, welfare and rights.
Veneman is expected to get the job because of the defining role that the Bush administration plays in the selection process, just as U.S. pressure set up Wolfowitz for the World Bank position.
The notion that Veneman would be placed in a position to decide how to feed and care for the planet's most destitute children is every bit as alarming as the notion that Wolfowitz would be charged with providing aid to developing countries.
Indeed, as Ravi Narayan, coordinator for the global secretariat of the People's Health Movement, wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the members of the executive board of UNICEF: "Ms. Veneman's training and experience as a corporate lawyer for agribusiness do not qualify her for the substantial task of leading the agency most responsible for the rights of children worldwide. There is no evidence in her tenure as U.S. secretary of agriculture, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, or deputy undersecretary for international affairs of the USDA of her interest in the world's children or their health and well-being.
"Indeed, her performance in these positions has been characterized by the elevation of corporate profit above people's right to food (U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25). Such a philosophy and practice would reverse almost six decades of UNICEF's proud humanitarian history and prove disastrous for the world's children."
Just as it is vital for responsible Americans to object to the selection of Paul Wolfowitz to serve as president of the World Bank, so it is equally vital that we object to the selection of Ann Veneman to lead UNICEF.
John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com