Saturday, July 26


Politico - Barack Obama's vice presidential search team has floated the name of a member of President Bush's first-term Cabinet, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, as Obama's running mate. The search committee, now led by Caroline Kennedy and Eric Holder, raised Veneman's name - among others - in discussions with members of Congress, two Democrats familiar with the conversations said.

The mention of Veneman's name surprised Democratic lawmakers. The low-profile Republican was close to food and agriculture industries but clashed with farm-state Democrats and environmentalists during her tenure, which lasted from 2001 to 2004.

But Veneman, 59, has a biography that could be suited to Obama's unifying message. A Republican raised on a California peach farm, she rose to become the nation’s first female agriculture secretary. In 2002 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was treated successfully. Today she serves as executive director of the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF. The selection of a Republican could bolster Obama's unifying message, a Capitol Hill Democrat familiar with the discussion said. . .

Veneman's is one of about a dozen names suggested by vetters in a round of meetings with members of the House and Senate within the last few weeks. Veneman's name. . .

Choosing Veneman would be a way to "show that he can get things done without all the partisanship," the Democrat familiar with the discussions said. "Her appeal would be nonideological. It would be, 'I'm just here to get the work done.' She's not a hot-button conservative."

Other Republicans mentioned as potential Obama running mates include Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who accompanied him to Iraq, and retired Marine Gen. James Jones. . .

"Are you serious?" one lawmaker asked vetters when Veneman's name came up, a second source familiar with the conversations said.

The surprise stems from the fact that, while Veneman was seen as an experienced leader for her department, she often clashed with Democrats on a central battle front of the Bush years: regulation. Venemen was criticized by some Democrats and environmentalists, and praised by agriculture and food interests, for lightly regulating the industries and for encouraging trade and biotechnology during her tenure.

When she resigned, the American Meat Institute praised her "vision and commitment."

She also clashed with Democrats - including then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who is now an Obama confidant - over subsidies for small farmers, which they sought to expand.

Source Watch - Bill Bullard, chief executive of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (also known as R-CALF USA), called Veneman's tenure "disappointing." R-CALF was very critical of the Secretary's response to mad cow disease, and after "exhaust[ing] all of our administrative remedies," filed suit against USDA to prevent them from easing restrictions on the import of live Canadian cattle and beef products.

According to Agriculture Online, Veneman was not popular with ordinary farmers either. While "69% of visitors to Agriculture Online who responded to a pre-election poll favored Bush . . . the exact same percentage wanted Veneman out in the days after the election." When asked why Veneman was so unpopular, Arkansas farmer Tom Burnham replied, "Because she is a corporate lackey." . . .

Between her tenure at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (under George Bush Sr.) and being named head of California's Department of Food and Agriculture in 1995, Ann Veneman served on the board of directors for Calgene Inc. In 1994, Calgene became the first company to bring genetically-engineered food, the Flavr Savr tomato, to supermarket shelves. Calgene was bought out by Monsanto, the nation's leading biotech company, in 1997. . . Veneman also served on the International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade, a group funded by Cargill, Nestle, Kraft, and Archer Daniels Midland. . .

Veneman is even better known as an expert on international marketing than as a field agent for farmers. From 1989 to 1991, Veneman was deputy undersecretary of agriculture for international affairs and commodity programs. In this assignment, she managed international issues, including trade policy, export negotiations, and food aid. According to the trade publication Ag Alert, "While she was a negotiator at the Uruguay round of talks on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the U.S.-Canada FreeTrade Agreement, and the North American Free Trade Agreement she developed her background expertise in trade that . . .

John Nichols, Nation - "Veneman is expected to get the [UNICEF] 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 UN 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."


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