Ann M. Veneman

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Ann Veneman
Ann Margaret Veneman
Order: 27th United States Secretary of Agriculture
Term of Office: 20 January 2001 - 20 January 2005
Predecessor: Daniel Glickman
Successor: Mike Johanns

Ann Margaret Veneman is the Bush administration's "likely nominee to be the next executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)." [1]

Likelihood of Nomination

John Nichols wrote about the prospects of her nomination March 27, 2005, in The Nation: [2]

"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 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."

Secretary of Agriculture

Veneman, who served as the 27th Secretary of Agriculture, was a director of Calgene, Inc., the first company to market genetically-engineered food, announced her resignation as Secretary of Agriculture November 15, 2004, effective January 20, 2005. [3]

Biographical profile

Ann Veneman (1949- ) was raised on a peach farm in Modesto, California. Her father, John Veneman was former undersecretary of Health, Education and Welfare and member of the California State Assembly. She earned her bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California, Davis, a master's degree in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley, and a juris doctorate degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.

Political and corporate career

Veneman joined the United States Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service in 1986, serving as Associate Administrator until 1989. During this time she helped negotiate the Uruguay round talks for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). She subsequently served as Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture for International Affairs and Commodity Programs from 1989 to 1991. From 1991 to 1993, she served as United States Department of Agriculture's Deputy Secretary, the Department's second-highest position.

At this point Veneman took a break from political and administrative office to practice with the high-power law firm and lobby group, Patton Boggs and also severed on the Board of Directors of Calgene, Inc., which became the first company to market genetically-engineered food. One of her clients at Patton Boggs was Dole Foods, the world's largest producer of fruit and vegetables.

In 1995 Veneman then re-started her career in agriculture, when she was appointed Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. From 1999 to 2001 Veneman was an attorney with Nossaman, Guthner, Knox and Elliott, where she focused her attention on food, agriculture, environment, technology, and trade related issues. The peak of her career came on 20 January 2001 when she was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President George W. Bush.

Bush I and Trade Credentials

According to a biography compiled by Foreign Policy In Focus on her as Bush's secretary-elect, Veneman "was the first female deputy secretary of agriculture and, before that, was the first female secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Not surprisingly, she is a true-blue agribusiness Republican."

Veneman had already made a name for herself before becoming California agriculture secretary. For seven years during the Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush administrations, she served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and, under Bush, was named the nation's first female deputy agriculture secretary. At a 1992 meeting, President Bush Sr., told a group of California farmers, "I'm accompanied by the woman that many of you know, Ann Veneman. I thought it would be better, coming to a bunch of experts in agriculture, to have some brains with me. Mine are good for some things... but I certainly don't stand here as any expert."
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 she burnished further while head of CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture)."

Agribusiness Connections

The Center for Responsive Politics includes the biotech and agribusiness firms Calgene, Monsanto and Pharmacia among Veneman's corporate connections. Their opensecrets.org website details a history of movement between government and industry:

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. Monsanto, in turn, became part of pharmaceutical company Pharmacia in 2000. Monsanto, which donated more than $12,000 to George Bush's presidential bid, wants two things this year: no mandatory labeling of biotech foods and better access to international markets. Veneman also served on the International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade, a group funded by Cargill, Nestle, Kraft, and Archer Daniels Midland. [4]

Record as USDA Head

Early in her Cabinet term, Veneman published "Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock for the New Century," the Bush administration vision for the USDA. According to Meatnews, the publication "outline[d] the Administration's priorities for farm sector policy, trade expansion, infrastructure enhancement, conservation and the environment, rural communities, nutrition and food assistance, and USDA program integration." [5]

After Veneman's resignation, "Democrats and environmental groups ... expressed hope that changes in the Bush administration Cabinet could moderate a White House plan to open some 60 million acres of federal forests to logging," according to Reuters. Veneman's USDA, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, proposed giving state governors more power over nearly a third of federal lands. In July 2003, Veneman "proposed a forest roadbuilding rule that opponents said reversed a 2001 plan developed by the former Clinton administration." Her proposal "would effectively exempt states from federal restrictions on logging and road construction in environmentally sensitive areas, unless a governor asked for specific lands to be protected." Opponents of the proposal hoped a new Agriculture Secretary would not proceed with the effective repeal of Clinton's so-called "roadless plan." [6]

Mad cow disease

In her statement the day a single case of mad cow disease was confirmed in Washington state, Veneman said, "Even though the risks to human health is minimal based on current evidence, we will take all appropriate actions out of an abundance of caution. ... [T]his incident is not terrorist related nor is it related in any way to our nation's heightened alert status. ... At this time of year many Americans are making plans for the holidays and for food. We see no need for people to alter those plans or their eating habits or to do anything but have a happy and healthy holiday season. I plan to serve beef for my Christmas dinner. And we remain confident in the safety of our food supply." [7]

The USDA under Veneman was criticized by public interest, consumer and farm groups for not doing enough to address mad cow disease in the United States. The USDA did ban so-called "downer" cows (those unable to walk) from the human food supply, and increased the number of cattle tested for BSE (mad cow disease) from just over 20,000 in 2003 to claiming that it would test more than 200,000 in the 12- to 18-month period starting in June 2004. [8]

However, the agency used the Virus Serum Toxin Act of 1913 to deny private producers like Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef the right to test their own cattle for BSE. Private testing was seen as key to opening up the overseas market for U.S. beef (especially Japan, previously the top importer of U.S. beef) following the discovery of the Washington state mad cow. (Another demand of public interest groups, closing loopholes in the animal feed ban developed to safeguard against the spread of mad cow disease, falls under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration.)

Radio journalist and author Laura Flanders noted that Veneman's past helped with media coverage of mad cow disease and other food scares during her tenure: [9]

In public relations terms, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, whose personal story involves growing up on a family peach farm, is perfectly suited to the task of reassuring consumers that US food is safe to trade and eat, mad-cow disease and E. coli outbreaks notwithstanding. This past Christmas Day, Veneman told the nation she would be serving beef to her family. Not mentioned were her years of work on behalf of the nation's biggest industrial food corporations.

Industry Groups Liked Veneman

In reflecting on Veneman's record, Meatnews wrote that she "played a key role in eliminating trade barriers and expanding opportunities for American farmers through new export markets. She has worked closely with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, helping lead to the successful launch of a new round of trade negotiations for the World Trade Organization." [10]

The American Meat Institute also had a positive view of Veneman's record. "The last 12 months have presented intense challenges for Secretary Veneman and her department, and she has faced them with vision and commitment," said AMI's Patrick Boyle. "In addition, under Veneman, USDA's food safety efforts have complemented the industry's own food safety initiatives." [11]

Smaller Ranchers, Farmers Wanted Her Out

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. [12]

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." [13]

Particular USDA policy stances opposed by farmers included Veneman's supporting the Pork Checkoff program after farmers voted against it; her fighting against "country of origin labeling on behalf of meat packers"; noting actively helping to draft the 2002 Farm Bill; and delays with implementing parts of the 2002 Farm Bill and with setting rules for the Conservation Security Program. [14]

Other Reactions

The Center for Science in the Public Interest faulted what they called Veneman's "decidedly weak record on food safety and nutrition," but said she also "deserves good grades for being willing to talk to consumer groups." CSPI also noted Veneman's past work for industry groups and pointed out that "many of her top aides came from the very agribusinesses USDA regulates." [15]

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