June 28, 2011
On June 24, 2011, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced 22 appointments to the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. The Committee, commonly referred to as AC21, has been dormant since 2009. The new members hail from 16 states, and a handful of appointees are important advocates for organic agriculture.
Secretary Vilsack stated in a press release the that Committee members will work together to solve the challenges of “coexistence among different forms of agricultural production” and help producers grow crops they desire that “meet the needs of their customers.”
Russell Redding, former Commissioner of Agriculture for Pennsylvania, was selected to chair AC21.
Among the selections are a number of leaders from the organic agriculture sector, including: Laura Batcha, Chief of Policy and External Relations of the Organic Trade Association, Putney, VT; Charles Benbrook, Chief Scientist of The Organic Center, Enterprise, OR; Michael Funk, Chairman of United Natural Foods, Nevada City, CA; and Melissa Hughes, Corporate Counsel and Director of Government Affairs, Cooperative/Organic Valley Family of Farms, Viroqua, WI.
David Johnson, Assistant Director of Research of Cal/West Seeds was almost among those appointed to AC21. Cal/West Seeds is a conventional breeder of alfalfa seeds, and thus an important appointee, given the USDA’s recent approval for use of genetically modified alfalfa in the United States.
Long-time NSAC ally Mary-Howell Martens, who is a farmer and manager of Lakeview Organic Grain, LLC in Penn Yan, NY, will serve as an important voice on the Committee. In addition to farming a wide variety of field and vegetable crops, she also sells certified organic seed.
The official press release is available on the United States Department of Agriculture website, which includes the entire list of appointees.