Looks like the Obama Administration has a second chance to get it right on food and agricultural research. Last week, the director of the relatively new National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Roger Beachy, announced his resignation. Previously, Beachy had served as president of Monsanto’s de facto nonprofit research arm, the Danforth Plant Science Center.
The abrupt resignation leaves open an influential public research post — one that could this time be filled by a scientist without deep ties to corporate agribusiness, but who might instead prioritize sustainable, agroecological and organic food and farming systems.
Beachy’s appointment back in 2009 was another troubling example of corporate influence over publicly funded research and the policies that shape food and farming. According to Grist’s Tom Philpott, Beachy was outspoken during his tenure at NIFA in his scorn and mistrust of organic agriculture. Instead, he chose to champion genetic modification of crops as the preferred solution to major problems of the world: crop pests, climate change and hunger.
Now would be an excellent time for the Obama administration to take a fresh start, and make good on the campaign promise to build a department of agriculture that serves the American people, not Big Ag. NIFA’s next director should bring the kind of vision that was on tap at this week’s outstanding Future of Food conference in Washington.