July 10, 2009

Jolley: Five Minutes (not) with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

What a chicken. Chuck Jolley over on the Cattlenetwork wanted to interview Vilsack in wake of the listening sessions that were held recently. It is pretty pathetic that he couldn't respond personally and has his goon, Dr. Clifford, APHIS's chief vet, sorta answer the written questions. Sorta answer because they know full well that if they answer the really hard questions honestly they are going to get the pitch-fork holding unwashed farmers in their face. How many times do we have to say it? No NAIS!

Anyway, read Chuck's article.

7/10/2009 10:07:00 AM

Jolley: Five Minutes (not) with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

For those of you expecting to see the long-promised interview with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, let me set the stage. In early June, I traveled to Jefferson City to attend an NAIS listening session. I was joined by several hundred distinctly angry people who wanted to personally give the Secretary a piece of their mind. I�m using the singular version of the word because they were of a common opinion. Many voices, one mind.

One of the first things I heard was the voice of the Secretary explaining his rationale behind calling these meetings. It was delivered by videotape and a longer variation of his initial comment announcing the sessions: "Today, I am asking farmers and stakeholders to engage with USDA in a more productive dialogue about NAIS. Now is the time to have frank and open conversations."

At the table behind me was a big fella in well worn jeans and a very large cowboy hat. To make sure his political leanings were perfectly clear, his shirt was emblazoned with a large round �No NAIS� sticker. He stage-whispered to his friend, �The least the S.O.B. could do is show up and listen.�

Such is the way politics break on this issue, especially in Missouri. It�s a black-and-white, friend-or-enemy state. Vilsack and the USDA? They were the enemy.

I mulled over that farmer�s incendiary comment for a few minutes and decided it was a wise decision for Vilsack to stay away. These events were supposed to be �listening sessions� and an on-site appearance by the Ag Secretary would have only served as a lightning rod for people with a confirmed and unfriendly agenda.

After hearing what everyone had to say, I thought Vilsack ought to have an opportunity to be front-and-center with his constituency on the issue. Listening to his thoughts about these one-sided sessions might help cattlemen understand his position. I contacted Caleb Weaver, Vilsack�s press secretary, and asked if he might be willing to answer a few questions.

NO problem. He asked me to send the questions to him and he would get right back to me with the answers. �Good approach,� I thought. �NAIS is such a politically sensitive subject, I don�t want to mis-read or misunderstand an answer. Better that they be well-thought out and precisely worded.�

We missed the first deadline � the questions got lost along the way. I sent them again and thought the new date might be even better since the deadline would fall just after the final listening session in Omaha. With the responses from all 14 sessions in hand, Vilsack�s answers would be even timelier.

It might help level the journalistic playing field, too. After doing back-to-back �Five Minutes with� columns on the NAIS issue and with anti-NAIS activist, Rhonda Perry, a few words from Vilsack should give my coverage of the issue some needed balance.

I waited for his responses last Thursday � until 11:39 PM. Weaver then emailed a note saying he wasn�t going to be able to deliver in time for last Friday�s Five Minutes With column. How about next Friday (today),� I asked? NO problem, again. Meanwhile, several people from the No NAIS camp were needling me with comments that the interview would never happen.

Then came the word by email at around noon yesterday. Vilsack would be unable to answer but Dr. John Clifford, the USDA�s chief vet, would respond and his answers were attached. Now I know Dr. Clifford to be a learned and honorable man, well respected by his peers, and normally I would be delighted to interview him.

But, on this issue, he�s not Tom Vilsack.

Still, the core of my questions were aimed at finding out what the USDA had learned during these listening sessions and how the Department might use that knowledge to refine their approach to NAIS. I think you�ll understand their position after reading this column.

The rest of the article, the questions and answers answered by Dr. Clifford and not by that cowering bureaucrat Tom Vilsack, here.

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