Rajiv Shah becomes USDA's Undersecretary for Research Education and Economics on June 2, and he's bidding Seattle--and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation--farewell. Seattle PI's Joe Connelly posts an interesting chat with Mr. Shah today, and Mr. Shah has no bones at all about his enthusiasm for the often controversial commingling of emergent hard science and sustainability.
"(President Obama) has made a public, prominent commitment to science and agriculture," Shah tells Connelly.That's true. President Obama's policy goals twin ag and hard science in every area, from food prodution to energy. And Mr. Shah, with his excellent background in both medicine and economics, looks to be both a boon and a burden for Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, who faces a building activist movement in the US that's utterly opposed to hard science trespassing into agriculture, particulalry in the form of genetically engineered crops (for export to the rest of the world and for use in America). Mr. Shah's work with the Gates Foundation has made him the subject of criticism among those in the American sustainability food movement, because his former employers are huge proponents of GE crops; they've funded research and use of crops that can grow successfully in different soil types and resist drought, disease, and pests. Sounds swell, but GE crops can financially enslave farmers to those holding the patents for the crops, they can permanently alter bio diversity, and there's no good documented scientific evidence that GE crops are not harmful to humans. Equally important, GE crops can change historic folk food ways that are critical to a culture's survival (the maize issues in Mexico come to mind).
Mr. Shah tells Connelly that at the Gates Foundation, he's learned all about "very high global goals," and after he arrives at USDA, he expects to be working with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department, as well as the Agency for International Development. Mr. Shah notes, also, that he's prepped himself for DC by reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, the handbook-du-jour for anyone joining the Obama admin.