Grist‘s Tom Philpot writes:

People in the sustainable-ag world — including me — are having a tough time time accepting that Obama has picked an a ethanol-loving, GMO enthusiast as his USDA chief.

But then again, Obama himself is a strong supporter of both GMOs and ethanol, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised.

I think the second sentiment here is the more correct one. During the campaign, Obama promised bold progressive change on a number of fronts. Agricultural policy was not one of them. And on those issues where Obama jousted with John McCain — namely subsidies for corn ethanol and tarrifs on Brazilian sugar ethanol — Obama tended to be on the wrong side of the issue. Vilsack, meanwhile, is no kind of hero of the farm reform movement but the positions he’s staked out are arguably better than Obama’s. He’s said we should drop the sugar ethanol tax and he’s talked about the need to reform the school lunch system. That’s not a great agenda, but it’s not a “disappointing” one either, it’s more farm reform than Obama ever promised.