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Daily News Blog

24
Jul

Trump Taps Former Pesticide Company Executive as Chief Scientist at USDA

(Beyond Pesticides, July 24, 2018) The White House named Scott Hutchins, PhD, former Dow Chemical Company executive, as Undersecretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Dr. Hutchins is now the third Dow alumnus to be hired by the Trump Administration. As a scientist who oversaw Dow’s pesticide research and development, his appointment, if confirmed, has troubling consequences to USDA’s research programs.

Described as a “global leader of integrated field sciences,” Dr. Hutchins worked at Corteva—the newly created agricultural (pesticide and seed) division of the DowDuPont entity that focuses on “chemical solutions to pest management.” Dr. Hutchins has been with Dow since 1987 and worked in regional research and development management and global development of pesticide products. He is also a former president of the Entomological Society of America, serving in that role in parts of 2006 and 2007, and is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska.

The lead science position directs the Agricultural Research Service, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (ARS), the Economic Research Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and sets the agenda for USDA’s research budget. Dow Chemical, now merged with Dupont as DowDupont, contributed over $1million to Trump’s 2016 campaign. Shortly after taking office, the former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) met privately with Dow. Weeks later, EPA reversed its decision to ban Dow’s highly neurotoxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos, despite the agency’s own scientists confirming elevated risks to children.

Last year, Sam Clovis was nominated for the position but the former radio host and business professor had no scientific credentials and his nomination was met with significant push-back, especially after he was named as an operative in the Russia scandal. Mr. Clovis eventually withdrew his nomination.

USDA’s ARS oversees research programs in a number of areas including nutrition and food safety, crop production and protection, animal health and natural resources, and the National Organic Program. USDA has typically invested billions of dollars annually on this research. It represents a significant support for the research science community and the discoveries that emerge from this work, as well as for a growing knowledge base to inform decision making and public policy. However, science at USDA has been increasingly undermined by growing industry influence. A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) finds that a myriad of personnel and policy decisions by the Trump administration have been undermining scientific integrity and transparency at the agency, weakening public safety and health protections, and puts agribusiness interests over those of the public, farmers, and rural communities.

Under the current leadership of Secretary, Sonny Perdue, USDA has cozied up with big industry with apparent interest in weakening public health protections. Several agency positions have gone to former industry lobbyists and staff, some of which have needed ethics waivers from the White House to be hired. USDA has attacked the science around EPA’s former proposal to ban chlorpyrifos, attacked the World Health Organization’s guidelines on antibiotic overuse in livestock, and rolled back standards to allow fewer healthier options for school meals that aim to arrest the spiking rate of childhood obesity. The agency has also taken steps to undermine the integrity of the organic label on food products. USDA has muzzled its own scientists who speak out about the negative impacts of pesticide use. USDA scientists with the Agricultural Research Service have been investigated and suffered consequences from the agency as a result of questioning research regarding the safety of certain pesticides.

Beyond Pesticides has identified the Trump administration’s pattern of sidelining science and prioritizing industrial interest in public policy and regulation across agencies; samples of that coverage: The Threat to Scientific Integrity at EPA, Trump Administration Bows to Chemical Industry, Increasing Pressure for Local ActionAssault on Science, and Where Has All the EPA Enforcement Gone? UCS also published a 2017 report on this pattern, Sidelining Science Since Day One.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Mother Jones

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