A Union of Concerned Scientists report said Sonny Perdue was sidelining science and called for congressional scrutiny of the agency
Donald Trumps agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, has been criticized for rolling back school nutrition standards, attempting to upend the food stamps program, rejecting World Health Organization guidelines on antibiotics in agriculture and ending a pesticide ban, in a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) advocacy group.
Perdue spent his first year in office sidelining science and favoring industry, the report claims, calling for greater congressional scrutiny of the agency.
Those kinds of things are the end result of a secretary of agriculture who is more interested in rewarding industry and agriculture than in protecting the public health, said Karen Perry Stillerman, a senior analyst at UCS and the reports author.
The USDA controls much of Americas food policy and programs. School food regulations, agriculture subsidies and safety and food vouchers for poor Americans are all overseen by the agency.
Despite the USDAs huge impact, Stillerman said Perdue remains an under-the-radar cabinet secretary. UCS said Perdues low profile belied the magnitude of changes he had sought.
For example, the USDA surprised antibiotic resistance campaigners when it said World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines against using medically important antibiotics in agriculture were not in alignment with US policy and are not supported by sound science. There is widespread scientific agreement that the magnitude of antibiotic use in agriculture is problematic.
Perdue also proposed the federal government deliver hungry Americans a harvest box of shelf-stable foods, like meal kit delivery services, rather than vouchers. The idea was immediately derided as an unwieldy. Forty-three million Americans receive food stamps.
Perdues hires were also criticized. For example, the Trump administrations first nominee for the role of the USDAs top scientist was not actually a scientist but a former rightwing radio host. The nominee, Sam Clovis, eventually withdrew. Clovis was a Trump campaign co-chair who was questioned in the FBIs Russian collusion investigation.
Nevertheless, Perdue hired Clovis as a senior adviser to Perdue. Clovis described his job as kind of the lead troubleshooter for the secretary, according to an interview with his former radio station KSCJ.
Perdue has sought, and received, ethics waivers to hire lobbyists for top positions at the USDA. The director of food policy for the corn syrup industrys lobbying body, Kailee Tkacz of the Corn Refiners Association, for instance, was hired in July 2017. She received a White House ethics waiver for the position because she had lobbied Congress on the same issues just three months earlier.
In sidelining science and prioritizing agribusiness interests over the public good, Trumps USDA is following a pattern that has become familiar to administration observers, wrote the report authors.
The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.