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Chairwoman Plaskett, Democratic subcommittee members send letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressing concern with reports of USDA withholding critical agricultural research

Washington, June 28, 2019

WASHINGTON (June 28, 2019) – Today, House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chair Stacey E. Plaskett, and the Democratic members of the subcommittee, sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue expressing strong concern.

The letter can be found here.

 

June 28, 2019

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary of Agriculture

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20250

 

Dear Secretary Perdue,

 

We write to express strong concern regarding recent reporting by Politico which outlines actions taken by officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to suppress the dissemination of scientific information.   Any effort by USDA to prevent the sharing of scientific information, particularly related to climate change, is an affront to the long-term success and economic viability of domestic farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.  We hope this is not the case. 

On June 12, 2019, the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research of the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing focused on the research and extension needs of producers in a time of greater climate variability.  The message from our witnesses was resoundingly clear – farmers and ranchers need more resources and stronger extension services to better mitigate climate change and increase the resiliency of their operations.  As underscored by their testimony, agricultural operators are already experiencing increasingly volatile weather patterns and shifts in pest pressures that can be contributed to a changing climate.  Dr. David Wolfe, a professor at Cornell University, told the Subcommittee that when dealing with climate change, “farmers today are feeling the effects in real-time, and having to make difficult decisions to cope.”  For example, only 85% of total soybean acreage has been planted compared to a historical average of 97% due to unprecedented flooding conditions across the Midwest.

This is the second time in recent months that scientific integrity at the Department has been questioned.  Prior to a reversal on May 9, 2019, internal USDA guidance required researchers to identify their work as “preliminary” when presenting or seeking publication.  Despite these researchers being leading professionals in their fields, this policy by USDA actively undermined their credibility and inhibited their ability to share their research findings within the broader agriculture community.  While we appreciate your efforts to correct this unnecessary disclaimer, we are concerned about a potential pattern of behavior that appears to disadvantage career agricultural scientists within your Department and prevent the sharing of research findings.   

We believe that proactive investments in research and extension efforts will allow farmers and ranchers to better mitigate risks and increase the resiliency of their operations in the face of a changing agriculture sector.  To ensure that your Department continues a long tradition of promoting scientific advancements that benefit farmers and ranchers, we request that you outline what steps your Department intends to take to protect the open and transparent dissemination of scientific information.  We also request an explanation as to how you plan to ensure political influence does not suppress current and future scientific research.  Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your response.

Respectfully,

Stacey E. Plaskett
Chair                                                             
House Agriculture Committee                   
Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research   

TJ Cox
Member of Congress

Jeff Van Drew
Member of Congress

Anthony Brindisi
Member of Congress

Salud Carbajal
Member of Congress

Al Lawson
Member of Congress

Jimmy Panetta
Member of Congress

Sean Patrick Maloney
Member of Congress

Chellie Pingree
Member of Congress

Antonio Delgado
Member of Congress

Kim Schrier, M.D.
Member of Congress

Josh Harder
Member of Congress

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