After Backlash, USDA Lifts Gag-Order On Taxpayer-Funded Research

Rangeland scientist
After Backlash, USDA Lifts Gag-Order On Taxpayer-Funded Research
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26 January, 2017

Reports about the order, which first arose on BuzzFeed News, sparked widespread complaints on Tuesday about a Trump administration crackdown - particularly in light of similar limits that were placed on communications from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Reports by BuzzFeed News quoted a USDA email to staff - including about 2000 scientists - at the agency's in-house research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), to stop communicating with the public about taxpayer-funded work.

The US Department of Agriculture has reportedly banned scientists and other employees in its main research division from publicly sharing summaries of scientific papers.

"This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content".

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Department officials scrambled to clarify the memo Tuesday afternoon, after intense public scrutiny and media requests, stating that the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) had not "blacked out public information" and adding that scientific articles published through professional peer-reviewed journals have not been banned. The ARS now has about 750 pending projects dealing with issues like food safety, crop protection, aquaculture and climate change.

"Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents", Sharon Drumm, chief of staff for ARS, wrote in a department-wide email shared with BuzzFeed News.

"The orders are expected to have a significant and immediate impact on EPA activities nationwide", according to the AP. The memo also says that a digital strategist will be coming in to oversee the agency's social-media policies, and that "existing, individually controlled social-media accounts may become more centrally controlled". President Trump's choice for new agriculture secretary, former Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, is also a critic of science-based climate change research. A disruption in the chain of information could represent a critical roadblock for producers.

Food policy has not been a pillar of Trump's policy proposals or executive actions so far, and it remains to be seen how agricultural policy and research will unfold under the Trump administration.


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