Lots of people here believe that the so-called “alphabet agencies” operate semi-autonomously, especially when it comes to those having to do with food–the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In this view, their inspectors, researchers, and lawyers decide on their own what policies to pursue, which farmers to go after, what research to put out, regardless of what the president and members of Congress might think.
While that may have once been the case, that’s clearly no longer going on. At the USDA, research implicating climate change in possible problems with food production is being censored or, worse still, blocked from public dissemination. The orders are coming from on high.
An update this week from Columbia Journalism Review lays out some shocking examples of efforts to block serious research from seeing the light of day. The update, by Jon Alsop of CJR, focuses on an example of how a USDA climate scientist quit his post after the USDA blocked release of a major research study he carried out:
“On Friday, Lewis Ziska, a climate scientist who specializes in plant physiology, left his job at the US Department of Agriculture after more than 20 years. On Monday, Helena Bottemiller Evich, a food and agriculture reporter at Politico, explained why. Ziska had worked on a groundbreaking study that found rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are causing rice to lose nutrients—a potential disaster for the 600 million people worldwide who rely on rice as a staple. Science Advances, the journal that published the study, expected that it would attract widespread interest, and advised its authors to prepare resources for the media. The Department of Agriculture refused. Officials spiked a press release promoting Ziska’s work, and asked the University of Washington, a collaborator on the paper, not to promote it either. CNN requested an interview with Ziska. Agriculture’s press office said no. That was a first, Ziska said.
“Frustrated, Ziska decided to quit. Speaking with Politico, he ‘painted a picture of a department in constant fear of the president and Secretary Sonny Perdue’s open skepticism about broadly accepted climate science, leading officials to go to extremes to obscure their work to avoid political blowback,’ Evich writes. ‘You get the sense,’ Ziska told her, ‘that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views.’ The situation ‘feels like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.’
“The Department of Agriculture denied Ziska’s account; it declined to promote his findings due to scientific concerns raised by career staffers, it said. But the department previously cleared the study, and it was externally peer reviewed, too.”
There’s more, and I encourage you to read the rest of Alsop’s report about how the Ziska case fits into a broader trend whereby the USDA has declined to publicize dozens of climate-related studies since 2017. “Across the administration, departments and agencies have strived to keep climate science out of the public eye since Donald Trump took office,” Alsop says.
The key issue here isn’t how one feels about Trump or the reality of climate change, it’s about suppression of legitimate research on climate. I’ve long been a big believer in free expression–it’s why I allow comments that are heavily critical of me or my ideas. Suppression of out-of-favor science inevitably leads to suppression of unpopular views of all types.
For those who doubt the implications of the wild interest in fake meat like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers, then this report from an investment advisory service might convince you. It’s about the unraveling of Dean Foods, once the super monopoly processor that controlled America’s dairy system. It is still a powerful force in dairy, except that the dairy industry is in its death throes:
“Dean Foods – The milk producer lost an adjusted 36 cents per share for its latest quarter, wider than the 13 cents a share loss expected by Wall Street. Revenue was also short of estimates. Dean pointed to dairy commodity inflation, volume pressure, and an accelerated decline in the white milk category as negative factors during the quarter. The trend of veganism has helped Beyond Meat, but is killing Dean Foods, now a penny stock. Shares plummeted 36%.”