On January 25th, The Washington Post published a memorandum sent by the Agricultural Research Services to its workers stating “starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents. This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content” (DelReal, 2017). The memorandum has caused flurries of social media posts from Science Magazine, to Buzzfeed, to The Hill, and rebuttals from decidedly conservative websites such as the Daily Caller. Following clarifications from the United States Department of Agriculture, the email memorandum has since been rescinded owing to the email not having been officially given guidance from the United States Department of Agriculture (DelReal, 2017). Michael Young, the USDA acting deputy administrator, also clarified that the memorandum he drafted (not from the ARS), is fairly standard practice during administration transition (DelReal, 2017).
But why did the memorandum caused such a commotion? Some point to Trump’s poor handling of appointees and some call the memo a gag order. What is most important however is to pay attention to any information coming from the ARS or any arm of the USDA. Here are the two reasons, I think, why public health professionals and citizens should be vigilant about what is happening at the USDA.
The USDA is a large organization with a far-ranging mission and responsibilities.
The Department provides guidance and technical expertise in the area of food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development and nutrition (Agriculture, 2017). Any recommendations provided by the USDA has real-life consequences for public health professionals and citizens alike. You remember the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans? Those guidelines are partly developed by the USDA. Those guidelines are used as the basis by the government to implement nutrition-related programs and interventions.
The USDA has a large budget that supports mandatory government programs.
Any change in the USDA policy and budget will impact crop insurance, nutrition assistance, farm programs and conservation programs (Agriculture, Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, 2017). Any change in USDA policy and budget will also impact discretionary programs such as food safety, loans and grants, research, soil and water conservation, wildland fire control and some management of national forests (Agriculture, Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, 2017). Potentially millions of children may go hungry if, say, for example, the government decides to eliminate the school lunch program.
I am sure there are other reasons why we should pay attention to the USDA. Let me know and comment below.
Agriculture, U. S. (2017, January 29). Fiscal Year 2017 Budget. Retrieved from The United States Department of Agriculture: https://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=BUDGET
Agriculture, U. S. (2017, January 29). What We DO. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture: https://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=ABOUT_USDA
DelReal, J. (2017, January 25). USDA scrambles to ease concerns after researchers were ordered to stop publishing news releases. The Washington Post, pp. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/01/24/usda-science-researchers-ordered-to-stop-publishing-news-releases-other-documents/?utm_term=.31b970239d8b.
United States Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture. (2017, January 15). Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from Health.gov: health.gov/dietaryguidelines/purpose.asp