Science Group Believes USDA's Lead Scientist Should be…a Scientist

Statement by Ricardo Salvador, Director of the Food and Environment Program

Published May 13, 2017

WASHINGTON (May 13, 2017)—Media sources are now reporting that President Trump will nominate Sam Clovis—a former corporate executive and conservative radio talk show host, and current climate denier who is not a scientist and has no background in food or agriculture—for the role of lead scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Below is a statement by Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at UCS. 

“If the president goes forward with this nomination, it’ll be yet another example of blatant dismissal of the value of scientific expertise among his administration appointees. Continuing to choose politics over science will give farmers and consumers little confidence that the administration has their interests at heart.

“If President Trump wants to deliver on his campaign promises of keeping Americans safe, as well as ensuring greater prosperity for farmers and rural communities, this selection for lead scientist is not only the wrong choice, but a slap in the face to those constituencies. Mr. Clovis denies the science of climate change and has no credentials that qualify him to assess the complicated scientific issues at play in agricultural systems, nutrition and food safety. American consumers and farmers deserve a nominee who has demonstrated ability to make evidence-based decisions to ensure department policies are both sustainable and successful.

“Farmers and rural communities are not being served by today’s production-at-all-costs industrial model of agriculture. Crop yields are at all-time highs; commodity surpluses are driving down prices and incomes for farmers; mono-cropping systems are less resilient to pests, weather and other challenges; and farm runoff and air pollution threaten quality of life and critical drinking water sources. There are scientific alternatives. The science of agroecology holds solutions to these problems, but is already insufficiently prioritized at the USDA and the nation’s land grant universities. More leadership and investment in science—not less—is needed to solve the long-term challenges faced by farmers. This must begin with leadership that recognizes, rather than denies, both the problems and the Department of Agriculture’s ultimate responsibility to taxpayers who support scientifically informed approaches that best serve all citizens and the public interest.

“The chief scientist position should be held by someone who understands and respects the role of science at the USDA, especially given their role in overseeing scientific integrity across the department. A recent investigation by the USDA’s Inspector General Office found that many scientists in the department aren’t aware of current scientific integrity policies and wouldn’t know how to report a scientific integrity issue. There’s clearly more work to do at the agency to uphold and advance scientific integrity policies making Mr. Clovis, as a non-scientist, a poor fit for this leadership post.”