In a 2018, Lewis Ziska, a veteran plant physiologist at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), found that minerals, proteins, and key vitamins in rice are very likely to drop as greenhouse gas levels rise, potentially imperiling the nutrition of more than 600 million people globally who rely on rice as a main source of sustenance. Although Ziska made this finding in 2018, in August 2019 he disclosed to Politico how the Trump administration has sought to suppress the findings of his study, by minimizing the amount of media coverage the report receives. Ziska told Politico that he had left his position at the USDA, which he held for nearly twenty years, because the agency was increasingly subject to political interference from the White House.
Ziska believes that his report was buried by the Trump administration because it did not align with President Trump’s stance that climate change is not real.
As Helena Bottemiller Evich wrote in a June 2019 report for Politico, in the case of the groundbreaking rice study, “USDA officials not only withheld their own prepared release, but actively sought to prevent dissemination of the findings by the agency’s research partners.”
Since January 2017, when Trump took office, Evich noted, the Agricultural Research Service has issued releases for only two climate-related studies, both of which had findings that were favorable to the politically powerful meat industry.
As E.A. Crunden reported for Think Progress, Ziska’s resignation came in the wake of the announcement by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue—a Trump appointee who has dismissed climate change as “weather patterns”—to relocate more than 500 USDA staffers with the Agency’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Kansas City. Although the agency claimed that the move was intended to reduce costs, veteran employees said that it was intended to force out knowledgeable scientists whose research on climate change was politically unacceptable to the Trump administration. When knowledgeable scientists made discoveries that ran contrary to the politics of climate science, their findings were labeled “bad science.”
A May 2019 report in the New York Times covered the decline of nutrients in rice, but it did not address efforts by the White House to suppress the findings of the USDA findings.
Helena Bottemiller Evich, “‘It Feels like Something out of a Bad Sci-Fi Movie’: A Top Climate Scientist Quit USDA, Following Others Who Say Trump Has Politicized Science,” Politico, August 5, 2019, https://www.politico.com/story/2019/08/05/ziska-usda-climate-agriculture-trump-1445271.
Helena Bottemiller Evich, “Agriculture Department Buries Studies Showing Dangers of Climate Change,” Politico, June 23, 2019, https://www.politico.com/story/2019/06/23/agriculture-department-climate-change-1376413.
E.A. Crunden, “As Climate Reckoning Arrives Over Agriculture, USDA’s Scientists Face Censorship,” ThinkProgress, August 13, 2019, https://thinkprogress.org/climate-ipcc-usda-agriculture-emissions-science-relocation-fallout-trump-845a61311bd3/.
Student Researcher: Samantha Hua (City College of San Francisco)
Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)