Senate Ag Committee hearing planned for stalled USDA nominees

More than 200 organizations express concern over nomination of USDA chief scientist Scott Hutchins.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

November 14, 2018

2 Min Read
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Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) and ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) announced that the committee will hold a hearing on Nov. 28 to consider the nominations of Dr. Mindy Brashears, Naomi Earp and Scott Hutchins within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The nominations are for Brashears, of Texas, to be undersecretary of agriculture for food safety; Naomi C. Earp, of Maryland, to be an assistant secretary of agriculture for civil rights and Scott Hutchins, of Indiana, to be undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics.

Specifically, the nomination of Hutchins has raised concern recently. More than 200 organizations representing farming, food safety and environmental groups urged senators to reject the chief scientist nomination. (Read the full letter here.

Hutchins spent more than 30 years of his career working at Dow AgroSciences with a focus on pesticides. In announcing the nomination four months ago, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “His extensive background in research and commitment to sound science and data make him exceptionally qualified for this post, and I am eager to have Dr. Hutchins join the team.”

Hutchins would be the third member of Dow AgroSciences’ pesticide and seed division to hold a high-level position in the Trump Administration’s USDA, those opposed to the nomination said. The groups noted that his strong ties to corporate agribusiness and pesticide companies present serious conflicts of interest that will undoubtedly affect his ability to serve as chief scientist for USDA.

Related:Hutchins named USDA chief scientist

If confirmed, Hutchins would set the agenda for the agency’s $2.9 billion research budget earmarked to advance scientific knowledge related to agriculture through research, extension and education. He would be tasked with leading and overseeing the Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food & Agriculture, National Agricultural Library and National Agricultural Statistics Service.

"In nominating Scott Hutchins to the position of chief scientist at USDA, the Trump Administration has, again, proven that they are more interested in promoting the agenda and profit of industrial agribusiness over scientific integrity, the protection of public health and the well-being of farmers, farm workers and rural communities,” said Jim Goodman, board president and organic dairy and beef farmer, National Family Farm Coalition.

Earp was nominated in February, and Brashears was nominated in May.

Brashears is a professor of food safety and public health and the director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University. Her research program focuses on improving food safety standards to make an impact on public health. Her work evaluates interventions in pre- and post-harvest environments and on the emergence of antimicrobial drug resistance in animal feeding systems. These efforts have resulted in the commercialization of a pre-harvest feed additive that can reduce Escherichia coli and salmonella in cattle.

Related:INSIDE WASHINGTON: Clovis withdraws nomination for USDA chief scientist

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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