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The USDA has set aside $16 million in grants for pest detection and mitigation.

Senate Ag Committee hearing planned for stalled USDA nominees

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

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.

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.

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