- The Trump administration has issued a memo this week ordering the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research arm to stop publishing "outward facing" documents and research, according to reports from multiple media outlets including BuzzFeed, The Washington Post and Politico.
- The memo came in an email from Agricultural Research Service chief Sharon Drumm: “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.”
- BuzzFeed reported the order was rescinded on Tuesday night after a day of social media outrage. Acting Deputy Administrator Michael Young told reporters it was intended to offer guidance on “interim procedures” until a new secretary takes over. He said he does not want a gag order on publication to scientific journals, press releases or food safety announcements.
The new administration's gag orders have stoked fears that President Trump plans to crack down on scientific research from agencies like the ARS.
While some say a communications lockdown is standard operating procedure in times of presidential transition — and indeed this happened in a similar fashion when Barack Obama took office in 2009 — others hold the view that the Trump administration as trying to quash scientific research. Similar orders at other science-driven agencies — including the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior, Transportation and Health and Human Services departments — have been similarly met with outrage. Trump's rhetoric has often been in opposition to the research conducted by and the policies espoused by these departments during the Obama administration.
According to its own website, the USDA ARS strives to "provide information access and dissemination to ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products; assess the nutritional needs of Americans; sustain a competitive agricultural economy; enhance the natural resource base and the environment; and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole." The ARS currently has about 750 pending projects dealing with issues like food safety, crop protection, aquaculture and climate change.
The ARS does some of the nation's most important and innovative work on food and crop safety. The department has been responsible for advancements ranging from developing lactose-free milk to quick pasteurization of shell eggs to a diagnosis for bird flu. The research it puts together is vital for food manufacturers and producers, as well as policymakers and the public.
Food policy has not been a pillar of Trump's policy proposals or executive actions so far, and it remains to be seen how agricultural policy and research will unfold under the Trump administration. Despite the lack of a gag order, there has been little action on the ARS's Twitter feed since the inauguration.