Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Tom Vilsack speaks on December 11, 2020 after being nominated to serve as Agriculture Secretary.

Tom Vilsack speaks on December 11, 2020 after being nominated to serve as Agriculture Secretary. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid Broader Concerns Over Biden USDA Nominee, Watchdog Flags 'Disturbing Suppression' of Science by Vilsack

"Unless he pledges to implement significant safeguards for scientists, Tom Vilsack should not be confirmed. The days in which federal agencies function as scientific gulags should be behind us."

Jake Johnson

On top of concerns about his close industry ties, corporate-friendly policy record, and alarming civil rights history, President Joe Biden's Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack is also facing scrutiny over what one watchdog organization on Friday characterized as "disturbing" evidence that he improperly meddled in and suppressed scientific research during his previous tenure as head of USDA.

Throughout his nearly eight years as former President Barack Obama's USDA chief, Vilsack "routinely interfered with scientific work that big agriculture found bothersome," the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) alleged in a statement Friday, pointing to the direct testimony and survey responses of department scientists.

"Tom Vilsack's record on scientific integrity at USDA was appalling. Government research documenting what is really going in American agriculture does not need a corporate filter."
—Tom Whitehouse, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

"Tom Vilsack's record on scientific integrity at USDA was appalling," said PEER's executive director Tim Whitehouse. "Government research documenting what is really going in American agriculture does not need a corporate filter."

One notable example PEER cited is the case of Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, an agroecologist who served as a senior research entomologist and lab supervisor for the USDA Agriculture Research Service during Vilsack's time as head of the department.

In 2015, Lundgren lodged a whistleblower complaint alleging that his USDA supervisors suspended him as punishment for publishing research detailing the harms neonicotinoid insecticides—commonly referred to as "neonics"—cause to monarch butterflies.

"It is USDA policy that political suppression and manipulation of science are not to be tolerated, but it is empty rhetoric," then-PEER staff counsel Laura Dumais, who filed the complaint on Lundgren's behalf, said at the time. "Dr. Lundgren is suffering the proverbial professional death by a thousand cuts precisely because of the implications [of] his scientific work for agribusiness."

To demonstrate that concerns about Vilsack's approach to scientific research were not limited to a few isolated complaints, PEER pointed to a 2016 Office of Inspector General survey showing that around 120 USDA agency scientists believed their research findings had "been altered or suppressed for reasons other than technical merit."

Additionally, less than half of the more than 1,300 survey respondents said they felt USDA strongly promoted a "culture of scientific integrity" under Vilsack's leadership.

"Unless he pledges to implement significant safeguards for scientists, Tom Vilsack should not be confirmed," said Whitehouse. "The days in which federal agencies function as scientific gulags should be behind us."

PEER's scathing assessment of Vilsack's disregard for scientific integrity came days after a coalition of progressive advocacy groups including and Food & Water Watch launched a campaign urging senators to block the former USDA chief's confirmation.

Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, is expected to appear before the Senate Agriculture Committee for his first confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

"Tom Vilsack, aka 'Mr. Monsanto,' served corporate interests for eight years as Secretary of Agriculture under Obama and continued to do so as head of one of the largest U.S. dairy lobbies after leaving office," the progressive campaign's website declares. "Vilsack ushered through a spineless GMO labeling standard rubber stamped by Big Ag, and sped-up the approval process for genetically modified crops. He allowed the meat industry to further monopolize—squeezing out small farmers—and scaled back oversight of poultry processing plants."

Emily Berch, a student at Iowa State University and an editorial intern at The Nation, argued Thursday that allowing Vilsack to return to the top of USDA would add "insult to the Democratic Party's long record of malign neglect toward rural Americans."

"Putting Vilsack back in charge at the USDA also ignores the advice of rural progressives and civil rights advocates," Berch argued. "While institutional knowledge can be an asset, it can also lead to a defense of the status quo, which, for a Vilsack-led USDA, means continuing to prioritize corporate agribusiness by sacrificing everyday Americans."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·

Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·

Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·

Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·

Common Dreams Logo