Former USDA Scientist Says He'll Make A Bigger Impact On Climate Change Research Outside Of The Gove

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Originally published on September 19, 2019 12:12 pm

This story is part of “Covering Climate Now,” a week-long global initiative of over 250 news outlets.

A scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently resigned after more than two decades, citing attempts by the Trump administration to suppress his climate change related research on how rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are altering the nutritional content in rice.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Lewis Ziska about his research and his experience at the USDA.

Statement from a USDA spokesperson:

“No one attempted to block the publication of Dr. Ziska’s work – it is freely available in the science literature. The decision to not put a press release on this paper was a joint decision by ARS’ national program leaders – all career scientists. It was strictly a debate among scientists, and the draft press release was never offered for review to any political appointees. The concern was about nutritional claims. The nutrition program leaders disagreed with the implication in the paper that 600 million people are at risk of vitamin deficiency. They feel that the data do not support this. The national program leaders are tasked with ensuring that nutrition-related information was presented in an accurate manner, and they felt that issuing an ARS press release would have erroneously signified that ARS concurs with the nutrition-related claims. The reasons given by the national program leaders for not issuing a press release are outlined below:

1. The numbers they use for the whole section on impact on Asian rice eating countries are out of date, especially for China where rice consumption has dropped dramatically in recent years and the data they used is probably from 2008/2010. And China makes up a large part of the 600 million people they mention in the paper.

2. The narrative really isn’t supported by the data in the paper. For example, they looked at 18 varieties; of the 18, only 2 had significant decreases in vitamin B2, according to their data. But they averaged the amounts of the drops to get an average decrease of 16 percent. At the same time, they only had 2 significantly down, some increased, and the majority by far were unchanged. The real take-home message was that vitamins in most rice varieties was unaffected – so selection of appropriate cultivars would prevent adverse impacts.

3. Rice is not a significant source of vitamin B2. For example, in China, where they eat ~6 cups of rice a day, rice provides 10 percent of the daily requirement of B2 (riboflavin). The average drop of 16 percent means that rice would then provide 8.5 percent of the B2 (riboflavin) requirement. Not a big change—1.5% —to make up. Based on the current normal amount of B2 in a cup of rice, it would take eating 56.52 cups of rice a day to meet the RDA for riboflavin from rice alone.”

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