As with every other aspect of U.S. politics and policy, 2017 brought upheaval and uncertainty to the nation’s food system.
It was a tumultuous year for food policy in the United States.
The year started off with several efforts by the Obama Administration to safeguard efforts at wide-scale food system change—such as the long-awaited formalization of new animal welfare rules in organics and the so-called “GIPSA rule,” which promised to level the playing field for small-scale meat producers in a consolidated marketplace. But once Donald Trump took office, things began to shift rapidly.
Here’s a rundown of several of the most important food policy changes that took place in 2017:
Changing Face of the USDA
Just one day before his inauguration, Trump named former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as the nation’s new secretary of agriculture.
At the time, food systems experts from around the nation expressed concern about Perdue’s involvement with the growth of large poultry facilities in Georgia and his overly religious approach to government, pointing to the fact that he once prayed for rain in response to drought in the state. Many also worried that Perdue and Trump’s shared anti-regulatory stance would be bad for farmers and consumers.
A week after being sworn in, Perdue announced—during a visit to an elementary school in Leesburg, Virginia—that the agency would “make school meals great again” by getting rid of Obama-era school lunch standards requiring that schools serve more whole grains and less sodium, among other changes.
It soon became clear that the USDA itself was changing radically. In September, Politico reviewed the resumes of dozens of Trump agricultural appointees, and found that the president had placed former campaign workers—many of whom had no experience with agriculture, and had worked as truckers, cabana attendants, and landscapers—in the agency.
That month, Trump also nominated Sam Clovis, a birther, conservative talk-show host, and climate-change denier with no science background, to the role of chief scientist at the USDA. (Clovis withdrew his nomination in November after being linked to the current Russia investigation.)
In October, Civil Eats published a wide-ranging look at the changes Perdue had made to the USDA, including a dramatic reorganization.
In November, Vanity Fair published a detailed account of story of a group of veteran USDA scientists who had either left or been forced out of the agency over the course of the transition.