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Category: Science

Flushed Away…Probing For Antibiotic Presence in Our Food Supply

Penn State University doctoral candidate Alison Franklin collecting samples of treated wastewater

Penn State University doctoral candidate Alison Franklin collects samples of treated wastewater used to spray-irrigate crops at a research site. Photo by Katie Colaneri.

It’s a question with major public-health implications: Could antibiotics and other widely used medications get into our food supply when they are flushed into our sewers?

To try to answer that question, researchers from USDA and Penn State University (PSU) assessed whether some commonly used pharmaceuticals could get into a wheat crop irrigated with recycled wastewater. Read more »

Research Can Help the Economy and Inform Policy

Wood pellets

Wood pellets which can be used as biofuel are one example of the many technologies and products the Forest Service produces or supports that provide sizable financial benefits to stakeholders and industry. (Photo credit: USDA)

When most people think of forests, science isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but, perhaps, it should. That’s because the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development program oversees projects across many science disciplines including forestry, genetics, wildlife, forest products and wildfire.

And the agency has been using this science to deliver returns on investments for stakeholders, industry partners, and the public.

For instance Forest Service research supported the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision to not list the Greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, listing the species would have necessitated restrictions on economic activity across 163 million acres. Read more »

USDA Scientific Integrity Policy Scores “Top Grade” in New Report

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Jay Evans and postdoctoral research associate Ryan Schwarz use a microscope to look at spores of the honey bee fungal parasite Nosema ceranae

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Jay Evans and postdoctoral research associate Ryan Schwarz use a microscope to look at spores of the honey bee fungal parasite Nosema ceranae, which can replicate in cells lining the honey bee gut on Oct. 25, 2011. Photo by Stephen Ausmus.

“Top grade,” “strong,” “substantially strengthened,” and “significantly improved,” may sound like reviews you might read about consumer products such as smart phones or televisions. However, these are the actual terms used by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in its recent review of USDA’s updated Scientific Integrity Policy.

In a January 2017 report titled “Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policymaking,” the UCS – a noted organization that represents the interests of the scientific community – gave USDA’s updated Scientific Integrity Policy (or SIP, for short) the highest rating assigned in a three-tiered rating system.  Additionally, based on USDA’s release of a new procedural manual to accompany the SIP, USDA was one of only five federal departments or agencies (out of 18 reviewed) to receive a “strong” rating for its procedures for responding to scientific integrity concerns. Read more »

How 4-H Rocks for Missouri Youth of All Abilities

Missouri 4-H’er Riley Tade working

Missouri 4-H’er Riley Tade works with one of the goats in his 4-H project. Riley, who has cerebral palsy, is one of many youth in Missouri who don’t let special needs get in the way their love of agriculture and 4-H. (Image courtesy of University of Missouri Extension)

4-H is about more than barnyard animals, it’s about emerging sciences, like rocketry and geographic information systems.  4-H is also about leadership, citizenship, and many other things, but one quality truly stands out: 4-H is about inclusion.

In Missouri, 4-H clubs take an inclusive approach to working with youth who have special needs. “We don’t have set-aside or separate programs or activities for youth with special needs,” said Alison Copeland, campus 4-H specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “Rather, we provide our staff and volunteers with the tools and resources, such as sensitivity activities, to help staff increase their ability to work with youth of varying abilities in the same club or program.” Read more »

A Farewell Message from Secretary Tom Vilsack to Employees

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack behind a row of American flags

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack steps on stage at Bonelli Regional Park.

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent the following message to all USDA employees:

I want to take this opportunity on my final day at USDA to express my profound gratitude to the people who work at USDA. Every day, nearly 90,000 people leave their families and the comfort of their home to do the people’s work in the People’s Department. What an amazing job you do each day for the country. Read more »

Open Data Summer Camp Plans Gaining STEAM for 2017

Students learning about benefits of urban and community agriculture

Last summer students learned about a wide range of benefits of urban and community agriculture from USDA staff, researchers and educators at the University of the District of Columbia.

USDA and the Governance Lab at New York University (GovLab) are teaming up again to design and deliver a “summer camp” in 2017 for middle- and high-school students that focuses on using Open Data related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Math (STEAM).

The Open Data STEAM Summer Camp program, begun in 2016, is an immersive two-week project-based and team-focused learning experience for students in the Washington, D.C. area. The program aims to help these students build familiarity and hands-on competence with the approaches, tools and analytical techniques relevant to harnessing the power of open data on critical issues related to food and agriculture. Read more »