At USDA, senior advisors hold office hours with pesticide lobbyists

A group that advocates on behalf of Monsanto and Syngenta met with a high-level USDA officer who was a lobbyist as recently as April. But what about the swamp?

A Monday investigation from ProPublica and the New York Times revealed that top officials at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been meeting with representatives from pesticide deregulation lobby groups, a potential violation of ethics agreements.

“If she brought them there, signed into the sign-in log, attended the meeting that she may or may not have set up, it definitely counts as a meeting with her.”

According to the investigation, visitor logs obtained via public records requests showed that Rebeckah Adcock, senior advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, had been meeting with lobbyists affiliated with CropLife America, the lobby group that advocates for agrichemical giants Monsanto and Syngenta, where she was employed until April of this year. The Times and ProPublica report Adcock signed an ethics agreement saying she would avoid issues involving CropLife for one year after joining the government.

A spokesperson for the agency denied Adcock had violated her agreement (in part because of a perceived loophole), though Walter M. Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics under former president Barack Obama, thought otherwise. “If she brought them there, signed into the sign-in log, attended the meeting that she may or may not have set up, it definitely counts as a meeting with her,” Shaub told the Times.

The logs don’t reveal whether or not Adcock also met with representatives from environmental groups. They also don’t tell us what Adcock discussed with the lobbyists, though the Times and ProPublica reporters attempted to triangulate the topics using interviews and materials from CropLife America’s website.

Evidently on the table: The tests pesticides must go through before they hit the market and the rules governing pesticide use near bodies of water. This should surprise exactly no one—the Trump Administration has, of course, vowed to roll back regulations that are seen as harmful to business interests. Its reversal on chlorpyrifos back in March as well as its promise to roll back the Clean Water Rule earlier this year likely pleased any number of pesticide advocates.

Of course, it’s primarily the Environmental Protection Agency that’s responsible for regulating pesticides, not USDA. Still, there’s some evidence that Adcock is also meeting with lobbyists from other parts of the food sector more closely regulated by USDA. She also used to lobby on behalf of the Farm Bureau, an industry group that also advocates for reduced restrictions on pesticides near bodies of water.

Jeremy Brown, an acquaintance of Adcock from her time at the Farm Bureau, told the Times she was “being really receptive” in a July meeting where they discussed clean water rules. He told the Times the meeting was notable because of the degree of access his group enjoyed.

H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.