Karen Perry Stillerman

Senior analyst, Food and Environment

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Karen Perry Stillerman is an analyst and advocate for transforming the U.S. agriculture and food system to one that produces affordable, healthful foods for consumers; reduces air and water pollution; and builds healthy soil for the farmers of tomorrow. She holds a master's degree in public affairs and environmental policy. See Karen's full bio.

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The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hears testimony at the confirmation hearing of Agriculture Secretary-nominee Sonny Perdue, March 23, 2017. USDA Photo by Preston Keres.

7 Questions the Senate Should Ask Trump’s New USDA Chief Scientist Nominee

Back in early August (or roughly two Trump years ago), I wrote about the president’s nomination of Scott Hutchins to head up science at the US Department of Agriculture. In that post, I argued that Hutchins, an entomologist with a 30-year career at pesticide-maker Dow, is the wrong choice for the job.

On November 28, the Senate agriculture committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Hutchins, their chance to interview him for the position of USDA under secretary for research, education, and economics. Following are seven questions I think they should ask. Read more >

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Navy-veteran Lenny Evans Miles, Jr. operates Bluestem Farms LLC, in Chestertown, MD. USDA Photo by Preston Keres

On Veterans Day, Why Aren’t Congress and the USDA Looking Out for Those Who Served?

This Veterans Day is particularly significant, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Though US veterans from that long-ago war are gone, some 20 million of their brethren are with us today. Our culture honors them at sporting events and other public venues, but we also have an ugly history of mistreating those who served—from returning Vietnam vets being spat upon to mismanaged healthcare programs and corruption at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

And right now, misguided decisions by the Secretary of Agriculture and members of Congress threaten to reverse progress for service members and veterans who want to work the land and feed their neighbors. Read more >

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North Carolina hog CAFO in Hurricane Florence floodwaters, September 18, 2018. Photo: Larry Baldwin, Crystal Coast Waterkeeper/Waterkeeper Alliance

In a Warming World, Carolina CAFOs Are a Disaster for Farmers, Animals, and Public Health

In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, I’ve joined millions who’ve watched with horror as the Carolinas have been inundated with floodwaters and worried about the various hazards those waters can contain. We’ve seen heavy metal-laden coal ash spills, a nuclear plant go on alert (thankfully without incident), and sewage treatment plants get swamped. But the biggest and most widely reported hazard associated with Florence appears to be the hog waste that is spilling from many of the state’s thousands of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), and which threatens lasting havoc on public health and the local economy.

And while the state’s pork industry was already under fire for its day-to-day impacts on the health and quality of life of nearby residents, Florence has laid bare the lie that millions of animals and their copious waste can be safely concentrated in flood-prone coastal areas like southeastern North Carolina. Read more >

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What Happens in the Next 26 Days Could Change Our Food and Farm Future

It feels like I’ve been thinking about the 2018 farm bill forever, but we may have finally reached the beginning of the end. Tomorrow, an unusually large group of 56 (!) negotiators from the House and Senate are expected to shoehorn themselves into a room on Capitol Hill to begin the formal process of reconciling two very different visions of our food and farm system.

What happens next will either help small and midsize farmers thrive, put more healthy food on the dinner tables of our most vulnerable neighbors, and invest in farming practices that prevent water pollution and build healthy soil for the future…or not. There’s also an unfortunate third option, in which the farm bill process fails completely, leaving farmers and eaters in limbo. Read more >

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Is Scientific Integrity Safe at the USDA?

Science is critical to everything the US Department of Agriculture does—helping farmers produce a safe, abundant food supply, protecting our soil and water for the future, and advising all of us about good nutrition to stay healthy. I recently wrote about the Trump administration’s new USDA chief scientist nominee, Scott Hutchins, and the conflicts he would bring from a career narrowly focused on developing pesticides for Dow.

But meanwhile, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue last week abruptly announced a proposed reorganization of the USDA’s research agencies. This move has implications for whoever takes up the post of chief scientist—as do new survey findings released yesterday, which suggest that the Trump administration is already having detrimental effects on science and scientists at the USDA. Read more >

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