An American flag flies near Congress in Washington, DC, the US. Picture: EPA/SHAWN THEW
An American flag flies near Congress in Washington, DC, the US. Picture: EPA/SHAWN THEW

1. USDA helps to defeat the Nazis

Seventy-eight years ago this week, Howard Florey and Norman Heatley flew across the Atlantic with vials of freeze-dried penicillin. The two Oxford scientists held what they recognised to be life-saving antibiotics in their hands. They hoped they’d have a better chance of mass-producing the drug there, since the US, which had not yet entered World War 2, had the resources to pull this off.

Florey and Heatley found their way to an institution recognised at the time as a pioneer in its field: the US department of agriculture (USDA). They were able to produce penicillin on an industrial scale in an effort that involved thousands of people.

And in 1944, when the US joined the Allied land invasion of Europe on D-Day, they had doses of penicillin on their side.

2. USDA under attack from the nasties

Today, the very same USDA — still a worldwide leader in agriculture and scientific research — has found itself under sustained attack from the Trump administration. And in spite of the best efforts of the administration to shut it down, much of the research on how to predict and prepare for climate change still originates with its scientists.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reports that the government will now be actively trying to dismantle it by using a policy of forced relocation. Last month hundreds of USDA employees were offered a choice: accept a transfer away from its headquarters in Washington, to Kansas City (1,700km away, where there are no offices for them) — or be fired. It targets the department’s statistical agency and its institute that funds cutting-edge agricultural science — and is an assault that will suppress scientific data on climate change.