Proof the USDA Would Rather Protect Pesticide Makers than Save the Bees
AntiMedia : October 29, 2015
On Wednesday, a researcher with the United States Department of Agriculture filed a whistleblower complaint alleging his supervisors suspended him in retaliation for his research on pesticides. The complaint follows calls for investigation of both the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the Washington Post, Jonathan Lundgren, an entomologist and 11-year veteran of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, filed the complaint with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board after his supervisors allegedly began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications.” Lundgren is well-known in the scientific community for previously alleging the USDA attempted to prevent him from speaking about his research for political reasons.
The Post reported:
“The trouble began after he published research and gave interviews about the impact that certain common pesticides were having on pollinators, according to a statement by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which filed the complaint on his behalf. The whistleblower complaint says Lundgren’s work showed the adverse effects of certain widely used pesticides, findings which have drawn national attention as well as the ire of the agricultural industry.’”
The USDA says Lundgren was suspended for submitting research to a scientific journal without proper approval and that he violated official travel policies related to lectures he gave in Philadelphia and Washington. Lundgren’s complaints say the article submission was not inappropriate and called the travel violations a paperwork error.
Lundgren previously published a study that found soybean seeds pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides “offer little benefit to soybean producers.” He also served as a peer reviewer in a report published by the Center for Food Safety. That study found further evidence that neonicotinoids adversely affect bees.
Laura Dumais, Staff Counsel for PEER, condemned the USDA’s decision to suspend Lundgren: “Having research published in prestigious journals and being invited to present before the National Academy of Sciences should be sources of official pride, not punishment. Politics inside USDA have made entomology into a most dangerous discipline,” she said
Scott W. Fausti, one of Lundgren peers, acknowledged the retaliation in the footnote of a paper recently published in Environmental Science & Policy:
“I would like to acknowledge Dr. Jonathan G. Lundgren’s contribution to this manuscript. Dr. Lundgren is an entomologist employed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). However, the ARS has required Dr. Lundgren to remove his name as joint first author from this article. I believe this action raises a serious question concerning policy neutrality toward scientific inquiry.”
This is the not the first time the USDA has been called out for putting politics before science. In early May of this year, TruthInMedia reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment sent a letter to officials with the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.
The groups said they were concerned about a report from Reuters that detailed threats to scientists who speak out about the dangers of the pesticide. These threats included suspension without pay and threats of damage to careers. The scientists filed a petition in March asking for more protection.
PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told Common Dreams the petition was “based on the experiences of 10 USDA scientists.” The scientists allegedly faced backlash for research on neonicotinoid insecticides and glyphosate — an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide — as well as their investigation of other topics, including genetically modified crops.
The “neonics” are a class of pesticide that has previously been linked to declines in bee populations. Neonics were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting what is now known as colony collapse disorder — where entire colonies of bees die off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world. Several studies have implicated neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops.
In early September, Anti-Media reported that a federal appeals court issued a ruling that blocks the use of the neonicotinoid, Sulfoxaflor. In spite of this small victory, PEER’s letter to the EPA and USDA expressed deep concerns about the effects of the pesticide on animals and the environment:
“Bees, butterflies, birds and other critical pollinators are in great peril and populations are dwindling worldwide. A growing body of scientific evidence has implicated neonicotinoids as a leading driver of bee declines and glyphosate as a leading driver of the destruction of milkweed, the sole food source for monarch butterflies. Recently, the World Health Organization’s research arm, the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), updated its cancer determination for glyphosate, categorizing it as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A) after reviewing scientific research from 17 of the world’s top oncology experts from 11 countries.”
A 2014 study published in the journal Nature found a strong correlation between pesticides measured in surface freshwater and lower population growth rates of 14 species of birds in the Netherlands. The study suggested the bird population might be drinking infected water or feeding infected insects to their offspring.
More recently, Swedish scientists conducted a study of neonics in the wild — the first of its kind. They examined 16 patches of land with canola seeds, half of which were sprayed with the pesticide. The other half was not sprayed. The researchers found that wild bees displayed negative health side effects while honeybee populations, which pollinate crops with assistance from humans, did not display the illness. A second study found that in laboratory tests, bees are not deterred by the pesticide and may actually prefer crops sprayed with the chemicals. This could indicate an addiction to the nicotine in the pesticides. Both studies were published in Nature.
Will the USDA be held accountable for allowing politics to dictate science? What role, if any, do corporations like Monsanto play in suppressing and discouraging science on pesticides? Let’s hope Jonathan Lundgren will continue speaking out about his findings. Unfortunately, it seems the USDA is yet another agency of the U.S. government in bed with corporations. While this news is disheartening, it is also a reminder that there has never been a better time to begin removing your support — both moral and financial — for the U.S. government and its corporate partners.