Food Safety, Environmental Groups Demand Investigation into USDA

On May 5, 25 organizations representing farm workers, environment, and food safety organizations sent a letter to officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency calling 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 say they are concerned with a report from Reuters detailing 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:

[quote_box_center]“The action filed on Thursday by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group for local, state and federal researchers, came less than a week after a World Health Organization group found the active ingredient in Roundup, the world’s best selling weed killer, is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Roundup is made by Monsanto Co.The petition to the USDA presses the agency to adopt policies to prevent “political suppression or alteration of studies and to lay out clear procedures for investigating allegations of scientific misconduct.”[/quote_box_center]

PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told Common Dreams that the petition was “based on the experiences of 10 USDA scientists” who allegedly faced backlash for research on neonicotinoid insecticides and glyphosate, an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide, as well as other topics, including genetically modified crops.

The “Neonics” are a class of pesticides which have previously been linked to declines in bee populations. They were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Around 2006 commercial beekeepers began reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder— entire colonies of bees died 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.
The letter to the EPA and USDA expressed deep concern with 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 suggests the bird population may be drinking infected water or feeding their offspring infected insects.

The researchers studied two long-term environmental monitoring databases and found when the Neonic levels were the highest the bird populations declined by 3.5 percent. Other causes such as changes in land use, which has been suspected as the leading cause of population decline in Europe, were considered, however these did not correlate as strongly as the pesticide levels. Study coauthor Ruud Foppen said although the correlations are very convincing, they are only correlations and cannot yet be deemed the cause of the bird population deaths.

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 and the other half which were not sprayed. The researchers found that wild bees displayed negative health 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 but may in fact prefer crops sprayed with the chemicals. This could indicate an addiction to the nicotine in the pesticides. Both studies were published in the journal Nature.

The study’s lead author Maj Rundlof  said the reduction in bee health was  “more dramatic than I ever expected. Rundlof  told Reuters that the bees sprayed with the pesticide also had not gained any significant weight when compared to the normal colonies.

The scientists in the letter question the transparency and accountability of the USDA. The questions they are asking are extremely important. All Americans should follow their lead and question the corruption in all levels of government.

“If the USDA is censoring and suppressing its own scientists who are calling into question the hazards of these dangerous pesticides, how can the USDA be expected to co-chair this task force and develop a meaningful federal strategy that will truly protect bees, birds, monarchs and other critical pollinators and not a strategy that only protects the profits of the pesticide industry?”