bees pesticides

Judge Allows USDA Whistleblower’s Claim to Move Forward

A judge with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board has ruled that an entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service can pursue his complaint against the USDA regarding allegations of suppression of research which found that certain pesticides may be affecting bee and butterfly populations.

The USDA sought to dismiss Lungren’s complaint as “frivolous” and based on “speculative and unsupported” allegations but judge Patricia M. Miller denied the request. The judge ordered both parties to meet again on January 6 to discuss reaching a possible settlement.

“We were very pleased to receive Judge Miller’s ruling, as we feel Dr. Jonathan Lundgren has a very strong case,” said Laura Dumais, an attorney at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who is representing Lundgren.

Lundgren originally filed an internal complaint in September 2014 accusing the USDA of retaliating against him because of his research. The complaint was dismissed by the USDA and Lundgren was suspended in October 2014. The West Field Times reports that the USDA said Lungren was suspended for three days after USDA investigators found emails among his research staff which included indecent jokes.

On October 28 2015, Lundgren filed a complaint with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board after his supervisors allegedly began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications.” Lundgren’s complaint alleges that his supervisors suspended him in retaliation for his research on neonicotinoid pesticides and also calls for an investigation of both the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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.

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.

In October 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.’”

Building a Sustainable Future

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio Lundgren discusses his plan to fund independent research into the dangers of pesticides.

“I’m still currently a USDA [Agricultural Research Service] scientist, but we’ve purchased a research, education and demonstration farm and are starting an initiative to complement some of the research that we’re doing within USDA,” he said.

The researcher says that he wants to focus on sustainable agriculture and helping farmers reduce pesticide use through farming practices that restore biological diversity.

“We’re not practicing sustainable agriculture because we’ve degraded a lot of the resources on our farms to the point where we really need to be thinking about strategizing,” he said. “How can we rebuild soil? How can we rebuild biological communities on our farms while producing food?”

Lundgren’s plan is to build a sustainable farm in eastern South Dakota to showcase his theories and generate an income which can fund more research. He also emphasized that he is not anti-science but rather focused on sustainable technologies for farming and food production.

“I’m not anti-pesticides, and I’m not anti-genetically modified crops, but what we’re finding is that those costs aren’t necessary once you’re doing things a little bit differently.”

A History of Corruption

This is the not the first time the USDA has been called out for putting politics before science. In early May of this year, Truth In Media 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.

What can the people of the United States do when government agencies prove incapable of keeping the people safe, or corrupted beyond repair? How can we set a new, sustainable, healthy course for the people, animals, and the land?