Tag Archives: pesticide

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?

EPA Proposes Ban on Common Pesticide

Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new proposal which would ban the use of chlorpyrifos on citrus fruits, almonds and other crops. Chlorpyrifos is a common insecticide which is used on a number of crops that also includes oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, broccoli and asparagus.

The Associated Press reports:

“The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and regulators say overuse could make targeted insects immune to the pesticide. U.S. farms use more than 6 million pounds of the chemical each year – about 25 percent of it in California.”

The EPA stated that a recent analysis did not show risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food, but combined with estimates for exposure from drinking water, the “EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act safety standard.”

The agency will take public comments on the proposed ban for at least two months. A final ruling is expected in December 2016 with the rule going into effect in 2017.

In the early 2000’s the EPA banned home use of chlorpyrifos and in 2012 placed “no-spray” buffer zones around schools and other sensitive areas.

The AP reported the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit asking for a national ban on chlorpyrifos, citing evidence the chemical interferes with brain development of fetuses, infants and children.

Veena Singla, a scientist with NRDC’s health and environment program, said that the proposal “is a huge step in the right direction, but we think there’s enough evidence to ban all its uses now.”

The proposal from the EPA came just days after 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 EPA.

The Anti Media reported that 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 that the USDA attempted to prevent him from speaking about his research for political reasons.

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.

Although Lundgren’s work is examining a different class of pesticides, his story highlights a dangerous trend around the science of pesticides: the suppression of research and retaliation against those who challenge the safety of pesticides.

In early May of this year, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment issued a letter to officials with the USDA and EPA. 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.

A number of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides have now been linked to health problems in animals and humans, as well as environmental degradation.

In March of this year it was reported that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a report on the herbicide glyphosate which concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”  The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The report points out that the EPA had originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985.

The IARC Working Group evaluated the original EPA findings and more recent reports before concluding “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Despite the WHO’s findings, the EPA approved Monsanto’s use of glyphosate as recently as 2013.

Since the IARC’s rulings, Monsanto has faced a wave of lawsuits as personal injury lawyers are now looking for plaintiffs who have been harmed by the corporations products. 

The rise in the use of pesticides and herbicides comes with the increased use of genetically engineered or genetically modified crops. In September 2014, I wrote about the USDA’s decision to approve GE corn and soy and how this decision would lead to an increase in pesticide use.

This happens because the food products being approved by the government are engineered to resist widely-used chemicals such as glyphosate. This has led to an increase in “super-weeds” which are immune to the effects of glyphosate. This leads to an increase in spraying of these chemicals, as well as newer, stronger chemicals to fight the super weeds.

This cycle of spraying, and nature responding and adapting, will likely continue as the USDA recently approved another GE corn from Monsanto. Fellow bio-tech giant Syngenta is also applying for approval of a glyphosate-resistant GE corn. The USDA’s preliminary findings stated the risk of herbicide-resistant weeds will be an ongoing problem as long as herbicides are used.

The EPA’s latest proposal to ban the use of chlorpyrifos may indicate a shift towards more nuanced policies on herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides.

EPA Will Study Effect of Glyphosate on Endangered Species

As part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Agency will be forced to study the impacts of the two most commonly used herbicides on endangered plants and animals within the United States.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places, filed a lawsuit with the EPA for not studying the effects of pesticides and herbicides on endangered species. The nonprofit also agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring the agency to analyze impacts on endangered species across the country from five pesticides.

The EPA will now analyze the impacts of atrazine and glyphosate. The agency will complete the assessments by June 2020. Atrazine has been linked to an increased risk of birth defects. Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp, has also been called “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization.

Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the settlement was “the first step to reining in the widespread use of dangerous pesticides that are harming both wildlife and people.”

“This settlement will finally force the EPA to consider the impacts of glyphosate — widely known as Roundup — which is the most commonly used pesticide in the United States, on endangered species nationwide,” said Hartl.

The EPA has not studied the ecological impacts of glyphosate since 1993.

In other herbicide news, the EPA also rejected a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that was seeking a review of glyphosate “to prevent unreasonable adverse effects” to the monarch butterfly.

“The agency at this time has not determined that glyphosate causes unreasonable adverse effects to the monarch butterfly,” noted EPA in its response. The EPA highlighted the fact that President Obama recently launched the White House Pollinator Task Force Plan.

Agri-Pulse reports that the NRDC also sued the EPA in October in an attempt to block the approval of Monsanto and DOW’s Enlist Duo herbicide, which they say is also responsible for the loss of monarch butterflies. The product is a combination of glyphosate and another herbicide known as 2,4-D.

NRDC said in a statement that since 1993 use of glyphosate “has increased 10-fold, yet the agency has never considered the herbicide’s impact on monarchs.”

 

Another Study Finds Common Pesticide Causing Harm to Bees

Researchers with Lund University in Sweden found that wild bee populations exposed to a class of neuro-active, nicotine-based systemic insecticides known as Neonicotinoids had a reduction in density, less reproduction and colonies that did not experience growth.

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 Swedish scientists conducted the study 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.

David Fischer, director of pollinator safety for neonicotinoid manufacturer Bayer CropScience, said the study was faulty, accusing Rundlof and her team of using “an overdose” of the pesticide. However, Rundlof said the dosages used came from recommendations in Bayer CropScience documents.

Although Rundlof’s study marks the first time the effects of Neonics on bees in the wild were analyzed, the pesticides have previously been linked to a number of health issues for the bee population.

In July 2014 Dutch researchers published a study in the journal Nature which 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.

Twenty nine scientists from four continents spent five years researching eight hundred published studies that examined the effect of Neonics on ecosystems that support food production and wildlife. Their research was published in the journal Environment Science and Pollution Research. The Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and  Ecosystems (WIA) was produced by Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. The Task Force was formed in response to concerns about the impact of systemic pesticides on biodiversity and ecosystems. ”

The team said their study was, “the single most comprehensive study of Neonics ever undertaken”. The scientists research found that the Neonics are as great a risk to the environment as the previously banned DDT. In some cases the effects were found to be 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.