Think scientific research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is unbiased, Christopher? Think again.
Last week, Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, a decorated Senior Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), filed a whistleblower complaint accusing the federal agency of suppressing research findings that challenge the safety and efficacy of a heavily used class of pesticides – neonicotinoids.1
Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world and are extremely toxic to bees and other pollinators.
In March 2014, Lundgren served as an External Reviewer for Center for Food Safety’s report Heavy Costs, which revealed that neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments offer little benefit, do not increase crop yields, and cause widespread environmental and economic damage,2 and the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article featuring his research on neonicotinoids.
After that, Lundgren claims, “USDA managers blocked publication of his research, barred him from talking to the media, and disrupted operations at the laboratory he oversaw,” according to Harvest Public Media.3
“Within one week of these late-March press interviews and the release of the CFS study, improper reprisal, interference and hindrance of my research and career began in earnest,” said Lundgren, according to the complaint.4
Dr. Lundgren filed a scientific integrity complaint in September 2014, describing these interferences with his research and the day-to-day operations of his laboratory and travel. In August 2015, less than a year after his scientific integrity complaint against the Agency, Lundgren was disciplined with a 14-day suspension over minor issues with travel paperwork and with an article submission to a journal.
While Lundgren is the first to file a formal complaint about the scientific integrity of research by USDA scientists, he is unfortunately not the first USDA scientist to be targeted for his “sensitive” research.
“Your words are changed, your papers are censored or edited or you are not allowed to submit them at all,” a scientist, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.5
Dr. Jeffrey Pettis — formerly the lead scientist at the USDA’s bee research lab and one of the world’s most respected honey bee researchers— was demoted from his position in 2014. In a letter6 to USDA Secretary Vilsack after Pettis’s demotion, America’s largest beekeeper organizations objected strongly, but say they were told by an ARS administrator that Pettis was demoted because he “had been falling behind on his administrative duties.”
And this spring, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a petition7 charging the agency with ordering many USDA researchers to “retract studies, water down findings, remove their name from authorship and endure long indefinite delays in approving publication of papers that may be controversial.”
USDA has serious influence over the President’s recent Pollinator Health Task Force. With pollinator populations plummeting, we can’t let scientists get silenced. Bees, beekeepers and ecosystem sustainability can’t continue to play second-fiddle to industry sales.
Rigorous, independent science is the basis for sound regulatory decisions.Giving special “sensitivity” to research that might harm priorities of pesticide companies, such as Dr. Lundgren’s, undermines scientific integrity at the USDA
Thanks for everything you do,
the Center for Food Safety team
1. See https://www.washingtonpost.