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Daily News Blog

29
Oct

USDA Scientist Punished for Neonic Study Files Complaint

(Beyond Pesticides, October 29, 2015) One of the top entomologists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) filed a whistleblower complaint against a  federal agency, citing unprofessional retaliation following the publication of a study linking neonicotinoid insecticides to the decline of monarch butterflies. Jonathan Lundgren, Ph.D., Senior Research Entomologist and Lab Supervisor for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in South Dakota, is fighting suspension for publishing research deemed “sensitive” by his USDA superiors. According to Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which is providing legal services to Dr. Lundgren, this case underscores why legal protections for government scientists are sorely needed.

jonathan lungdrenUntil recently, Dr. Lundgren worked for USDA for eleven years with great success, and his cutting edge research has drawn national attention and international recognition. In April of this year, Dr. Lundgren published a study in The Science of Nature that shows that clothianidin, a neonicotinoid seed treatment, kills monarch butterfly larvae in the laboratory. On August 3, 2015, USDA imposed a 14-day suspension against Dr. Lundgren for submitting the Science of Nature study and for a paperwork error in his travel authorization for his invited presentation about his research to a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as to a USDA stakeholder group, the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance. The suspension was cut to 14 days from 30 after Dr. Lundgren filed an appeal.

“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,” said PEER Staff Counsel Laura Dumais. “Politics inside USDA have made entomology into a most perilous discipline.”

In September 2014, Dr. Lundgren filed a complaint of violations of USDA Scientific Integrity Policy with the Scientific Integrity Office stating that allegations of his misconduct earlier that year stemmed from ulterior motives. According to USDA, he had made inappropriate remarks in the workplace, violated IT policies by connecting his home computer to the office’s internet, and discussed sensitive topics with the press. He said, “It was clear that the motivation for it [was] associated with my talking to the press about pesticide risks.” USDA’s ARS department approved the press interview and the publications discussed in the interview. His complaint argues that, “This abrupt onset of actions undoubtedly appears to have been prompted by the scientific activities that are supposed to be specifically safeguarded and encouraged under the USDA Scientific Integrity Policy.”

USDA has been under the public’s microscope concerning political suppression for some time now. In April, PEER filed a petition for rulemaking, seeking to strengthen USDA’s Scientific Integrity Policy. PEER argued that language in the current policy actually encouraged the suppression of scientific study where large agribusiness corporations’ reputations were at stake. PEER explains that USDA management regularly uses this provision as reason for suppressing technical work of employees when industry stakeholders disagree with the scientific conclusions reached.

With independent science both in and outside of the U.S. pointing to a growing list of impacts from pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, ranging from the decline of bees to the carcinogenicity of the widely used herbicide glyphosate, it is critical that federal scientific agencies tasked with protecting human and environmental health be able to inform the public without repercussions from an industry whose only interest is in protecting profits. For more information, see PEER’s pattern of science manipulation at USDA. To see the history of industry influence in federal agencies, visit this link to our Daily News Blog.

For more details on Dr. Lundgren’s whistleblower case:

See the whistleblower narrative

Read Dr. Lundgren’s scientific integrity complaint

Look at the suspension decision

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Public Employees for Public Responsibility

Photo Source: Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education  Program

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  • Archives

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