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Daily News Blog

08
May

Groups Urge Investigation of USDA Censorship of Its Scientists

(Beyond Pesticides, May 8, 2015) A diverse group of environmentalists, beekeepers, farm workers, and advocates, along with Beyond Pesticides, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General and the co-chairs of the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health this Tuesday, urging a thorough investigation into recent reports that USDA scientists are being harassed and censored. The letter expresses particular concern over the suppression of research related to bee-killing neonicotinoid insecticides and glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, which has been linked to cancer. The White House Task Force on Pollinator Health, co-chaired by USDA, is expected to release a plan on bee protection in the near future; the more than 25 groups, which include farmers, fisheries, and food safety advocates, are concerned that the plan will lack meaningful protections if USDA’s research has been compromised.

pulled scienceIn March, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Group (PEER), an advocacy group for government researchers, filed a petition for rule-making with USDA seeking new rules to strengthen USDA’s Scientific Integrity Policy, and urging the agency to adopt best practices used in other federal agencies in order to prevent political suppression or alteration of studies.

USDA adopted a new integrity policy in 2013 in response to a 2009 memorandum issued by President Obama to ensure  “the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch’s involvement with scientific and technological processes.” PEER alleges that USDA’s policy falls far short of this aim, citing language that is used to actively suppress scientific work for political purposes. USDA’s current policy reads, “Scientists should refrain from making statements that could be construed as being judgments of or recommendations on USDA or any other federal government policy, either intentionally or inadvertently.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.

“We are concerned that the important work of scientists at USDA is being stifled, including research on the relationship between severe declines in bee populations and the use of pesticides,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

“How can the American public expect USDA to develop a federal strategy that will protect bees instead of  pesticide industry profits if it is harassing and suppressing its own scientists for conducting research that runs counter to industry claims?” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “If USDA wants to employ a kill-the-messenger approach, it will only delay critical action to address the bee crisis that threatens our nation’s food supply.”

“If we cannot trust the scientific integrity of our scientists to protect bees, how can farmworkers be assured that their health and safety are not in jeopardy from a scientific community that is beholden to the interests of corporations and not to the protection of their own health and safety?” said Jeannie Economos, pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator with Farmworker Association of Florida. “The issue goes beyond only protecting bees, but to protecting the public health, especially the most vulnerable, as well.”

Along with demanding a thorough investigation into the problem and making the investigation publicly available once it is complete, the organizations also call for taking necessary steps to ensure that USDA maintains scientific integrity and does not interfere with the valuable work of its scientists by prohibiting political suppression and alteration, employing clear and enforceable procedures for conducting scientific misconduct, assuring transparency in the administration of policies and adopting strong protections for scientists who file misconduct complaints, and participating in misconduct investigations or whose work faces interference.

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 the taint of an industry whose only interest is in protecting profits.

Source: Friends of the Earth

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

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