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Daily News Blog

09
Nov

USDA Continues to Suppress Independent Science on Bee-Killing Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, November 09, 2015) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cancelled a webinar on the presence of neonicotinoids in waterways in the Prairie Pothole region, according to the government watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER states that the cancellation is “another example of USDA interfering with the release of new science-based information about adverse effects linked to  neonicotinoid (neonics) pesticides.” As a result, PEER continues, “Growing ecological risks posed by the most widely used insecticides in North America will likely not be considered in developing USDA policies, planning or management practices.” Neonicotinoids are a controversial class of chemicals that have been linked to the global bee decline by a rapidly growing body of scientific literature.

usdaA webinar, titled Pesticides and Potholes: Understanding the Risks of Neonicotinoid Insecticides to Aquatic Ecosystems in Prairie Canada and Beyond,  was supposed to take place June 24, 2014, according to PEER. Instead, the online event was cancelled by Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., the Deputy Chief for Science and Technology at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The online event would have featured Christy Morrissey, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, School of Environment and Sustainability, whose research includes studying the fate of neonicotinoids in wetlands as they affect aquatic insects and birds in agricultural ecosystems in the Prairie Pothole region, which covers the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa. The region is one of the world’s most important wetland region and is home to more than half of North America’s migratory waterfowl. NRCS devotes considerable resources to wetland restoration in the region. Yet, drainage from surrounding cropland carries increasing amounts of ultra-potent neonics that threaten the health of the region’s aquatic systems.

A companion webinar on the efficacy of neonicotinoid seed coatings  and practices to minimize adverse impacts on pollinators and other non-target organisms was also called off. The cancelled webinars were part of a series addressing priority training needs identified by NRCS and partner biologists.

“I am sorry to disappoint you, but I determined that these topics were not appropriate for an NRCS sponsored webinar,” Dr. Honeycutt wrote in an email to William Hohman, Ph.D., the Fort Worth, Texas-based NRCS biologist who organized the webinar. PEER published the email online, as well as internal emails from NRCS conservation staff expressing the need for training that stand in stark contrast to Dr. Honeycutt’s cancellation of the event.

An NRCS official refuted the idea that the webinar was cancelled to hide information on neonicotinoids, saying the online presentation is  “inappropriate” since  it was not developed by USDA and did not meet the scientific research criteria for an NRCS webinar.

The studies to be presented in the webinar were “not fully research-based,” said the official.

“Neonics are apparently a taboo topic for USDA scientists to discuss,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement. “This episode suggests political science essentially trumps biology, agronomy and every other discipline inside today’s USDA.”

USDA has a long and notorious history in its attempts to quash science and scientists whose research does not fall in line with the agency’s paradigm.  Last week, USDA entomologist Jonathan Lundgren, Ph.D. was suspended out of what he believes is retaliation for research on a neonicotinoid pesticide’s effect on monarch butterflies. 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 encourages the suppression of scientific study where large agribusiness corporations’ reputations are 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.

Neonicotinoids are a highly pervasive environmental contaminant. A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study last year found high levels of neonicotinoids in Midwestern waterways, where agricultural intensity is strong. Another USGS study found that neonicotinoids contaminate over half of urban and agricultural streams across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Neonicotinoids have become the fastest growing class of insecticides in agriculture. They are now the  most widely used class of insecticide chemicals  and are registered in  more than 120 countries. Studies continue to question the efficacy of these chemicals in pest control, showing  no yield increases  as a result of their use. Beyond food production, neonics are  frequently detected in nursery plants  sold at big box home and garden centers throughout the United States. And recent research also produced by the Harvard School of Public Health finds these chemicals to be  ubiquitous in our environment  during flowering season, present in a vast majority of pollen samples taken throughout the state of Massachusetts.

The impacts these chemicals have on  birds  (a single kernel of neonic-coated corn  is enough to kill a songbird),  honey bees,  wild pollinators, and other  beneficial organisms  are  clear and has been  well-researched. Large-scale use of neonicotinoids can also alter and harm aquatic communities. Aquatic invertebrates, which  play an important role  in ecological diversity, are especially susceptible —  neonicotinoids can exert  adverse effects  on survival, growth, emergence, mobility, and behavior of many sensitive aquatic invertebrate taxa.

With independent science both in and outside of the U.S. pointing to a growing list of impacts from neonicotinoid pesticides, advocates argue that 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 Beyond Pesticides’  Daily News blog.

Source: E&E News (subscription required); PEER

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

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One Response to “USDA Continues to Suppress Independent Science on Bee-Killing Pesticides”

  1. 1
    Bill Says:

    It sure sounds like Dr. Honeycutt has been corrupted by the pesticide chemical industry, disturbing!

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