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Daily News Blog

14
Jun

Report Finds Industry Influences Academic Society of Entomologists, Squelches Bee-Toxic Pesticide Science

A U.S. Right To Know report finds systemic pesticide industry influence within Entomological Society of America, impacting bee research.

(Beyond Pesticides, June 14, 2024) The influence of the chemical industry over public policy and regulation, especially in agriculture, is glaringly obvious and has little popular support, yet no one can seem to do anything about it. Numerous analyses have detailed the ways this influence is applied—through lobbying and political donations including dark money; industry experts named to regulatory agency scientific advisory boards; and the massive public relations machines that create and sustain public uncertainty using the tobacco industry playbook revealed by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their 2010 book Merchants of Doubt.

A more insidious tendril of industry influence is explained in U.S. Right to Know’s (USRTK) report, released this month, on pesticide manufacturers’ infiltration of the Entomological Society of America (ESA). The report, “Anatomy of a science meeting: How controversial pesticide research all but vanished from a major conference,” examines the ESA’s 2023 annual meeting—its program, sponsorships, presentations, panelists, poster sessions, meet-and-greets, budget, revenue sources, and other aspects of the event. What is revealed is a systematic and comprehensive industry presence throughout the society and its meeting. A direct consequence is the near-elimination of any scientific presentations addressing the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on insects, particularly bees. Those effects are dire, as Beyond Pesticides has detailed in great detail here, here and here.

ESA, with nearly 7,000 members, is the largest organization dedicated to insect research in the world. It publishes eight scientific journals. According to USRTK, ESA has changed its approach to meeting sponsorships from the standard method employed by thousands of organizations, in which corporations and other organizations seeking to impress or recruit attendees organize “hospitality suites” and receptions—glorified cocktail parties replete with shrimp pyramids and artisanal alcohol. ESA adopted instead a “sponsorship program” that allows industry-backed scientists more chances to present during scientific sessions, publish in ESA journals and serve as officers in the organization. This makes the influence less obvious and more insidious.

An extra donation of $65,000 bought Corteva Agriscience an in-conference ad campaign featuring a photo of an unidentified man in a checked shirt attendees dubbed “Corteva guy,” who came to represent the face of ESA at the meeting. Corteva is a spinoff of the DowDuPont conglomerate (formerly Dow AgroSciences for Dow Chemical) selling Isoclast (sulfoxaflor), a seed treatment with similar action to neonicotinoids that, the company says, “when used according to the label…presents a low risk to honeybees and other pollinators.” (The Minnesota Department of Agriculture states that it is “highly toxic to bees.”) There is plentiful evidence from this research line that neonicotinoids are extremely toxic to a variety or organisms including vital beneficial species like bees. Neonicotinoids are banned for outdoor uses in the European Union and Quebec.

The top sponsors at ESA in 2023 were Corteva, Bayer (which absorbed Monsanto); and Syngenta, now owned by the China National Chemical Corp. Also sponsoring were BASF and SCJohnson. Corteva has extended connections deep into ESA. Two positions on ESA’s 18-member governing board are held by Corteva employees; two Corteva employees are editors on three of the ESA’s eight scientific journals; one edits two journals. In addition, three ESA journals include editors who work at Bayer. One ESA journal editor started the editing position as an academic and retained it after moving to FMC Corp, another major agribusiness entity.

ESA has allowed pesticide companies to sideline and minimize one of the most dire toxic consequences of those companies’ products. USRTK found that in the ESA program for 2023, nearly 100 papers, posters and symposia were devoted to bee science. But only four of the bee presentations addressed neonicotinoids, compared to 19 a decade earlier. All four of the neonicotinoid-bee presentations were by students, who do not enjoy the same level of prestige and credibility as professors and other PhD holders. The ESA spokesperson pointed out that there were 30 abstracts about neonicotinoids, and these included research on resistance to neonicotinoids in bedbugs and the Colorado potato beetle. But there were no discussions of neonicotinoids and bees.

This could be because industry-affiliated participants were organizing and populating the panel discussions. In 2023, 26 percent of the symposia, workshops and policy sessions were organized by corporate employees, mostly from agrochemical companies. Sixteen percent of the panelists were corporate employees.

Entomologists interviewed by USRTK who organized bee science sessions did not realize that neonicotinoids had disappeared from the program. Many believe neonicotinoids should be banned but said the field has shifted to concentrate on the effects of multiple stressors, such as mites and climate change. This approach, while sensible and productive, is also in line with and pushed by corporate interests, allowing them to hide behind a smoke screen. In traditional toxicology, which is still the gold standard for regulatory policy, each chemical is evaluated first individually; and the pesticide companies are very familiar with the direct effects of their products on target and nontarget organisms, which obviously must be included in any consideration of combined effects. Yet according to the USRTK report, ESA sessions about multiple stressors omitted any reference to pesticides, emphasizing for bees, for example, climate change and the Varroa mite.

The situation of ESA is not unique, nor are scientific societies. Many organizations whose mission is to advance the interests of particular groups by political action and public advocacy themselves are swallowed by chemical companies, which dominate their internal structures, budgets and actions, often to the detriment of the groups’ members. In 2019, the District of Columbia’s Environmental Film Festival featured the film “Ground War” (available on Hoopla), which details the domination of golf course policies and practices by chemical companies. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America holds a massive annual trade show sponsored by many companies including Bayer, Syngenta, and the Australian chemical firm NuFarm. This financial influence makes it difficult for any organization to resist pressure from funders that is detrimental to members and society in general. After all, as “Ground War” shows, it is employees and patrons of golf courses who suffer the consequences, such as various lymphomas, of the companies’ profit-motivated control.

Tess Legg of the University of Bath and a researcher with its Tobacco Control Research Group told USRTK that corporations are able to influence science and “push out their preferred scientific messages by infiltrating professional organizations, including through funding and through speaking at their scientific and educational events, and publishing in their academic journals.”

In research published in 2023, Tess Legg and coauthors analyzed the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, purportedly an “independent scientific organization” founded by Philip Morris in 2017. They concluded that the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is “a new vehicle for agnogenesis….” The term agnogenesis means the manufacture of doubt, the study of which is now called agnotology in academia. In particular it is the study of the kind of ignorance that is “an active construct or strategic ploy…deliberately made and maintained to fulfill the interests of certain people,” in the words of philosopher Manuela Fernández Pinto, PhD of the University of Helsinki.

Nick Chartres, PhD, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney, told USRTK, “Industry is afforded key positions/roles of influence throughout the [ESA], which allows them to shape the society’s scientific priorities, agenda, and public statements. Unless you dig, you do not realize there is this level of influence throughout the society.”

The USRTK report’s focus on neonicotinoids and bees reveals a stark contrast between the reality of neonicotinoid harms and blunt scientific acknowledgment of same on the one hand, and an insular professional society’s fiction that neonicotinoids are not responsible for devastation throughout not only European honeybee populations but also native bees and numerous other insects vital to our ecosystems.

Eliminating the self-interested influence of the chemical industry from scientific discourse and policymaking is a tall order. That influence inside professional societies seems especially cynical. These societies offer an entrée to a career for young scholars who want to be professional entomologists and face limited job prospects. Like many other agricultural scientists, they may be hitching their altruism to a doubtful star—convinced that the world cannot be fed without pesticides. With the help of charming industry colleagues, many may convince themselves that working for pesticide manufacturers can be an honorable profession. But this is a poison pill. A recent ProPublica investigation highlighted the personal cost that dedicated scientists can pay for staying loyal to a company that is knowingly distributing a toxic forever chemical in every part of the globe.

The manufacture of doubt also takes advantage of the scientific method’s own demand that every potential factor in a causal chain must be considered, and all evidence must be challenged to establish its validity. But we must no longer grant commerce an equal place at the scientific table. There is passion for truth and methodological integrity, and then there is venal manipulation of nebulous evidence. If we are to navigate the dire crises facing us, from the devastation of neonicotinoids and other pesticides, to the plague of plastics, to the juggernaut of climate change, both the scientific community and the regulatory system must choose.

To see more on regulatory corruption and collusion with the chemical industry, see Corruption Problems Persist at EPA.

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

Sources:

Anatomy of a science meeting: How controversial pesticide research all but vanished from a major conference 
https://usrtk.org/bees-neonics/entomological-society-america-corporate-partners/

Amid Damning Criticism of Its Scientific Integrity, EPA Takes Public Comments on Updated Policy
https://beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/2024/02/amid-damning-criticism-of-its-scientific-integrity-epa-takes-public-comments-on-updated-policy/

Int’l Group of Scientists Calls for Restraints on Conflicts of Interest in Publications and Regulation
https://beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/2023/12/an-international-group-of-scientists-calls-for-clear-restraints-on-conflicts-of-interest-in-publications-and-regulation/

Chemicals Implicated
https://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/bee-protective-pollinators-and-pesticides/chemicals-implicated

Neonicotinoids Combined with Other Pesticides Elevate Hazards to Honey Bee
https://beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/2023/02/neonicotinoids-combined-with-other-pesticides-elevate-hazards-to-honey-bee/

Maine Bans Consumer Use of Neonicotinoid Insecticides, with Some Exceptions
https://beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/2021/06/maine-bans-consumer-use-of-neonicotinoid-insecticides-with-some-exceptions/

Seeds That Poison
Advocating for the removal of bee-toxic pesticides and the transition to organic policies and practices.
https://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/bee-protective-pollinators-and-pesticides/seedsthatpoison

 

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One Response to “Report Finds Industry Influences Academic Society of Entomologists, Squelches Bee-Toxic Pesticide Science”

  1. 1
    Randal L James Says:

    ANOTHER example of rich, uncaring, GREEDY corporations and the people that invest in them to prevent the people from finding out just how bad things are! They are AFRAID to let the CITIZENS KNOW the TRUTH! And that is they are PROFITTING by poisoning US and the world that we live on!

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