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War Against Bee Science

Scientist investigating neonicotinoid pesticides and pollinators accuses USDA of intimidation.

Jonathan Lundgren, USDA ResearcherDr. Jonathan Lundgren, a Senior Research Entomologist and Lab Supervisor and 11-year veteran of the USDA Agriculture Research Service based in South Dakota, is a recognized researcher who was named the USDA’s Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist in 2011. Then, in 2014, he published a research paper showing the effects of neonicotinoids, a controversial and widely used class of pesticides, were harmful to monarch butterflies.

His fortunes changed. In August, according to PEER (Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility):

… the USDA imposed a 14-day (reduced from 30 days) suspension on him in connection with two events:

  • Publication of a manuscript by Dr. Lundgren on the non-target effects of clothianidin on monarch butterflies in the scientific peer-reviewed journal The Science of Nature; and
  • An error in Dr. Lundgren’s travel authorization for his invited presentation to a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as to a USDA stakeholder group.

Lundgren turned around and filed a whistleblower complaint that says his USDA supervisors harassed him, tried to stop him from speaking out, and interfered with new projects.

Those watching the politics involved in the search for solutions to colony collapse disorder among bees think that the USDA is reacting to pressure from pesticide manufacturers. “We think the USDA is reflecting complaints from corporate stakeholders,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “This research is drawing consternation, which flows down the USDA chain of command to the researchers doing the work.”

The USDA, asked by Minnesota Public Radio to respond, said it would not comment on specific cases and referred reporters to its Scientific Integrity and Research Integrity/Misconduct policy.

Lundgren first filed a complaint with the USDA in September, 2014 after the research had been published and he’d made public comments about it. The USDA found his complaint to be without merit. Lundgren appealed and no decision has been made. In August, he filed the whistleblower complaint under the auspices of PEER.

Needless to say, we can’t help but think that the USDA answers more to the corporate pesticide industry than it does to bees and other pollinators, not to mention the human population at large. News like this can only make us wonder how much other research has been suppressed and over-looked in the name of profit.

Other researchers have come to Lundgren’s defense. Scott Fausti, a professor at South Dakota State University, told the Star Tribune, “I believe this action raises a serious question concerning policy neutrality toward scientific inquiry.” Lundgren himself has declined interviews on the subject, saying that a USDA official asked him to stop talking publicly about the pesticide.

Will the truth come out? The complaint will require an evidentiary hearing before a panel of administrative judges. Before that, testimony from managers and employees will be collected and the USDA will be required to produce internal agency documents. Stay tuned.

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