Bee expert: USDA punished me for research on pesticides
Entomologist Jonathan Lundgren has filed a whistleblower complaint alleging the USDA retaliated against him because of his research on the adverse effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees and monarch butterflies. Lundgren was photographed this summer near Brookings, S.D. Dan Gunderson | MPR News file
A top federal bee scientist from South Dakota says he’s being punished for publicizing work on pesticides and pollinators.
Jonathan Lundgren’s research found bees and monarch butterflies can be harmed by a widely used class of insecticides. In a whistleblower case filed Wednesday, the United States Agriculture Department entomologist alleges he faced retaliation because of his research.
“Once he started publishing this work, he went from golden boy to pariah, and that’s what this case is about,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is representing Lundgren in his complaint to a federal whistleblower protection board.
Lundgren’s 11-year career at USDA appeared stellar. He had excellent performance reviews. USDA even named him its Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist in 2011.
The complaint says that all changed when Lundgren began to study how neonicotinoid insecticides affect bees and other beneficial insects.
Neonicotinoid insecticides are systemic. Plants take up the chemical along with nutrients. It’s in the leaves, flowers and pollen.
The insecticide is under fire for contributing to an international decline in bee populations. Neonicotinoids are among the most widely used pesticides in the world and are used heavily on farm fields and in backyards.
Lundgren claims his trouble started in early 2014 when he began to talk publicly about negative effects of neonicotinoids. He reviewed a study by the Center for Food Safety. The study was critical of overuse of neonicotinoids on crops. He also did media interviews about the topic.
Lundgren declined an on-the-record interview, saying he fears additional retaliation. He alleges a USDA official asked him to stop talking publicly about the pesticide.
A USDA spokesperson said that while the agency can’t discuss individual cases it takes scientific integrity seriously. “We fully review allegations of wrong-doing and make the results of those reviews available to the public online. USDA, he added, has “procedures for staff to report any perceived interference with their work, seek resolution, and receive protection from recourse for doing so.”
In September 2014, Lundgren filed an internal complaint alleging USDA was violating its scientific integrity policy by retaliating because of the content of his research.
“Within one week of these late-March press interviews and the release of the CFS study, improper reprisal, interference and hindrance of my research and career began in earnest,” according to the internal complaint.
He said “national program staff” removed his research objective examining pesticide risk. Instead, the goals focused on “strategies to improve diversity and health of beneﬁcial insects,” a change he said makes examining pesticide risk risky since it would “no longer be officially supported by USDA.”
USDA found his scientific integrity complaint was without merit. Lundgren appealed. The appeal is awaiting a USDA response.
Lundgren was suspended in October 2014 for three days after USDA investigators found emails among his research staff which included off-color jokes.
Ruch says no employees had complained about the emails and employees in Lundgren’s lab wrote letters of support for their boss.
Entomologist Jonathan Lundgren examined a pollinator food plot with colleague Christina Mogren, a postdoctoral researcher, near Brookings, S.D., in July. Dan Gunderson | MPR News file
“This is a scientist who has many prestigious journals publishing his work. He is invited to make presentations both nationally and internationally,” Ruch said. “If it was not the sensitive nature of his research this would be somebody they would be promoting, not on the verge of terminating.”
Earlier this year Lundgren again ran afoul of USDA supervisors.
He wrote a paper on research that showed neonicotinoid insecticides killed or stunted growth of monarch butterfly larvae. Monarch populations have plummeted in recent years because of habitat loss. Lundgren’s research showed milkweed plants growing near farm fields treated with the insecticide could harm monarch larvae.
He believed he had permission from USDA publish the paper.
Lundgren was interviewed about his research for an MPR News story in February. The whistleblower complaint says that interview prompted a sharp response two weeks later from his supervisor in Brookings, S.D.
Lundgren says he was told USDA considered his research “sensitive” and requiring additional layers of approval. The paper was published in March.
In early March, Lundgren traveled to speak at a National Academy of Sciences gathering and to an agricultural group in Pennsylvania.
While he was traveling to the meetings, he received a message saying his travel was not approved because he failed to get a required supervisor’s signature. He was considered absent without leave and ordered to return immediately to South Dakota.
Ruch said the travel paperwork mistake is one often overlooked at USDA.
In early August USDA area supervisor John McMurtry wrote to Lundgren imposing a 14-day unpaid suspension for “blatant disregard of Agency rules and regulations.”
McMurtry said Lundgren’s behavior “suggests a low potential for rehabilitation.”
According to an internal USDA document, Lundgren was told that “additional misconduct will not be tolerated and may result in disciplinary action up to and including your removal from the Federal service.”
Ruch says that that threat led to the whistleblower complaint to the Federal Merit Systems Protection Board.
Ruch’s group says the charges are “patently exaggerated, and the punishment is disproportionate to the alleged wrongdoing.”
Ruch also contends that pressure from the pesticide industry is leading USDA to stifle agency scientists like Lundgren. When pressed, Ruch said he had no evidence of outside influence, but this complaint will allow attorneys to seek that information and interview USDA officials about the Lundgren case. He believes they will prove USDA targeted Lundgren.
“There were repeated expressions about the sensitivity of the subject matter that made it clear there was concern that went much higher than (USDA’s) Agricultural Research Service office in South Dakota,” he said. “We believe that there was communication among high level managers of USDA that predetermined what they were going to do.”
James Howard Kunstler
Ben Bernanke’s memoir is out and the chatter about it inevitably turns to the sickening moments in September 2008 when “the world economy came very close to collapse.” Easy to say, but how many people know what that means? It’s every bit as opaque as the operations of the Federal Reserve itself.
There were many ugly facets to the problem but they all boiled down to global insolvency — too many promises to pay that could not be met. The promises, of course, were quite hollow. They accumulated over the decades-long process, largely self-organized and emergent, of the so-called global economy arranging itself. All the financial arrangements depended on trust and good faith, especially of the authorities who managed the world’s “reserve currency,” the US dollar.
By the fall of 2008, it was clear that these authorities, in particular the US Federal Reserve, had failed spectacularly in regulating the operations of capital markets. With events such as the collapse of Lehman and the rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it also became clear that much of the collateral ostensibly backing up the US banking system was worthless, especially instruments based on mortgages. Hence, the trust and good faith vested in the issuer of the world’s reserve currency was revealed as worthless.
The great triumph of Ben Bernanke was to engineer a fix that rendered trust and good faith irrelevant. That was largely accomplished, in concert with the executive branch of the government, by failing to prosecute banking crime, in particular the issuance of fraudulent securities built out of worthless mortgages. In effect, Mr. Bernanke (and Barack Obama’s Department of Justice), decided that the rule of law was no longer needed for the system to operate. In fact, the rule of law only hampered it.
Mr. Bernanke now says he “regrets” that nobody went to jail. That’s interesting. More to the point perhaps he might explain why the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission did not make any criminal referrals to the US Attorney General in such cases as, for instance, Goldman Sachs (and others) peddling bonds deliberately constructed to fail, on which they had placed bets favoring that very failure.
There were a great many such cases, explicated in full by people and organizations outside the regulating community. For instance, the Pro Publica news organization did enough investigative reporting on the racket of collateralized debt obligations to send many banking executives to jail. But the authorities turned a blind eye to it, and to the reporting of others, mostly on the web, since the legacy news media just didn’t want to press too hard.
In effect, the rule of law was replaced with a patch of official accounting fraud, starting with the April 2009 move by the Financial Accounting Standards Board involving their Rule 157, which had required banks to report the verifiable mark-to-market value of the collateral they held. It was essentially nullified, allowing the banks to value their collateral at whatever they felt like saying.
Accounting fraud remains at the heart of the fix instituted by Ben Bernanke and the ploy has been copied by authorities throughout the global financial system, including the central banks of China, Japan, and the European Community. That it seemed to work for the past seven years in propping up global finance has given too many people the dangerous conviction that reality is optional in economic relations. The recovery of equity markets from the disturbances of August has apparently convinced the market players that stocks are invincible. Complacency reigns at epic levels. Few are ready for what is coming.
Hedrick Smith on ‘Who Stole the American Dream?’
Business Oct 26, 2015
Who Stole the American Dream? Courtesy Hedrick Smith
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Hedrick Smith decries “wedge economics” and says America needs more “stakeholder capitalism” and citizen power. He spoke about his newest best-selling book, “Who Stole the American Dream?” at an event hosted by St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict October 6, 2015.
Friday October 23, 2015 As It Happens – CBC Radio
TPP deal allows milk from hormone treated cows into Canada
Former Health Canada Dr. Shiv Chopra. (cp images)
There are worries that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal means milk from hormone treated U.S. cows could end up in Canadian supermarkets.
Shiv Chopra is a former Health Canada scientist who lost his job after raising the alarm about dangers posed by bovine growth hormone (BGH). Partially because of his work, it is currently illegal to use the drug to boost milk production in Canada.
Chopra tells As It Happens host Carol Off, “We worked upon it so much and got [bovine growth hormone] rejected in Canada…Now, under the trade agreement, it’s going to let the flood-gates open.”
TPP negotiators have told CBC that Canadian health and safety regulations will apply to all imported products. But that does not mean dairy producers in the U.S. have to follow the same rules Canadian farms do.
There are fewer restrictions on hormone use on U.S. cows.
According to Chopra, “The damage that occurs to the milk, to the cows, ultimately it translates into human health hazards. As a result, you not only get the BGH but also an insulin growth-like hormone that causes cancer.”
Even with new labelling, Chopra believes Canadian consumers won’t fully know where their milk is sourced.
Yves Leduc from the Dairy Farmers of Canada told CBC he’s concerned about a “double standard” between U.S. and Canadian farmers.
“It seems incoherent to restrict the use of rBST in Canada, when products made with the hormone can still enter the Canadian market,” he wrote to CBC News.
Chopra is also worried about what the trade agreement could mean for Canadian dairy products that are sold abroad.
“The European Union actually banned BGH. That means our dairy products, if now mixed up with TPP, they cannot go to the European Union. That’s going to harm our trade, our jobs, our agriculture.
“We should be listening to our dairy farmers. They know better.”