Jonathan Lundgren’s work has included examination of neonicotinoid pesticides

While this story is not directly related to GMOs, the employer harassment and lack of support suffered by pesticide researcher Jonathan Lundgren is all too reminiscent of what happened to researchers whose work found problems with GMOs.

1. USDA whistleblower claims censorship of pesticide research
2. USDA scientist punished for pollinator research

1. USDA whistleblower claims censorship of pesticide research

Carey Gillam
Harvest Public Media, 27 Oct 2015

A senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed a whistleblower complaint on Wednesday accusing the federal agency of suppressing research findings that could call into question the use of a popular pesticide class that is a revenue powerhouse for the agrichemical industry.

Jonathan Lundgren, a senior research entomologist with the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service who has spent 11 years with the agency based in Brookings, S.D., said that retaliation and harassment from inside USDA started in April 2014, following media interviews he gave in March of that year regarding some of his research conclusions.

Lundgren’s work has included extensive examination of a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, which are widely used by U.S. farmers to control pest damage to corn and other crops, helping protect production. The insecticides are sold in forms that both are sprayed on plants or coated on seeds before they are planted. They are also used on plants sold by lawns and garden retailers.

Lundgren is the first to file a formal complaint since questions arose recently about the scientific integrity of research by USDA scientists. The talk has dogged the agency for the last few years and some critics complain that scientific findings on a range of topics are suppressed if they contradict the interests of powerful corporations.

USDA officials had no immediate comment, but have said in the past that claims of interference with the integrity of its scientists’ work are not valid. The agency has said that it has strong policies and protections in place to protect the integrity of its scientists’ work and “claims to the contrary are simply incorrect.”

Neonicotinoids are a particularly sensitive topic because some scientists have linked them to dramatic declines in honey bee colonies, which help pollinate roughly a quarter of the food consumed annually in the United States.

The agrichemical companies that sell neonic insecticides, such as Bayer AG, BASF, Syngenta AG and others, have said other research shows that neonics are not the problem, and they have been actively lobbying lawmakers and regulators against limiting use of neonics.

Neonics are a key part of a growing global insecticide market projected at roughly $15 billion in revenues.

Lundgren and other scientists have raised questions about both the effectiveness and environmental safety of the insecticides. Research has linked “neonics” to the demise of Monarch butterflies and honey bees, in particular. Two research reports by Lundgren concluded that farmers received no yield benefit at all in using the costly neonic seed treatments.

After Lundgren spoke out about some of his findings, USDA managers blocked publication of his research, barred him from talking to the media, and disrupted operations at the laboratory he oversaw, according to the complaint filed with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board Wednesday. The filing follows an internal complaint Lundgren lodged with USDA in September 2014.  

“Dr. Lundgren’s case underscores why legal protections for government scientists are sorely needed,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which is providing legal services to Lundgren in his whistleblower action. “Bureaucracies under political pressure from corporate stakeholders routinely shoot the messenger, even if they are wearing a lab coat.”

Lundgren declined to comment about the filing.

PEER filed a legal petition with the USDA in March of this year, stating that the agency needed to strengthen rules to protect its scientists from internal censorship, “political suppression or alteration of studies.”

Documents supplied by PEER show that the USDA deemed Lundgren’s internal complaint to be without merit, and in August of this year the agency suspended  Lundgren without pay for two weeks. It was his second suspension in the past two years. The agency cited violations of travel procedures and failure to follow supervisory instructions as reasons for the suspension.

USDA said Lundgren’s submission of a manuscript on neonic harm to Monarch butterflies for publication in a scientific journal violated supervisory instructions. Lundgren’s supervisor told him the manuscript was “sensitive’ and would require elevated levels of approval, the documents show.

Carey Gillam is a contributing reporter based in Kansas City, Mo. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 25 years, including 17 years covering food and agriculture for Reuters newswire.

2. USDA scientist punished for pollinator research

PEER (Protecting Employees Who Protect Our Environment), Oct 28, 2015

* Whistleblower Complaint Highlights Official Obstruction of Pesticide Studies

One of the top entomologists within the U.S. Department of Agriculture is fighting a suspension for publishing research about adverse effects on monarch butterflies from widely-used neonicotinoid insecticides (or “neonics”). He is also being punished for a travel paperwork irregularity for when he made an appearance before a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. His legal challenge is in the form of a whistleblower complaint filed on his behalf today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren is a Senior Research Entomologist and Lab Supervisor for the USDA Agriculture Research Service based in South Dakota. His cutting-edge research has drawn national attention and international recognition. He has worked for USDA for eleven years with great success—until recently.
On August 3, 2015, 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.
“Having research published in prestigious journals and being invited to present before the National Academy of Sciences should be sources of official pride, not punishment,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Laura Dumais, who today filed Dr. Lundgren’s whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board, the federal civil service tribunal. “Politics inside USDA have made entomology a high risk specialty.”
Lundgren’s suspension followed his lodging a formal complaint last fall of violations of the agency’s Scientific Integrity policies. His complaint detailed attempts by USDA managers to block publication of new research, bar discussion of results with the media, and disrupt his lab’s operations. The agency initially rejected his complaint as not meriting an investigation. His appeal of that decision is still pending.
“It is USDA policy that political suppression and manipulation of science are not to be tolerated, but it is empty rhetoric,” Dumais added, noting that USDA is refusing to even consider a PEER petition that it strengthen its Scientific Integrity policy by adopting provisions from the similar policies of sister agencies. “Dr. Lundgren is suffering the proverbial professional death by a thousand cuts precisely because of the implications his scientific work for agribusiness.”
Dr. Lundgren’s whistleblower complaint triggers sworn depositions and other discovery leading up to an evidentiary hearing. The resulting ruling can be appealed to the three-member Merits Systems Protection Board and from there to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Whistle Blower Narratives
Lundgren’s Integrity Complaint
Suspension Letter
View Pattern of Scientific Manipulation at USDA