USDA Silences Its Own Scientists' Warnings About the Dangerous Effects of Pesticides on Bees
[Editor’s note: Evidence has been mounting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been silencing its own bee scientists who have raised the alarm about the deadly impact that pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, have on bees. Last month, for example, the Washington Post reported the story of Jonathan Lindgren, a USDA bee scientist, who filed a whistleblower suit alleging that he was disciplined to suppress his research. In 2014, Dr. Jeffery Pettis, another USDA bee scientist and beekeeping advocate, was demoted, leading several beekeeping and environmental organizations to express concern that the agency has actively suppressed bee science that would negatively impact agrochemical companies like Bayer and Syngenta. In the spring of 2014, 10 USDA scientists took action, filing a petition calling on the USDA to stop ordering its own researchers to "retract studies, water down findings, remove their name from authorship and endure long indefinite delays in approving publication of papers that may be controversial."]
I am grateful to Steve Volk for investigating the role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the dramatic decline of honeybees. He is right that the USDA “muzzled” Jonathan Lundgren for shedding light on the deadly effects of pesticides on honeybees. I am also not surprised that the USDA demoted another bee scientist, Jeffery Pettis, for telling Congress that pesticides are more hazardous to honeybees than Varroa mites.
My confidence that Volk is right comes from experience. I worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for 25 years. I spent most of that time at the Office of Pesticide Programs. I was astonished by EPA's nasty habit of covering up for the industry and its friends in Congress and the White House. My memos reminded senior managers that the EPA was fighting the wrong battles. I objected most strenuously to the EPA approval of neurotoxins in nylon microcapsules that decimated honeybees. EPA officials branded me “not a team player.”
The widespread use of deadly neurotoxins was in full swing as early as in the 1970s. In addition to killing bees and other beneficial insects, the encapsulated parathion caused various degrees of neurological damage and quite possibly, death to small and large mammals, terrestrial and water invertebrates and birds—even at rates of just a pound of poison per acre. The gizzards of most birds would grind down and rupture the nerve poison microcapsules, causing crippling disease or death.
Some EPA ecologists also protested the use of nerve poisons in farming. They knew that bees would continue to die from the encapsulated parathion because the “registrant,” the chemical company that owned the encapsulated parathion, had persuaded the EPA to approve the spraying of the company’s product during the spring bloom, when all pollinating insects would be out foraging for nectar and pollen. The ecologists also warned the killing of pollinators would be environmentally disastrous and would have adverse effects in food production. After all, honeybees pollinate enough fruits and vegetable making up about a third of what we eat.
The Carter EPA ignored the ecologists. Instead, it permitted the selling of the time-release parathion gas for use on an even wider array of produce, from artichokes, cabbages and potatoes to wheat, soybeans, apples and pears. The move dramatically raised the chemical exposure of both bees and the American people.
The evidence could not have been clearer. In 1979, an EPA scientist discovered how to stain parathion microcapsules so they could be identified in honey and pollen. Sure enough, on testing on a bee colony on the field, he found microcapsules in the queen bee’s gut and honey.
Predictably, this scientist’s discovery and talent went nowhere. He neither published his research nor continued with his honeybee investigations. Instead, he was forced to become a paper pusher at EPA headquarters while the agency’s top pesticide managers made sure that his laboratory would no longer be used for research threatening to industry.
As with so many EPA moves, this was done to keep bad news about nerve gas pesticides secret. It was evident to me that the EPA was not protecting our health but the profits of the industry—neurotoxins or no neurotoxins.
Forty years after EPA first began approving neurotoxins enclosed in microscopic spheres, the same lethal tradition remains in place with the neonicotinoids. These German-made neurotoxins disrupt the immune system of animals. Farmers have been buying them since 2003 to “treat” corn and other major crop seeds. Plants (such as corn) grown from these soaked seeds become toxic at fantastically small amounts to any insect touching or eating them.
Like the microencapsulated parathion, neonicotinoids kill outright or cripple the honeybees. Poisoned worker bees neglect to take care the eggs and feed the larvae. A bee’s navigational abilities break down. The result, according to Vera Krischik, professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota, is that honeybees “can’t remember who they are or where to go.”
This cause and effect between the nicotine-based insecticides and the near obliteration of honeybees explains the fury of the USDA. Imagine Americans discovering we are killing honeybees with neurotoxins. Even USDA scientists are raising red flags.
Like the EPA, the USDA cannot afford to offend the lords of agribusiness. But fortunately, USDA bee scientists are finally siding with honeybees, the integrity of science and the survival of our food and agriculture.
It’s obvious to me we need to protect Jonathan Lundgren, Jeffery Pettis and other whistleblowers throughout the government. They are our first line of defense against unscrupulous companies and purchased politicians who lose no sleep over the poisoning of honeybees and countless other animals.
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
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