Groups urge USDA to launch thorough investigation into scientist censorship
USDA scientists’ research about bee-killing pesticides compromised
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Environmentalists, beekeepers, farmworkers, farmers, fisheries, and food safety advocates sent a letter to the USDA Inspector General and the co-chairs of the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health today, urging an investigation into recent reports that USDA scientists are being harassed and their research is being censored or suppressed, especially research related to neonicotinoid insecticides — a leading driver of bee declines globally. The White House Task Force on Pollinator Health, co-chaired by the USDA, is expected to release a plan for bee protection in the near future. The more than 25 groups are concerned that the plan will lack meaningful protections for pollinators if the USDA’s research has been compromised.
In March, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, filed a citizen petition requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture adopt new policies that would provide stronger protections for government scientists who question the health and safety of agricultural chemicals.
“It is unconscionable for USDA to cover up or politicize any research. The science needs to speak for itself. Beekeepers in Maryland and across the country need a comprehensive plan to address pesticide use, habitat loss, and the other issues facing bees and other pollinators. Otherwise, they won’t survive in this toxic environment, and that will put us all in a food desert. It is critical that USDA serve beekeepers and the American public, not just the pesticide industry,” said Roger Williams, president of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association.
“How can the American public expect USDA to develop a federal strategy that will protect bees instead of pesticide industry profits if it is harassing and suppressing its own scientists for conducting research that runs counter to industry claims?” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “If USDA wants to employ a kill-the-messenger approach, it will only delay critical action to address the bee crisis that threatens our nation’s food supply.”
“If we cannot trust the scientific integrity of our scientists to protect bees, how can farmworkers be assured that their health and safety are not in jeopardy from a scientific community that is beholden to the interests of corporations and not to the protection of their own health and safety?” said Jeannie Economos, pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator with Farmworker Association of Florida. “The issue goes beyond only protecting bees, but to protecting the public health, especially the most vulnerable, as well.”
“The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance cares deeply that USDA science be untainted, because poorly studied and regulated pesticides ultimately end up in the ocean where they continue their toxic journey damaging marine food chains and habitat that support our wild fisheries, fishing communities and seafood production,” said Boyce Thorne Miller, science and policy advisor with The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.
“Censorship and harassment poison good science and good policy,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s no question that neonicotinoids are killing bees and it’s long past time for our government to take action. The European Union has already banned neonicotinoids. The reports that USDA is harassing and suppressing its scientists for doing their jobs instead of using their findings to protect our pollinators are extremely disturbing.”
The White House Task Force on Pollinator Health was established as part of a Presidential Memorandum, issued by President Obama in June 2014, which called for a federal strategy to protect pollinators and called on the EPA to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees and other pollinators within 180 days.
Last April, Friends of the Earth released a report, “Follow the Honey: 7 ways pesticide companies are spinning the bee crisis to protect profits,” which documents the deceptive tactics used by agrochemical companies including Germany-based Bayer (DE: BAYN), Switzerland-based Syngenta (NYSE: SYT) and U.S.-based Monsanto (NYSE: MON), to deflect blame from their products’ contributions to bee declines and delay regulatory action on neonicotinoid pesticides.
The letter sent by environmentalists, beekeepers, farmworkers, farmer and food safety advocates to the USDA Inspector General and the co-chairs of the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health, along with a complete list of signatories, can be found here.
Tiffany Finck-Haynes, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0715, [email protected]
Roger Williams, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, (802) 355-9933, [email protected]
Boyce Thorne Miller, The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, (301) 706-9295, [email protected]
Lori Ann Burd, Center for Biological Diversity, (847) 567-4052, [email protected]