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USDA scientist subjected to aggressive retaliation for reporting scientific truth on pesticides and honeybees

USDA scientists

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(NaturalNews) One of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) top bee scientists has filed a federal whistleblower complaint, alleging that the USDA has harassed him in retaliation for his work, which shows that neonicotinoid insecticides harm pollinators.

"Once he started publishing this work, he went from golden boy to pariah," said Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is representing the scientist.

Neonicotinoids are among the world's most widely used insecticides. They are applied to seeds before planting, and the poison is then taken up into every tissue of the plant, including the pollen, nectar and seeds. They therefore harm any animal that visits the plant.

Research goals changed, emails monitored

Jonathan Lundgren has been an entomologist with the USDA for 11 years, and was actually named the agency's Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist in 2011. In early 2014, however, Lundgren reviewed a study by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) on the overuse of neonicotinoids. This led him to began speaking publicly about the environmental dangers of the chemicals.

"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," Lundgren wrote in an internal USDA complaint in September 2014.

Following the interviews, "national program staff" unilaterally modified his research objectives, removing all references to examining pesticide risk and instructing him to research "strategies to improve diversity and health of bene?cial insects."

The USDA rejected his complaint. Lundgren is still awaiting a response to an appeal.

Then in October 2014, the USDA suspended Lundgren for three days after investigators discovered off-color jokes in emails sent by some of his staff. There had been no complaints about those emails, and Lundgren's employees wrote letters of support on his behalf.

Harassment intensifies

The harassment deepened this year, Lundgren said, after he wrote a paper showing how neonicotinoids had harmed larvae of monarch butterflies. Believing he had the USDA's permission to publish the paper, Lundgren did a radio interview about his research. Two weeks later, his supervisor told him that because the research was "sensitive," it would require extra approval.

In March, after the paper's publication, Lundgren traveled to two professional gatherings. While on his trip he received a notice that he was absent without leave, ordering him to return immediately to his office in South Dakota.

Lundgren had failed to get a supervisor's signature on his travel request form. This type of paperwork oversight is regularly ignored at the USDA, Ruch said.

Then in August, Lundgren's area supervisor suspended him without pay for 14 days, alleging "blatant disregard of Agency rules and regulations" and behavior that "suggests a low potential for rehabilitation."

"Additional misconduct will not be tolerated and may result in disciplinary action up to and including your removal from the Federal service," he was warned.

It was this final threat that spurred Lundgren to file a complaint with the federal whistleblower protection board. He also says that a USDA official asked him to stop speaking publicly about neonicotiniods.

Industry pressure?

Ruch believes that an investigation by the whistleblower protection board will uncover evidence that the USDA has been receiving pressure from the pesticide industry to suppress research into neonicotinoids. The investigation will clearly show that the sanctions of Lundgren were "disproportionate to the alleged wrongdoing," and that dislike of his research findings was the real motivation.

"There were repeated expressions about the sensitivity of the subject matter that made it clear there was concern that went much higher than [the] 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."

"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."

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