Is the USDA Just a Corporate Lobbyist Group?
- The USDA has come under increasing scrutiny following charges of harassment and censorship. Due to mounting complaints from scientists, the USDA inspector general is opening an investigation.
- USDA whistleblower Jonathan Lundgren, Ph.D., claims he was retaliated against when he started talking about his research, which shows neonicotinoids cause decline in bee and Monarch butterfly populations.
- Krysta Harden, former deputy secretary of the USDA, has been hired by chemical giant DuPont to head up its “public policy and government affairs strategies” department
Many, if not most, of our regulatory agencies have a long history of protecting industry interests over public and environmental health. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has come under increasing scrutiny following mounting charges of harassment and censorship.
In the first week of November 2015, Jonathan Lundgren, who spent the last 11 years working as an entomologist at the USDA, filed a whistleblower complaint against the agency, claiming he’d suffered retaliation after speaking out about research showing that neonicotinoids had adverse effects on bees.1
In the U.S., nearly all corn, about 90 percent of canola, and approximately half of all soybeans are treated with neonicotinoids. As the use of these pesticides has gone up, bee and Monarch butterfly populations have plummeted.
After publicly discussing his findings, Lundgren claims that “USDA managers blocked publication of his research, barred him from talking to the media, and disrupted operations at the laboratory he oversaw.”
The Washington Post recently published an article that details Lundgren’s complaints and the retaliation waged against him.2
According to Agri-Pulse,3 the Agriculture Department’s inspector general, Phyllis Fong, has now received so many complaints about harassment and censorship, she’s opening a broad investigation to assess “whether there is a systemic problem in the department.”
Charges of Censorship Mount Against USDA
Food and Water Watch4 recently followed up on this issue, noting that “when independent, government scientists produce research that threatens corporate agribusinesses, the USDA — according to at least 10 government scientists — censors the results, waters down the findings and punishes the researchers.”
Jonathan Lundgren is one of these 10 scientists. The other 9 have all chosen to remain anonymous for fear of even more reprisals.
Lundgren’s research at the USDA shows that neonicotinoids are instrumental in the decline of bee and Monarch butterfly populations. But his work, and his criticism against factory farming, goes even deeper than that.
He has become convinced and has spoken out about the fact that toxic insecticides like neonics are not some sort of necessary evil. We don’t actually need these types of chemicals at all in agriculture.
As he notes in the video above, organic or regenerative farming actually produces higher yields and requires less land. This, I believe, even more so than his critique of neonics, poses a major threat to corporate agribusinesses.
It does not, however, detract from the USDA’s mission, which is why the agency’s mistreatment of scientists like Lundgren is so revealing.
Whistleblower Sets Up Nonprofit Science Lab and Sustainable Farm
Fortunately, Lundgren has become very outspoken about his whistleblower suit. So much so, the Shafeek Nader Trust presented him with a civic courage award last November, for taking an open stand against the USDA.
Moving forward, he’s also setting up two new businesses: Blue Dasher Farm, which he intends to be a model for large-scale sustainable farming using crop diversity and other regenerative methods, and Ecdysis, a nonprofit science lab for independent research.
According to Lundgren:5 “I don’t think science can be done, at least on this subject, in any of the conventional ways. I think we need truly independent scientists — not funded by government or industry.”
USDA Policy Encourages Suppression of Unpopular Science
This charge was made by Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who on March 26, 2015 filed a Petition For Rulemaking with the Secretary of Agriculture.6 (PEER is also the alliance representing Lundgren’s whistleblower case.) In it, he notes that:
“The stated purpose of USDA’s scientific integrity policy is to ensure ‘the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch’s involvement with scientific and technological processes and analyses.’
However, the Policy fails to clearly prohibit political suppression and interference. While the Policy defines political suppression and interference, it does not include these acts in its definition of misconduct.
The USDA, by its own admission, has yet to develop procedures for handling scientific integrity complaints. To compound the problem, an overly broad provision within the Policy actively encourages USDA to suppress scientific work for political reasons.
The provision states that scientists “should refrain from making statements that could be construed as being judgments of or recommendations on USDA or any other federal government policy, either intentionally or inadvertently.”
USDA management routinely relies up this vague but expansively worded provision a pretext for suppressing technical work solely because the scientific conclusions expressed draw the ire of USDA corporate stakeholders.”
The Case of USDA Scientist Jeffery Pettis
The case of Jeffery Pettis adds even more weight to the notion that there’s a definitive agenda at work within the USDA to officially downplay any risks associated with neonicotinoids.
Pettis, who like Lundgren is an entymologist, headed up the USDA’s bee laboratory in Beltsville for 9 years. His career was suddenly derailed after he presented testimony about neonics before the House Agriculture Committee in the spring of 2014. As reported by The Washington Post:7
“Pettis had developed what he describes as a ‘significant’ line of research showing that neonics compromise bee immunity.
But in his opening remarks before Congress, he focused on the threat posed by the varroa mite, often put forward by chemical company representatives as the main culprit behind bee deaths.
Only under questioning by subcommittee Chairman Austin Scott (R-Ga.) did Pettis shift. Even if varroa were eliminated tomorrow, he told Scott, ‘we’d still have a problem.’ Neonics raise pesticide concerns for bees ‘to a new level,’ he said. About two months later, Pettis was demoted, losing all management responsibilities for the Beltsville lab ….
Pettis said, the USDA’s congressional liaison told him that the Agriculture Committee wanted him to restrict his testimony to the varroa mite. ‘In my naivete,’ he said, ‘I thought there were going to be other people addressing different parts of the pie. I felt used by the whole process, used by Congress.’
The hearing was ‘heavily weighted toward industry,’ he said, ‘and they tried to use me as a scientist, as a way of saying, ‘See, it’s the varroa mite,’ when that’s not how I see it.’…He said he walked up to Scott afterward, to make small talk, and the congressman ‘said something about how I hadn’t ‘followed the script.'”
Is USDA Shielding Corporations Like Monsanto?
While you would think that the USDA exists to protect you against the vagaries of industry, this is not the case. The chemical and agricultural industries spend millions of dollars to lobby for regulations that are favorable to them, and there’s a constantly revolving door between the agency and private corporations.
For example, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is widely regarded as a shill for Monsanto, and he’s always been a strong supporter of genetically engineered (GE) crops, regardless of the scientific evidence against it.
The undemocratic and highly unpopular 2005 seed pre-emption bill was also Vilsack’s brainchild. The law stripped local government’s right to regulated GE seed, including where GE can be grown. Overall, Vilsack’s record is one of aiding and abetting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farms and promoting both genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and animal cloning.
Roger Beachy is another example. Between 2009 and 2011, he was the head of National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the USDA’s main research arm, and he too is a proponent of GMOs, and has ties to Monsanto. As reported in a previous Grist article:8
“In his short stint at USDA, Beachy never hid his enthusiasm for ag biotechnology — or his disdain for organic ag. When I … asked him about funding for organic research, he came up with a novel slander against synthetics-free ag: ‘I’m concerned about the safety of organic food … I’m concerned about the issue of microbial contamination with organic.'”
To get an idea of just how broad and deep Monsanto’s reach is, take a look at the following chart. Over the years, this biotech giant has successfully infiltrated an ever increasing number of high-level federal regulatory positions in the U.S. government; many of which are positions meant to protect your food safety, including a number of top positions within the USDA.
Top USDA Official Goes to Work for DuPont
The most recent person to walk their way through the revolving door between government and industry is Krysta Harden, who spent over 6 years at the USDA — first as chief of staff to Secretary Tom Vilsack, and then deputy secretary. She’s been hired by chemical giant DuPont to head up its “public policy and government affairs strategies” department. You would think this activity would be illegal and prohibited but it is actually encouraged.
The New York Times recently published an in-depth exposé9 on the legal battle fought against DuPont for the past 15 years over PFOA contamination and its toxic effects. The Intercept also published a three-part exposé10 titled “The Teflon Toxin: Dupont and the Chemistry of Deception” last year, detailing DuPont’s history of covering up the facts.
Earlier this month, they came out with a fourth part in the series,11 covering DuPont’s contamination of the Cape Fear River with “a new generation of replacement compounds” that likely have “the same chemical performance properties as the older generation of PFCs.”
DuPont is now working on a merger with Dow, and once the merger is completed, that chemical-seed company will be even larger than Monsanto. Considering DuPont’s history of covering up the toxic effects of their products, this gigantic entity is going to Monsanto in terms of being a serious threat, and the most perniciously evil company on the planet.
Federal Agencies Aid and Abet Corporate Stronghold
to read the remainder of he article, go here: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/03/22/usda-corporate-lobbyist-group.aspx?utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20160322Z1&et_cid=DM100981&et_rid=1410751387