USDA Censorship, Bee Populations, Corporate Lobbying

Is the USDA Just a Corporate Lobbyist Group?

Story at-a-glance

  • 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

By Dr. Mercola

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:

Pesticide Corps Mobilize to Back Monsanto

6 Largest Pesticide Corporations Funding Effort to Try to Defeat GMO Labeling Proposition 37

25th October 2012

By J. D. Heyes –

In what should probably surprise no one who has been following the Proposition 37 issue, a California proposal that would require the ingredients in all GM foods to be labeled, the so-called “Big 6″ pesticide corporations have become the movement’s main opponents.

Filings released this week by the California Secretary of State’s office denote that the world’s six largest pesticide corporations have become the six biggest contributors to opponents of Prop 37. In all, they have funneled in excess of $20 million to oppose the measure which, again, would require what should already be happening: the labeling of genetically engineered or modified food. The money has especially funded an aggressive, extensive ad campaign in recent weeks.

“Pesticide corporations like Monsanto continue to enjoy unfettered and unlabeled access to the market, while consumers are left largely in the dark,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Despite the best efforts of the big six to confuse and distort the issue, Californians have a right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown.”

The Big 6 – Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont and Syngenta – far and away dominate the global seed and pesticide markets; they are actively opposing Prop 37. In filings released recently, each of the corporations “made contributions of at least $2 million, with Monsanto’s contribution alone totaling more than $7 million,” said PAN, in a press release.

What do the Big 6 have to hide?

The opposition really wants Prop. 37 defeated. Including Big 6 donations, so far those committed to defeating it have ponied up in excess of $37 million; they’ve spent $19 million with Sacramento public relations firms and on aggressive television advertising and paid mailings to voters.

But why? Why are companies so opposed to openness and honesty when it comes to allowing consumers the right to know what’s in the GM foods they are buying?

The answer may lie in a comprehensive study released a week ago. According to Dr. Charles Benbrook, who conducted the study using federal government data, the Big 6 likely don’t want you to know that genetically engineered crops drive up the use of dangerous pesticides while they open more markets for them as well (as usual, “follow the money”).

Benbrook found that GM crops have “increased pesticide use by over 400 million pounds in the United States over the past fifteen years,” said the PAN statement.

“Increased pesticide use has led to greater and greater weed resistance. In turn, this has led to more applications of pesticides – as well as use of more hazardous pesticides – in agricultural fields, putting rural communities and farm workers at the greatest risk of harm due to pesticide exposure,” the activist organization said.

More pesticides, more chemicals, more danger

In addition to the use of more pesticides, the control over seeds has also benefited these giant biotech companies – at the expense, of course, of consumers.

“The Big 6 chemical and seed companies are working diligently to monopolize the food system at the expense of consumers, farmers and smaller seed companies,” said Philip H. Howard, an associate professor at Michigan State University and an expert on industry consolidation.

In all, Monsanto alone controls 23 percent of the world’s seed market, while Bayer controls 20 percent of the global pesticide market.

So what’s the big deal, really? Why should GM foods be labeled anyhow?

Probably the biggest reason why is because GMOs – genetically modified organisms – in general were not created by food or agriculture companies. They were created by Monsanto – the same biotech and chemical company that brought us DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange. Monsanto also marketed aspartame and created bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to infect milking cows that put pus into commercial milk.

That’s what the big deal is.


Oh, No, Bono!

Doomsday Bloody Doomsday: Why Is Bono Supporting the G8’s GMO Initiative That Will F#&% Africa?

Claiming that the continent of Africa is to this century what North America was to the 19th, U2 frontman Bono has become one of the biggest supporters of the recently announced G8 initiative that’s sending $22 billion dollars in aid, supplied mostly by multi-national corporate conglomerates, to “lift Africa out of poverty” over the next ten years. One of the biggest tools being leveraged in this plan will be the use of controversial agricultural practices-mainly non-native genetically modified crops and the accompanying fertilizers and pesticides-under the moniker The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Companies that have pledged their dollars and support through NAFSN include: DuPont, Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, Kraft, and Unilever.

According to the White House, the G8’s announcement of NAFSN represents the “next phase of our shared commitment to achieving global food security.” Under the guise of working with Africa’s leaders to develop transparent “country-regulated” policies for food security, in his G8 speech, his ONE organization’s blog, his interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, and in an article he wrote for TIME magazine aptly titled “The Resource Miracle,” Bono repeatedly and not-so-subtly hints to the wealth of minerals laying just underneath the feet of Africans.

In his speech at the G8 summit held in May in Chicago, Bono jokingly refers to the African continent as “richer than rich; like 19th century America with elephants,” adding that “the continent that contains the most poverty also contains the most wealth.” Be that precious metals, gems or even (god help us) more oil-the message is a simple one to decode: Feed Africans and they will make you lots of money. (Besides, the Chinese are already over there doing it.)

Wal-mart, says Bono, has already invested more than $2 billion in development in Africa. And while he consistently avoids talking specifically about the plans NAFSN has to tackle the poverty issue, he does say the efforts are “way, way smarter” due to “the advances in science and technology.” One only need to look at the companies funding the plan to read between the lines.

African countries have slowly begun opening the door to genetic modification in recent years. Just 40 years ago, African nations exported more than 1 million tons of food, but now, due to drought, war and famine, the continent must import more than 25 percent of its food supplies. And once staunchly resistant to the technology, countries including Kenya and South Africa now permit GMOs to help tackle their poverty and starvation issues. The multinational biotech companies, of course, see dollar signs all over the continent-not just in being able to sell peasant farmers patented gene technology and companion products-but also in the many resources Bono speaks to: Sixty percent of Africa is arable land, which could make it one of the premier biotech testing grounds in the world. What lies underneath the soil-the metals, minerals and oil-all have uses for the industry as well, from petroleum-based fertilizers to pesticide development and fuel for the trucks that transport and spray them.

If history is any indicator, what has happened to other areas of the developing world when genetically modified organisms are introduced as a means to sidestepping poverty, malnutrition and disease is no miracle. Hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers have (and continue to) commit suicide because of failure to meet crop yield expectations and therefore failing to pay Monsanto and Bayer CropScience for what is, effectively, a highly faulty product.

More than 5 million Brazilian farmers are currently in the midst of a lawsuit tangle with Monsanto over unrealistic royalty expectations on crops, including genetically modified soy and corn, which have quickly outpaced the growth of non-GMO crops in the South American country, but at a cost the farmers claim was misrepresented and unrealistic. Not to mention that the rapid growth of GMOs in Brazil have been intrinsically linked with irreparable destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the vital species and cultures that have thrived in the world’s most important ecosystem since it first sprouted eons ago.

Hybrid Monsanto seeds given to post-earthquake Haiti failed to produce crops and led to uprisings in the streets with protestors burning the faulty Monsanto seeds. Even here on American soil, farmers repeatedly find themselves struggling to meet yield expectations, battling Monsanto lawsuits over seed-saving or patent infringement if crops drift from neighboring farms, all while pests and weeds become more and more resistant to the harmful pesticides that the farmers were told they’d be able to decrease use of over time.

Over the last three decades, Bono has built a reputation as a humanitarian, an environmentalist, and a responsible artist. He helped build the ONE organization, which according to their website, is “a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.” He and his wife were pioneers in environmentally-friendly clothing (Edun) that encourages ethical trade in Africa, and even his band’s music has come to overtly encourage listeners to live compassionate, authentic, and joyful lives-overcoming personal and global transgressions together.

Intending to combat the extreme conditions in Africa-drought, blights, poor soil quality, etc-the NAFSN roster of corporations continually make claims that GMO crops can handle these very issues, when similar circumstances repeatedly prove otherwise. This is why it’s most confusing that Bono would be so vocal about supporting such controversial agricultural methods. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced support of biotechnology, it was disheartening, yes, but almost expected. The Microsoft guru is known for glitchy software and a generally geeky level of oversight.

But Bono was once the voice for the counterculture. He encouraged rising against the forces-political or corporate-that won’t ever really take anyone’s best interest to heart, no matter what kind of pandering they do. So why isn’t he supporting organic farming and the further development of empowering community models like Fair Trade-both of which have shown tremendously effective and long-lasting results-instead of faulty, toxic and greedy mechanisms like genetically modified crops?

In his TIME article, Bono writes, “If I’ve learned anything in more than 25 years of making noise about this stuff, it’s that partnership trumps paternalism,” but that’s exactly what he’s supporting: a paternalistic corporate-political blunderbuss of misinformation and misguided intentions. Bono once asked the anthemic question, “How long must we sing this song?” Longer still, it seems…longer still.