A prominent agricultural researcher has filed a whistleblower complaint against the USDA. Jonathan Lundgren, etymologist and 11-year USDA employee, alleges that the government organization has tried to block his research into the harmful environmental effects of commercial pesticides.
The USDA suspended Lundgren for 14 days in late October. In response, Lundgren filed a whistleblower complaint with Merit Systems Protection Board alleging that his superiors began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications” more than a year ago. Lundgren’s research reports that the neonicotinoid pesticides, while offering no yield benefit to farmers, adversely affects bee populations. He has also been interviewed by the press about the potential hazards of genetically modified plants developed by agribusiness-giant Monsanto. In the complaint, Lundgren says his superiors asked him to stop talking to the media about these topics.
The USDA also ordered Lundgren to remove himself as co-author from a recently published scientific article. The paper linked federal mandates for ethanol production and genetically modified crops with several adverse consequences, including rising greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and the rising price for corn. The remaining author, Scott W. Fausti, acknowledged Lundgren anyway with the following footnote:
“I would like to acknowledge Dr. Jonathan G. Lundgren’s contribution to this manuscript. Dr. Lundgren is an entomologist employed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). However, the ARS has required Dr. Lundgren to remove his name as joint first author from this article. I believe this action raises a serious question concerning policy neutrality toward scientific inquiry.”
The USDA stated that Lundgren’s suspension in October was in response to two violations: release of information to a scientific journal without prior approval, and violation of official travel policies when Lundgren presented his research in Philadelphia and Washington. Lundgren argues the information given to the journal was not inappropriate and the travel violations were a result of a paperwork error.
In a statement, USDA representative Christopher Bentley said:
“We take the integrity of our scientists seriously, and we recognize how critical that is to maintaining widespread confidence in our research among the scientific community, policymakers and the general public.”
However, the USDA’s strong ties to industry and actions against Lundgren appear to contradict their stated commitment to scientific integrity.