Recent Articles About Pesticides

Update (2/19/2016): As part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) will analyze the impacts of atrazine and glyphosate—two of the most commonly used pesticides in the U.S.—on 1,500 endangered species. Under the agreement, announced today, the USFWS will also develop conservation measures for these and two other pesticides, which together represent almost 40 percent of annual U.S. pesticide use.

The state of California has been working to list atrazine—the United States’ second most-widely used herbicide—as toxic to the reproductive system under the state’s Proposition 65, which requires public warnings to be posted when and where such chemicals are used. Now, a court decision coming as soon as January will determine how the state will move forward with the listing. Read more

Update: On Janury 28, 2016 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision, effectively putting the herbicide — and the new generation of GMO crops it was designed to be used with — back on the market.

 

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made an unusual move—it changed its mind. In a legal ruling, the agency said it would revoke its approval of a controversial new herbicide called Enlist Duo, which combined the weed killers glyphosate (Roundup) and 2,4-D.

The EPA had approved the Enlist Duo just a year earlier, despite considerable public opposition and “grave concerns” from about 50 members of Congress. Made by Dow AgroSciences, Enlist Duo was specifically formulated to be used on corn and soybeans genetically engineered to resist it. And although it was initially approved for use in only six Midwestern states, the EPA extended that approval to an additional 10 states this past spring. Read more

When parents spend the extra money to feed their children organic food, it’s often in hope of keeping the overall amount of pesticides in their bodies to a minimum. (If you’ve seen this popular video of the Swedish family that made the switch, you know what we’re talking about.) But a new study by a team of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that diet is only part of the equation, especially for kids who might be exposed to insecticides at home or pesticides from agricultural fields nearby. Read more

On a cool November day in 2009, farmworker Jovita Alfau was transplanting hibiscus as she’d been instructed in a section of Power Bloom Farms and Growers nursery in Homestead, Florida.

As she pulled up the seedlings from the pots, she began to “feel dizzy and weak, experienced numbness in her mouth, and vomited,” according to a complaint she would later file against her employer in federal district court in southern Florida. Read more

A senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed a whistleblower complaint on Wednesday accusing the federal agency of suppressing research findings that could call into question the use of a popular pesticide class that is a revenue powerhouse for the agrichemical industry.

Jonathan Lundgren, a senior research entomologist with the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service who has spent 11 years with the agency based in Brookings, S.D., said that retaliation and harassment from inside USDA started in April 2014, following media interviews he gave in March of that year regarding some of his research conclusions.

Lundgren’s work has included extensive examination of a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, which are widely used by U.S. farmers to control pest damage to corn and other crops, helping protect production. The insecticides are sold in forms that both are sprayed on plants or coated on seeds before they are planted. They are also used on plants sold by lawns and garden retailers.

Lundgren is the first to file a formal complaint since questions arose recently about the scientific integrity of research by USDA scientists. The talk has dogged the agency for the last few years and some critics complain that scientific findings on a range of topics are suppressed if they contradict the interests of powerful corporations.scientist pesticide

USDA declined to comment about Lundgren’s case or his specific complaints. But in a statement, the agency said it takes the integrity of its scientists’ work seriously.

“We recognize how critical that is to maintaining widespread confidence in our research among the scientific community, policy-makers, and the general public,” the statement said.

Neonicotinoids are a particularly sensitive topic because some scientists have linked them to dramatic declines in honey bee colonies, which help pollinate roughly a quarter of the food consumed annually in the United States.

The agrichemical companies that sell neonic insecticides, such as Bayer AG, BASF, Syngenta AG and others, have said other research shows that neonics are not the problem, and they have been actively lobbying lawmakers and regulators against limiting use of neonics.

Neonics are a key part of a growing global insecticide market projected at roughly $15 billion in revenues.

Lundgren and other scientists have raised questions about both the effectiveness and environmental safety of the insecticides. Research has linked “neonics” to the demise of Monarch butterflies and honey bees, in particular. Two research reports by Lundgren concluded that farmers received no yield benefit at all in using the costly neonic seed treatments.

After Lundgren spoke out about some of his findings, USDA managers blocked publication of his research, barred him from talking to the media, and disrupted operations at the laboratory he oversaw, according to the complaint filed with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board Wednesday. The filing follows an internal complaint Lundgren lodged with USDA in September 2014.

“Dr. Lundgren’s case underscores why legal protections for government scientists are sorely needed,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which is providing legal services to Lundgren in his whistleblower action. “Bureaucracies under political pressure from corporate stakeholders routinely shoot the messenger, even if they are wearing a lab coat.”

Lundgren declined to comment about the filing.

PEER filed a legal petition with the USDA in March of this year, stating that the agency needed to strengthen rules to protect its scientists from internal censorship, “political suppression or alteration of studies.”

Documents supplied by PEER show that the USDA deemed Lundgren’s internal complaint to be without merit, and in August of this year the agency suspended  Lundgren without pay for two weeks. It was his second suspension in the past two years. The agency cited violations of travel procedures and failure to follow supervisory instructions as reasons for the suspension.

USDA said Lundgren’s submission of a manuscript on neonic harm to Monarch butterflies for publication in a scientific journal violated supervisory instructions. Lundgren’s supervisor told him the manuscript was “sensitive’ and would require elevated levels of approval, the documents show.

This article originally appeared on the Harvest Public Media website with a slightly different headline.

Photos from top: 1) Bees surround a hive, courtesy of Shuterstock. 2) Jonathan Lundgren, an entomologist with the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, is  alleging the agency suppressed his research on neonicotinoid pesticides. (Photo courtesy USDA)

At the base of the Truchas Mountains in northern New Mexico, Melanie Kirby and her partner, Mark Spitzig, operate the Zia Queen Bee Farm and Field Institute, a queen bee breeding and production business. Their 250-some hives dot the canyons, deserts, and alpine meadows along the Rio Grande Valley. They call their bees “survivor stock,” a term that is growing in the industry, but which has no official definition. Generally, survivor stock refers to bees that can survive without pharmaceuticals and can defend themselves against pests like the varroa mite. Some bees may be genetically resistant to varroa, while others have hygienic behaviors to keep mite populations in the hive under control. Read more