USDA scientists probing glyphosate and neonicotinoid insecticides should be offered greater protection as they are being harassed and their work is being "censored or suppressed," a letter to USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong, dated May 5, says.
The letter is signed by several green groups, including the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Organic Consumers Association and others. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and EPA Pesticide Re-evaluation Director Rick Keigwin also were copied on the letter.
Groups cite reports of a legal petition filed in March by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility advocacy group that "claims some scientists working for the federal government are finding their research restricted or censored when it conflicts with agribusiness industry interests."
The groups said USDA should conduct a thorough investigation about the reports of censorship, make it publicly available, and take necessary steps to ensure scientific integrity at USDA.
PEER, the group filing the legal petition, found that more than 10 USDA scientists "have faced consequences or investigations when their work called into question the health and safety of agricultural chemicals," the letter said.
According to a Reuters report on the petition, one USDA scientist said, "Your words are changed, your papers are censored or edited or you are not allowed to submit them at all."
The same report cited a USDA spokesman, who said the allegations have no merit and that the agency values the integrity of its scientists and the quality of their research.
The legal petition came just a few days after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, released new classifications for five pesticides, including identification of glyphosate as "probably" carcinogenic to humans.
Groups signing on to the letter asking for a full investigation addressed the ongoing discussion surrounding pollinator health by noting, "A growing body of scientific evidence has implicated neonicotinoids as a leading driver of bee declines and glyphosate as a leading driver of the destruction of milkweed, the sole food source for monarch butterflies."