A bee expert from South Dakota is saying that he is being punished by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for his work studying pesticides and pollinators.
According to research presented by USDA entomologist Jonathan Lundgren, bees and monarch butterflies can be harmed by insecticides. Now, Lundgren is saying that the department is punishing him for his findings.
Lundgren is being defended by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Jeff Ruch serves are the executive director for the group based out of Washington DC.
Ruch said, “Once he (Lundgren) started publishing this work, he went from golden boy to pariah, and that’s what this case is about.”
Lundgren has spent 11 years working for the USDA. He has received consistently strong performance reviews, and in 2011, the USDA even named him their “Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist”.
However, once Lundgren began studying how insecticides affect bees and other beneficial insects, the department began changing its outlook on him. His work started receiving intense scrutiny, and the department suspended him.
According to Ruch, representatives from the pesticide industry pressured the USDA to keep scientists like Lundgren quiet. While Ruch has no proof that this is the reason, he is confident that further research will prove that Lundgren was targeted because his work was harmful to pesticide companies.
At the present time, pesticides are used throughout the world for both professional and personal use. It’s very possible that Lundgren’s findings would have been extremely detrimental to the industry.
If pesticides do indeed cause harm to butterflies and bees like Lundgren says, it is very likely that they could fall out of favor. Such insects are critical to the pollination of plants and the agricultural industry as a whole.
According to Lundgren, a leading USDA leading official at one point even told him to keep his mouth shut about the pesticides. Lundgren did not want to participate in an official interview for fear of more retaliation from the USDA.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the USDA says that the agency cannot discuss individual cases with the public. However, the spokesperson also said that it takes scientific integrity seriously and that it would review all allegations of wrongdoing.
Lundgren eventually filed an internal complaint within the USDA, saying that the department was preventing him from conducting research. However, the USDA simply dismissed Lundgren’s complaint.
In October of 2014, Lundgren was suspended by the USDA for three days after representatives from the department said that they found inappropriate emails among Lundgren’s research staff. According to Lundgren, these emails never existed, and it was just a big excuse to have him suspended.
Ruch added, “This is a scientist who has many prestigious journals publishing his work. He is invited to make presentations both nationally and internationally. If it was not the sensitive nature of his research, this would be somebody they would be promoting, not on the verge of terminating.”
Earlier this year, Lundgren again attracted the ire of USDA officials. The scientist produced a paper on research that showed that insecticides were harmful to the larvae of monarch butterflies.
While the paper was initially approved, officials later backtracked, saying that his research was “sensitive” and required further approval. Additionally, Lundgren was soon prevented from speaking at a scientific conference.
Then in August, Lundgren placed on a 14 day unpaid suspension by the USDA on the grounds of “blatant disregard of Agency rules and regulations”. According to officials, Lundgren has a “low potential for rehabilitation”. The officials even threatened Lundgren with a permanent dismissal. It was this threat that prompted Lundgren to contact the Federal Merit Systems Protection Board.
According to Ruch, these charges are over exaggerated and the punishment is disproportionate. These conflicts were about research, not the violation of rules.
For now, Lundgren will continue to defend himself, as most people believe that he did nothing wrong.