Global food supply chains are complex and therefore quite vulnerable to errors or fraudulent activity. A company in Chile repackaged and falsely labeled cheap raspberries from China, reselling them as top-level organic Chilean raspberries in Canada. These raspberries were linked to a norovirus outbreak in Canada, sickening hundreds of people. A whistleblower complaint helped to uncover this fraudulent scheme that posed a significant risk to human health.
A group of industry stakeholders in sustainable agriculture, environmental, beekeeper and public interest groups are call for reform at the USDA. In a letter sent to Doug Banner, scientific integrity officer at USDA yesterday, the coalition of more than 50 organizations ask for reforms to the agency’s scientific integrity policy. “The agency must prohibit suppression and alteration of scientific findings, employ clear and enforceable procedures for conducting loss of scientific integrity investigations, assure transparency and consistency in the administration of policies, adopt strong protections for scientists who file misconduct complaints, and participate in misconduct investigations when scientists and their work face interference. These actions are needed to ensure that USDA scientists can properly do their jobs.”
A recent article in The Washington Post details the story of USDA Entomologist and whistleblower Jonathan Lundgren, who has attributed the rapid decline in honeybees to the overuse of pesticides and the lack of crop diversity. Lundgren filed a whistleblower suit last fall, claiming he was suspended to prevent his research on the harmful effects of pesticides on pollinators.
According to a news release from Friends of the Earth: “An internal scientific integrity review panel at the USDA recently rejected the complaint of scientific suppression by Lundgren, claiming that agency had not violated its scientific integrity policies. In February 2016, USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong said the USDA will open a broad investigation into the issue of scientific censorship, but did not specify whether the investigation would be made publicly available.”
The USDA, which outlines its scientific integrity policy on its website, has not released a public statement addressing the coalition’s letter.
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