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USDA cancels webinars on neonicotinoids and pesticide risks

News release: “Web-based training sessions about powerful new insecticides seeping into some of the continent’s most sensitive wetlands were cancelled by a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture official due to its subject matter, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER is characterizing the cancellation as another example of USDA interfering with the release of new science-based information about adverse effects flowing from neonicotinoid (“neonics”) pesticides. As a result, growing ecological risks posed by the most widely used insecticides in North America will likely not be considered in developing USDA policies, planning or management practices. On June 2, 2014, a nationally advertised webinar entitled “Pesticides and Potholes: Understanding the Risks of Neonicotinoid Insecticides to Aquatic Ecosystems in Prairie Canada and Beyond” was nixed on orders from Wayne Honeycutt, Deputy Chief for Science and Technology for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). A companion webinar on the efficacy of neonicotinoid seed treatments and practices to minimize adverse impacts on pollinators and other non-target organisms was also scrubbed. The cancelled webinars were part of a series addressing priority training needs identified by NRCS and partner biologists. Without elaborating, Honeycutt declared in an email that “these topics were not appropriate for an NRCS sponsored webinar. Extending across the upper Midwest into southern Canada, the prairie potholes are one of the world’s most important wetland regions, home to more than half of North American migratory waterfowl. NRCS devotes considerable resources to wetland restoration in the region. Yet, drainage from surrounding cropland carries increasing amounts of ultra-potent neonics that threaten the health of the region’s aquatic systems. “Neonics are apparently a taboo topic for USDA scientists to discuss,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to widespread complaints by USDA scientists of reprisal for research at odds with the agribusiness agenda. “This episode suggests political science essentially trumps biology, agronomy and every other discipline inside today’s USDA…”

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