The Union of Concerned Scientists has fought for scientific integrity for nearly twenty years – that is the ability of federal scientists to speak about their scientific work free from interference and censorship to help inform the public. We have many examples of scientific integrity violations across the last four administrations that have resulted in harm to the public. But somehow, each time there is a new case I can’t help being a little bit shocked. I don’t think I am being naïve, but I still have a hard time accepting that people will intentionally and directly suppress scientific information when it can cause real harm. Well, maybe I am naïve.
But now they are hurting our dogs (and cats). It has been reported that Seresto and other collars (e.g. Hartz Mountain) containing dangerous pesticides approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been implicated in 1,700 pet deaths and 75,000 cases of animal harm.
E.A. Crunden at Energy and Environment News reported at the end of last week that managers at the EPA prevented scientists from speaking out about the evidence that these flea and tick collars are harming dogs (and cats). There was little subtlety. According to the article, the manager told scientists, “It would be inappropriate for you to respond in your official capacity and express your personal opinions.” The staffer fired back and noted that that manager had been part of efforts telling staff “not to express our concerns about Seresto in emails” presumable to shield information from becoming public through Freedom of Information Act requests. This despite EPA’s Scientific Integrity policy that specifically allows scientists to speak about their scientific work in their official capacity and as experts.
Even so, the EPA has let its approval of the products stand, despite repeated requests from scientists in the agency to adhere to the evidence, reconsider its approval and save the dogs (and cats). The Center for Biological Diversity obtained the internal communications under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Silencing government scientists causes harm
I fully admit to being a dog lover (I even like some cats). And to my outrage over this case. Why would a manager prevent scientists from speaking out about evidence of harm? No doubt the companies (Elantco and Bayer) will continue to be defensive. A Google search brings up this information:
“Is Seresto harmful to dogs?
The pest-preventing chemical in the Seresto collar is designed to stay within the oils and oil glands of your pets skin, with no to minimal amount of absorption in to your pets body, which generally makes them very safe with few systemic reactions.”
Amazon gives the collars a 5 star rating. I am sure the manufacturers are pleased. But as the FOIA revealed one of the EPA scientists was concerned about the Amazon ratings. “I hope this time someone can blow the lid off this travesty. Still nearly perfect scores on Amazon! I had to dig to get to a negative review on the product when I looked several years ago and the most helpful positive review from purportedly from a vet who used it on his 3 dogs…”
Despite what Google and Amazon might say, that’s not what EPA scientists report. And, of course, all of us with dogs (and cats) can only rely on our vets – whose information comes from the companies–and the places that sell these products. That’s the very reason why the public must hear from the scientists at he EPA. We need independent science, not marketing.
So yes, violations of scientific integrity cause real harm. Yes, there should be consequences for the managers that suppressed information at the EPA. Yes, we need to listen to the scientists in the agency, not just the company with a vested interest in selling these products. You hurt my dog, there should be hell to pay.