CDC retracts widely cited study on farmer suicide rates

Last Updated Jul 2, 2018 5:54 PM EDT

A widely cited study of suicide rates for different occupations in the U.S. has been retracted as it may contain fatally flawed data, according to the federal agency behind the research.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention produced the 2016 study that showed the "farming, fishing and forestry" occupational group suffered a higher rate of suicide than any other occupation. CBS News covered the study when it came out (and in a story this week), as did many other media outlets, including NPR, The New York PostThe Guardian and Mother Jones.

But this week, the CDC retracted the study, issuing a notice about errors it said were found in the initial data. Among the errors, an agency spokesperson said, was mis-classifying farmers into the wrong occupation group, which resulted in the suicide rate for "farming, fishing and forestry" being overstated and the rate for other occupations being understated. 

Prior to the CDC's retraction,  The New Food Economy had questioned the data, noting that the category of "farming, fishing and forestry" excluded farmers and ranchers, who are classified as managers.

The true ranking of occupations will not be clear until the CDC completes its data analysis. "It could be completely different, or the conclusion could be the same, we just don't know at this point," another spokesperson for the agency told CBS News.

Farm advocates note that getting accurate figures on suicide remains "notoriously difficult." 

"Oftentimes farm suicides are reported as accidents," said Jennifer Fahy, communications director for Farm Aid. 

While the 2016 CDC study is the latest research considering suicide by occupational group, it is far from complete: It includes 17 states, and leaves out some large agricultural states, like Iowa.