See the French translation
Accusing someone of being a Monsanto shill is a serious claim that arouses strong emotional revulsion – I know, the Risk-Monger gets called this on a near-daily basis. Sometimes though, people who may in their heart of hearts think they are doing good things (Gaia’s work!) are actually so out of touch that they are working to achieve the exact opposite. Such is the case with the present campaign against glyphosate where Greenpeace, PAN and MEP Pavel Poc are in the process of having the herbicide banned. They will in fact be doing a great service to Monsanto (and other chemical companies), hurt the environment, farmers and overall public health (not to mention making food more expensive). According to my definition – they are shilling it!
“Mr Monger, please be serious – these people, especially Pavel Poc, hate Monsanto – they wake up every day with one single relentless thought: ‘How can I hurt this evil company today?’ – How could they possibly be shilling for the Big M???”
I understand that common sense is a rare commodity with individuals and organisations with single-minded campaign obsessions (and enough dogma to fuel a jet), but let’s try to put a big picture together with a bit of reality (and less emotion … ie, each time I use the word “glyphosate”, try not to get angry!).
Some counter-intuitive thinking (after the fact):
- Last year, glyphosate celebrated its 40th year on the market. It is an old technology that is off-patent (meaning that the 12 companies that sell it do not make a lot of money). Farmers save a lot of money and it has allowed farming to increase yields while reducing labour costs.
- Glyphosate has been called the herbicide of the century – keeping its efficiency over four decades with a remarkably low toxicity and benign environmental profile (even giving birth to the more ecologically advanced no-till farming movement).
- Any company that invests in research and development (in fields from pharmaceuticals to crop protection to IT) will likely have developed an innovation to any substance on the market within 5-7 years (one point being the innovation cycle – the other being to keep up with patent expiration schedules).
- After four decades, it is certain that companies like Monsanto have developed new substances to replace glyphosate. So why haven’t they put them on the market? Well, we can only assume (besides the expensive regulatory compliance process), that their profile is in some way less advantageous compared to what is on the market (ie, glyphosate). Maybe the farmers are happy with what they have. EU regulators will always favour the better environmental-health chemical profile regardless of the cost to the consumer or society, so we can only assume that glyphosate is still in that comparative sweet-spot.
- Any new herbicide that comes on the market will be tied to innovations in seed technologies. The farmers’ satisfaction with the efficiency of glyphosate-resistant seeds is likely slowing the rolling out of NBTs.
- What about those well predicted superweeds that glyphosate was supposed to cause? I know worrywarts like Michael Pollan and Greenpeace have been screaming for more than a decade that weed Armageddon is just a harvest away … but it has never materialised. And that is bad news for the crop protection industry because they are sitting on these more expensive (and less attractive) alternatives that will treat the most super of weeds – these are all ready for patent … but glyphosate doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It just keeps working!!!
- Has anyone else noticed that there has been no serious lobbying from industry on preserving the glyphosate authorisation? Besides a few ‘tsk tsks’ and ‘industry objects’ lines, industry has been watching the show. They have not acted badly, mind you … they have just decided not to act. With EFSA and the Institute responsible for the EU’s Risk Assessment (the BfR) so vehemently opposed to the NGOs’ and IARC’s abuse of science, defending glyphosate should have been a no-brainer to win. Even the Risk-Monger, in exposing an obvious conflict of interest and unprofessional behaviour within IARC, should have got more pick-up. Nobody cared!
In other words, it is in industry’s interest for glyphosate to be retired as the main herbicide and allow new (patented) products onto the market. But because of their ethical codes of conduct, companies cannot actively try to get a product removed from markets. Fortunately, NGOs and the organic industry lobby do not have such ethical codes of conduct.
Glyphosate is like that kind uncle who visits for Christmas – everyone is happy to see him … but then he just doesn’t leave!
Farmers meanwhile are thrilled to see Uncle Glypho and the gifts he brings. Every year glyphosate continues to work like a charm, has a low toxicity environmental-health profile, it is dirt cheap and works within a wide range of seed selections. The scientific community, except for the indefatigable Christopher Portier and the mystifyingly cute IT expert, Stephanie Seneff, supports the mountain of data built up to defend the risk profile of this herbicide of the century. So how can Monsanto get this sweet uncle to leave?
Along came the perfect opportunity: Environmental Defense Fund activist, Christopher Portier, recommended that IARC do a monograph on glyphosate and then he served as the working group’s technical adviser (and he is not even a toxicologist!). Nobody in the room protested and only the Risk-Monger thought this conflict of interest and IARC’s non-transparency and poor scientific behaviour worth sharing. Pick up was low.
Cue the Patsies
The Environmental NGOs like Greenpeace, HEAL and PAN took the IARC-wafting bait and ran flawless campaigns using the usual European Parliament “tools” and taxpayer budgets from MEPs like Pavel Poc who has been holding non-stop “hearings” on glyphosate – flying in activist scientists from all over the world. Anyone who disagreed (ie, credible scientists) was called a Monsanto shill and any scientific organisation that responded with the science was accused of secretly employing Monsanto shills or Monsanto science.
It was the perfect game-plan … perfectly executed: Uncle Glypho has been branded a child molester, ostracised and never to be trusted again.
The irony is that people like Pavel Poc (photo), NGOs like PAN, Greenpeace and HEAL have been running campaigns that nobody (except the farmers and some scientists) cared about. They were working with the same interests as industry. So with all of his political initiatives, Pavel Poc was, in fact, operating just like a Monsanto shill!
People in St Louis must be pissing themselves laughing so hard.
By the time the non-binding symbolic vote got to the European Parliament today, after all of the MEPs had their pee tested for traces of that evil pesticide (I really wish I were making this up!!!), no respectable MEP (even those with a little bit of knowledge on chemistry) would dare vote to allow farmers to continue to enjoy the benefits of this product.
So everyone is happy then – we got together, expressed our common voice and made the “bad thing go away”. Well … not quite.
What about the farmers?
The farmers will not stop using herbicides unless they willingly plan to go bankrupt – they will find (worse) alternatives to protect their yields and manage their soil or demand annual derogations on glyphosate. There will be an urgent push for a better option – maybe a weed crisis will help to rush through the authorisation of other herbicides that companies will suddenly be presenting.
What about the scientists?
Outside of a few celebrity “scientists” like Portier or Seneff, whose speaking fees will rise, most scientists will have a period of about 10 years before they get enough data to see how safe the alternatives to glyphosate are. They’ll have to move into other areas to have their research funded (could I suggest endocrine disruption … the NGOs are awash with cash for that battle!).
What about the consumers?
Well, they were never at risk. But now they will likely have to pay more for their food (also via taxes to compensate the farmers). Regulators will be able to claim that by banning glyphosate, they have solved the cause of autism, cancer and that evil leaky gut, so we can now reduce health-care spending and preventative measures.
What about the Risk-Monger?
I’ll finally have time to turn to other issues like getting to finish my “How to Deal with Stupid” series – I am already running training courses on it – with one more living case study of Stupid. People often wondered why I was the only one who bothered about this issue. First I was thinking of the farmers and how valuable herbicides have been to agriculture and society over the last 50 years. I also saw it as a perfectly executed, manufactured perception campaign against a benign chemical tied to some of the things activists hated (GMOs, pesticides, conventional farming) with a clear positive scientific consensus on the favourable environmental-health profile of glyphosate. If the NGOs and the organic industry lobby could take glyphosate down, they could do anything. The case study I have developed for policy students will hopefully help the next generation of policy actors learn from today’s Class of Stupid.
Somewhere tonight, Uncle Glypho is wandering along the dark streets in Strasbourg … alone, unloved and homeless. I would offer him some beer or wine but apparently it is drenched in toxins.