Next week, the European Council will consider the European Commission’s last-ditch compromise effort to reauthorise the widely used herbicide, glyphosate. It won’t go well.
I interrupted my ten-part blog-series entitled “How to Deal with Stupid” to pick up a living case study of “Stupid” in action with the European Commission’s struggle to push the glyphosate authorisation through. A year ago, I saw the issue of glyphosate as a perfect example of:
- the politics of fear trumping science (Chapter 1)
- with the power of social media pushing a non-issue to the fore (Chapter 2)
- throwing science and reasonable thinking off of the cliff (Chapter 7 … to be published)
- with the manufactured perception that we all accept the risks (Chapter 5)
- for the sake of an eco-theological dogma pursued by relentless zealots in the Green and Socialist parties, the environmental NGOs and the organic food industry lobby (Chapter 3).
As is often the case with the relentless force of Stupid, the European Commission has given up, abandoning the needs of conventional farmers and consumers, in order to maybe get an extension of 18 months (instead of 15 years, later compromised to 9 and then to 7 years), ostensibly to wait for the European Chemicals Agency to tell us what everybody already knows – that glyphosate is safe – but in reality, to wait until after the French and German elections in hope that the lunatics in those coalitions do not return to power or influence. The way French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal or the German SPD party environment minister Barbara Hendricks are currently pontificating, even an 18 month compromise looks unlikely – the activists smell weakness … and opportunity.
This is a sad day for science!
What do we know?
- The only study to have ever put the safety of glyphosate into question was the corrupted IARC hazard assessment which was greatly influenced under the non-transparent involvement of an activist from the anti-pesticide Environmental Defense Fund. No other organisation has since supported the conclusions of their politically charged conclusions – in fact EFSA, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the EPA and even the WHO itself have flat-out contradicted the IARC findings. The science is clear – glyphosate is safe!
- NGOs and Big Organic have abused the IARC hazard assessment findings over the last year to run a formidable, although ethically challenged, fear campaign. Knowing full-well that the facts and science do not support their objective, they looked the other way at the woeful conflict of interest in IARC and manufactured a perception of a risk to a beneficial and benign herbicide that has transformed global agriculture for the better for over four decades. Their motives were malicious:
- Deny conventional farmers a valuable tool in an attempt to make organic farming more competitive (and wilfully allow weeds to suck nutrients out of farm soil)
- Create regulatory doubt to ensure that no glyphosate resistant seed technology could ever be approved for use in the EU
- Cement a chemophobic culture by associating a widely used agricultural herbicide with their anti-industry campaign against Monsanto
Nowhere in any of these motives are the words: facts, science or integrity.
- Industry has alternatives to glyphosate, a product that has been off-patent for 15 years and earns them little money. They have not run a convincing campaign to defend the product (produced by 12 companies), because, quite frankly, there is no money in it for them. Once glyphosate is off of the market, they will be able to sell their more expensive, patented products. Only the farmers want to keep this “herbicide of the century” – happy with its use, its price and its efficacy. The NGOs don’t get that they have become Monsanto’s patsies.
- The European Commission has not shown the courage to go around the petty national politics to support science-based decision making. With the rise at the extreme ends of the political spectrum in certain EU Member States (the Austrian presidential election being the most recent example), the centre-left parties are fighting an erosion in their electoral base to green parties on the far left. Conventional farmers generally vote centre-right or conservative (or will from now on) and are not a political force in this debate. The European Commission should abandon the political mess in the Council and reauthorise glyphosate via certain internal procedural mechanisms, but they fear being accused then of being undemocratic.
- The reality, perversely, is that glyphosate is better for the environment than the organic alternatives (yet another contradiction of the pro-organic lobby). Environmentalists, obsessed with an unreasonable chemophobia, seem happy to burn the planet for their natural obsession. In my exchange with MEP Bart Staes, he criticised glyphosate as being a chemical plough. Given that organic farmers till their soil on average five to seven times a year to control weeds (with all of the CO2 emissions and machinery wear and tear), I am not sure that is a better option for the planet. With glyphosate, farmers have been able to develop no-till farming practices, reducing soil erosion, evaporation and disruption to the soil regeneration. Without glyphosate, organic farmers also use more destructive techniques like flame-weeding or more toxic (organic) chemicals like home-brewed salt, soap and vinegar. A recent experiment in a US town showed organic alternatives to glyphosate to be more dangerous, expensive, toxic and less effective.
So the point is clear. The European Union’s inability to reauthorise glyphosate is based on politics, crass activist opportunism, special interests from the organic lobby and an irrational chemophobia that is rapidly rising among a frightened population that only gets their information via social media. The policy scandal has not been based on science or trust in authorities (which is long gone). The alternatives for the environment, farmers, consumers and the general public are far worse.
In short, glyphosate is a prime example of a policy failure in the Age of Stupid!
Goodbye science-based decision-making!
Goodbye credible EU governance process!