Monsanto Tribunal: Research on the Testimonies

See the French translation

When we were in The Hague on 14 October for our Voice of Farmers event, the farmers, March Against Myths about Modification NL volunteers and myself decided to go to the People’s Assembly to engage in some “rational discourse”. What we found were what I could only consider the lunatic fringe of the environmental movement: the anti-vaxxers, chemtrailophobes, hippie commune “farmers”… all bowing to the zealot gurus who were there to talk about themselves.

Bringing up the rear of the activist movement

A telling sign that we were in the Land of the Lost in front of the People’s Assembly in The Hague was that mainstream environmental NGOs like Greenpeace avoided this event – not speaking at it, not participating, not promoting it. Even the March against Monsanto was strangely silent on social media, but I suppose they are upset about not getting part of the €500,000 Ronnie Cummins honeypot! Maybe the half million euro event budget was too small for the big NGOs to get out of bed for!

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Eco-warrior Che AloeVera

Ronnie Cummins (see photo) has used this event to cut an international profile of himself – part eco-warrior, part Sugar-Daddy to a cabal of small campaign groups, activist scientists and angry pseudo-journalists around the world. Using his base as “Commander-in-Chief” of the American Organic Consumers Association, Cummins, in his signature beret, led his troops from the front.

The Company We Keep

The way to judge the credibility of Cummins’ Army is to look at the nature of the witnesses he has assembled for his final assault on Fortress Monsanto. The witnesses assembled include cases other courts had thrown out, scientists who had their papers retracted, victims with claims that can in no way could be considered anything other than anecdotal. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure these victims truly believe that Monsanto has done them harm, and it has caused them great emotional stress but subjective associations can only be taken with a grain of salt. Anecdote, no matter how many times it is retweeted, is not evidence.

The team of volunteers at the March Against Myths about Modification NL understood the situation:

  • The claims of the witnesses were of a very poor scientific quality.
  • The Tribunal was set up as a kangaroo court; there was no doubt that the point of their little exercise is to manage a clear guilty verdict.
  • Industry would not get involved (there was no point legitimising a sham publicity stunt).
  • Some people, including journalists, could be duped by the fake tribunal (the organisers also brought along their own journalists and film-makers).
  • If no one provided a response to all of the ridiculous claims, then the activist’s would get their money’s worth.

So they compiled research on the witnesses and their claims. They are available in the following four documents and a narrative blog. These documents are meant to be freely available for any journalists wishing to do a balanced job reporting on the fake tribunal. It is highly critical of the quality of the witnesses and claims because, frankly, the quality is dismally low!

Monsanto Tribunal Research: Section on Impact on Soil and Animals, Biodiversity mt-impact-on-soil-animals-biodiversity

Monsanto Tribunal Research: Section on Impact on Farmers, Stakeholders mt-impact-farmers-stakeholders

Monsanto Tribunal Research: Section on Impact on Human Health mt-impact-human-health

Monsanto Tribunal Research: Clausing (late additional witness) mt-impact-stakeholders-clausing

Narrative blog of the research

The following are some of the more salient points taken from the raw data:

  • Take for example the Australian lawsuit of organic farmer Marsh v Baxter (his neighbour). Marsh sued Baxter for contamination of his fields with GMOs. Essentially there were only eight canola stems on his property. The case was obviously thrown out and the GM farmer essentially had a stronger case to sue Marsh for pest infestation from the organic farm.
  • The Human Health section of the Tribunal has numerous examples of birth defects linked to mild, casual exposure to pesticides (anecdotal correlation studies). While babies born with birth defects are tragic and quite emotional, they tend to be random phenomena.
  • There are witnesses attacking Bt cotton use in Burkina Faso and India, claiming lower yields, harder times for farmers and market domination by Monsanto. The reality is that Burkina Faso’s record yields increased by more than 50%.  India has seen Bt cotton farmers’ profits also increase by 50%.
  • There are claims by Séralini that the retraction of his paper is the result of a great injustice led by Monsanto. One would almost forget how he treated and abused the media with his publication embargo, how he skewed his studies with his methodologies and the funding for his research. Yes, poor Séralini.
  • There are cases of conflicts of interest throughout the Tribunal witnesses, including Litzenburg who is both a witness and a lawyer representing claims against Monsanto on glyphosate. Huber and Séralini also had conflicts of interest, but why did the organisation not consider that such witnesses would discredit the entire process?
  • If one would read Huber, Pederson or Dunham, you would imagine that all pigs would be born with two heads. Like any deformity, it is a rare, random occurrence. Basing your conclusion on an unsubstantiated correlation with traits in animal feed is simply not scientific.
  • Most of the stories on how Monsanto put pressure on stakeholders is simply not relevant or factual. It is understandable that some people are upset and emotional, but how is that a legally relevant charge?

I am not going to judge the costs, motivation or the ethics of the Monsanto Tribunal in this blog (that one is coming soon) save but for one comment. I think the most absurd thing about the Monsanto Tribunal is its hypocrisy. Here we have the organic food industry lobby putting its competition on a fake trial. Sort of like Samsung contriving a fake tribunal against Apple. Some of the Organic Consumer Association’s members, like Whole Foods Market, have similar sizes as Monsanto. The Monsanto Tribunal is essentially the organic marketing industry pulling off a €500,000 marketing stunt. The activists in The Hague attacking big business have not quite realised that they themselves are mercenaries for a big marketing business?

What is it that I call this again … ? Oh yeah, the Age of Stupid!

5 Comments Add yours

  1. amoretti88 says:

    Reasoning like you’re reasoning, if I find a single one of your argument wrong, then the rest should fall, isn’t it?
    Here you are:
    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/5-reasons-monsanto-tribunal-agriculture/blog/57701/

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    1. riskmonger says:

      Thanks for this Amoretti – I am not sure why you think my argument will collapse because you found a blog released on the eve of their event. It is hardly a full engagement- they had no speakers, no people there … I was speculating why – I think GP is having issues with the GM debate, but that is not a tight reasoning, that is me wondering what is going on. Always curious to have other people’s perspective on this – if you think it was normal for them to not have speakers, then OK, you have no interest in my curiosity.

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  2. Brian Carroll says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks for all you do and for covering this circus! I was curious, do you know for sure that Whole Foods is a member of the OCA? I would be surprised as I know the OCA are very openly critical of Whole Foods on a number of issues. Just wanted to get my facts right! Cheers, Brian

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    1. riskmonger says:

      Thanks for the kind comment Brian and the question. As you know, OCA is anything but transparent – they claim they have thousands of suppliers and retailers as members, but no membership or sponsorship page. Back in 2009 – 2010 there were the lawsuits and Organic mafia claims, but the two were working together by 2011. I haven’t seen anything since to indicate bad blood, but indeed I drew the comparison on an assumption that few companies would have such deep pockets to fund half a million for an event. That Whole Foods is essentially the same size as Monsanto just squares the circle.

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