When Activists Pretend to be Journalists: Stéphane Horel and her Monsanto Rage

See the French version

I used to teach courses for journalism students (during the time when that was a field of study and a viable profession). I concentrated my lessons on integrity, objectivity and proper research. Journalists had to ask fair questions, be open to all ideas and report information to allow readers to make up their own minds. They should not be driven by an agenda or a personal need to communicate an activist message.

If Stéphane Horel were a journalism student of mine, she would fail.

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Stéphane Horel (Source:Huffpost)

A month ago, I got a list of questions from Stéphane for an article she was preparing on Monsanto. Her questions were leading and McCarthyesque (Are you or have you ever been a Monsanto Shill?). As Stéphane’s obsession with attacking the chemical industry is legendary, she has rejected my offers of contacts with neutral scientists and has no problem with twisting facts to suit her agenda or those paying her to write activist campaign material disguised as journalism, I decided to answer her questions on the condition that I could publish my response after the publication of her article.

Please find below my responses to her questions. It would be good to compare what I told Stéphane with what she decided to cherry-pick and what she decided to ignore (if it did not confirm her prejudicial bias). I gave her an enormous amount of information – no doubt a real journalist would be grateful for all of the sources and information available so that she could provide a more objective presentation of all of the information. You be the judge!

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How Stéphane Foucart keeps an open mind on twitter

There were a few ethical lapses in Horel’s “journalistic” approach (outside of the built in bias and single-minded agenda). She did not inform me about the nature of the article, that there were to be a series, and that there would be a co-author: another anti-chemicals campaigner who pretends to be a journalist: Stéphane Foucart (who is even more of a fundamentalist zealot than Horel). We have all seen how Foucart’s fearmongering is anything but journalism.

I closed my correspondence with Ms Horel with the following points about what I perceive as her lack of journalistic integrity:

A few observations about the nature of your questions Stéphane:

  • You are not talking at all about the science on glyphosate.
  • You did not ask me what would happen to farmers when glyphosate is banned.
  • You seem to be looking for dirt in order to harm people personally. I know you have been funded by supporters of the organic industry (CEO takes a lot of money from Adessium), but I don’t attack you personally about that.
  • You are not asking me what I actually do – you just want to try to hurt me (I am not sure why, and what you will gain from that).

So let me ask you one question in return: Do you think you are a good person, and do you think attacking people personally will make you respected by the general public? I guess what I am trying to ask you is: Why are you such a mean person?

 

Which leads to the obvious question: If Horel and Foucart are obsessed anti-chemicals lobbyists well entrenched in the anti-industry, anti-trade activist community publishing campaign literature rather than news, then what does that make of their paymaster, LeMonde?

My response to a Neo-McCarthyist inquisition:

1–You have written around 20 texts or blogs about glyphosate/IARC in the past 2 years. Did you receive any remuneration for this work or did you do that on your free time ?

I did not receive a penny for my blogs on glyphosate!

I know that so many people have been looking for some link and have found nothing – they must feel gutted. I am regularly having “researchers” trying to hack into my pages and going through my digital trash (old charity pages on FB). If I had received anything for those articles, you would have found it by now!

You have a bias built into your question Stéphane: that anyone who supports industry or technology developed by industry must be paid by them. I fear you think that no one in their right mind would possibly support something you don’t support (unless they are paid) – this is how a fundamentalist zealot thinks (sorry) – such dogmatists cannot go outside of their fixated mindset (eg, that all people want organic food) and cannot imagine people disagreeing with them (unless they are a shill and paid by industry). I get people attacking me on social media every day (including by you and some of your friends like Foucart and Pigeon who share this narrow-minded bias) – there is an unwillingness to accept people with other ideas – that is a myopic, dogmatic mindset that I strongly fight against because it is dragging us far from a world of dialogue and into the Age of Stupid.

So let me open your mind (if you are receptive to thinking openly … I know, I know,  but I am an optimist!): I did indeed write 20 blogs on glyphosate (about ten of them before anyone else noticed there was a scandal). Did you read them? Did you see how Portier and IARC tried to hide that he was working for an American NGO – the Environmental Defense Fund? Did you understand how the rest of the scientific community has rejected the IARC hazard assessment? You talk about the Monsanto Papers like it covers all of the scientific views when in reality it was one consultant trying to brag about what they could do. Consultants like to brag and build themselves up (read Chris Rose) – don’t you find it funny that of the tens of thousands of Monsanto emails released by the court, that was the only thing they could find. Shouldn’t there have been an email about Monsanto giving me money? Can you accept that?

So why did I spend so much time on this subject. First, what the activists are doing against glyphosate is morally repugnant. American carpetbaggers are running campaigns in the EU to ban glyphosate as part of a bigger battle against GMOs. And they are ready to lie, create totally stupid fears (glyphosate levels in beer and wine in the part per billion range – how about the carcinogen level of the alcohol?) and use anti-industry scaremongering to hurt conventional farmers … why? To make organic farming more able to compete – which is why big organic is funding so many of these attacks. IARC was manipulated by activists without any conscience or moral compass and the NGOs have run a brilliant fear campaign. And since glyphosate is a product used by Monsanto, no one in the media cared or showed any interest in fact-checking. Until the scandal of my blog getting shut down, the media could not have cared about the scientific impropriety and abuse of the EU policy tools (thank your meddling friend, Stephane Foucart for that – his manipulation of the weak and gullible EurActiv editor was the best thing to have happened to me and to this story).

What gave me energy was the support I received from farmers – there are very few voices in Brussels defending their interests and how glyphosate is vital for their farming. I grew up on a farm during the 1960s – as a child I had to pull weeds all summer. Herbicides have changed the way farmers work, allowed them to increase yields with fewer workers. Read my blog on this: I suspect you don’t really know much about farming (don’t worry, most activists don’t – they think if they can grow a few beans in a window box, so can everyone else – and they have the temerity to think they can then lead the debate on how our food supply works). Without glyphosate, not only will weeds get out of control (blackgrass is a serious threat), but so many good ecological practices will be lost. See my video series on conservation agriculture – how farmers are protecting their soil from wind and water erosion through no-till practices, how they are restoring the soil nutrients through complex cover crops. They cannot do this productively without glyphosate. Compare that to organic farming that tills five to seven times a season to control weeds or takes land out of service for two to three years to rejuvenate the soil. Look at these techniques carefully Stéphane. If you don’t understand how farmers use these products, sorry, but you have no right to write on this. You would just be spreading ignorance.

So good people who work hard farming are seeing an essential product taken out of their crop-protection toolbox by a band of narrow-minded activist zealots funded by the organic industry who know nothing about farming and have bellies full of rage towards industries of which they have no personal understanding, … so I suppose to answer your question Stéphane: Why do I write about this? Moral outrage seems like an appropriate answer.

2–Have you ever received any instructions or requests from other parties concerning this writing?

I have visited quite a few farms and spoken with a lot of farmers. I organised an event called Voices from Farmers during the ridiculous PR stunt called the Monsanto Tribunal (half a million euros from the Organic Consumers Association – they could have helped so many people with that money – instead they paid off Vandana Shiva’s outrageous speaking fees!). On the science of glyphosate – there is a lot out there – when I did my Dirty Dozen (twelve pesticides approved for organic farming that are far more toxic than glyphosate) all of the information is available online. All you need is an open mind and a search engine, ie, not thinking that every scientific study is funded by Monsanto (I can’t believe I have to take the time to say that, but this is an example of how stupid this debate has become).

3–Do you have or have you had any relationship, direct or indirect, of a financial or of a non-financial nature, with Monsanto or organizations in link with Monsanto (CropLife, American Chemistry Council, consulting or law firms Monsanto employ etc.) in the past 2 years ?

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Are you or have you ever been a Monsanto Shill???

I have had three contacts with Monsanto – none of them financial (unless you have an issue with a cup of coffee).

After I published my blog accusing Pavel Poc, Greenpeace and PAN of being Monsanto Shills, I got a call from Brandon Mitchener who was their PR/com director in Brussels. In the blog I showed how Monsanto was not seriously lobbying to protect glyphosate because it was off patent and, after 40 years on the market, they had an alternative product, with a higher margin, that they wanted to promote (with a new line of herbicide resistant seeds). As long as glyphosate worked, had a good environmental record and was a cheap alternative for farmers, their newer, patented product would not be an attractive option. So people like you and Pavel Poc are doing Monsanto’s work in helping to get glyphosate taken off of the market. Think for a moment – have you seen any serious lobbying activity in Brussels to keep glyphosate on the market? If you attend any events in the Parliament, I am usually the only one speaking up. Brandon’s phone call to me was to politely ask me to not pursue this line of thinking and to reassure me that Monsanto is interested in keeping glyphosate in the farmers’ crop-protection toolbox. We agreed to disagree.

Since I had Brandon’s number, I called him back a few months later. I was preparing my Voice of Farmers event just next to the Monsanto Tribunal and I discovered a story about a wonderful Indian farmer by the name of Ganesh Nanote who uses Monsanto’s GMO cotton seeds and is very happy with the results – he is now able to farm well on his small family farm in India and use fewer pesticides. Ganesh thinks that most of what Vandana Shiva says is pure bullshit. Before I decided to have Ganesh speak at my event, I wanted to make sure he was not working for or associated with Monsanto – Brandon assured me he was not.

During that call, I did ask Brandon how they planned to respond to the Tribunal PR stunt – he said they were ignoring it. Don’t you find it odd Stéphane that I was the only pro-GMO voice who decided to go to The Hague to attend the “People’s Tribunal”, I bought a ticket with my own money and the night before the event, they rejected my ticket and at the event, physically dragged me out of the conference hall. Are you proud to be associated Stéphane with a mob that refused to openly listen to a simple blogger or engage with someone who thinks differently from them? These are your people Stéphane, so please tell me if you agree with them. Honestly I found it hilarious that they felt so threatened by me and quite pleased that my presence had managed to upset such a large event organisation.

My third contact with Monsanto was about three months ago. Vance Crowe, the Monsanto Director of Millennial Engagement, who follows me on twitter, was in Brussels and wanted to meet me. As a professor who speaks “millennial”, I was curious to meet someone with a title like Director of Millennial Engagement, so I met Vance for a coffee. It was a wonderful meeting and I urge you, Stéphane, to have a coffee with Vance – I urge anyone who has an interest in food safety and seed technology to have a coffee with Vance. He will listen to you with an open mind and is open to a reasonable discussion – I feel sorry for him because so few people give him the respect and kindness that he gives to others but he deeply believes in the good things biotech is capable of achieving and if you could put aside the bias and hatred in your heart, Stéphane, a meeting with Vance would really open your eyes. Nothing came from the meeting except my sympathy for the challenges of trying to get narrow-minded zealots to listen to reason and my respect for his efforts. I hope to meet him again someday – perhaps have him speak at a coming event I organise.

Outside of that, I have had emails from FTI  in Washington (whom I think work for ACC) about my writings on IARC – they were asking me for information and links. I have never met them, and as my readers know and appreciate, when they write me, I respond (even if they are critical of my views).

More than two years ago, and this one hurts me a lot because it shows how malicious you and your band of associates can be, I was associated with an event put on by CropLife in the US. I had just finished the Boston Marathon and had friends in the DC area that I was visiting. CropLife was interested in having me give a keynote at their annual science conference (I give a lot of keynotes and I enjoy them). They wanted me to tell the story of how the activists tried to manipulate the science to run a campaign against neonicotinoids. This is the famous BeeGate story I exposed. The section of the conference that I had spoken in was sponsored by Syngenta, but in the US, that merely means that the company paid for the coffee and snacks for that part of the event. The speaker before me during that event was the director of an organic pesticide producer owned by Bayer so I am pretty sure Syngenta did not pay for him to speak either. Now your friend and sometime employer, Martin Pigeon from Corporate Europe Observatory, took that programme to conclude I was working for Syngenta. I corrected Martin during a twitter swarm where you, Martin and Stéphane Foucart were verbally assaulting me (I have screenshots of the insults you were hurling at me) but Martin is not really interested in the truth. After repeatedly correcting him, I asked Martin Pigeon to apologise (and even considered taking the little shit to court). A year later, his suppliant at Corporate Europe Observatory, Nina Holland, during another personal attack on me on Dutch radio during the Monsanto Tribunal (seriously, I am not that much of a threat!), once again spread the lie that I was working for Syngenta.

These people at CEO lie openly to hurt others – I know Stéphane that they pay you to work for them (although CEO also lie when they then state that you are acting as an “independent journalist”) so you will defend them, but seriously, think hard about the moral fibre of those you associate with. Last month I even invited Martin Pigeon to come to my university to present another view towards the western economic system to the marketing faculty (because, as I said in my email, I feel my students should be exposed to other ideas outside of the pro-business textbooks). Sadly, Martin refused. Three years ago, I bought Martin lunch – I still have the receipt – hoping that I could reach some means of open dialogue with him. Martin does not believe in dialogue and openness. If you share Martin’s lie about that conference, Stéphane, you know full well you will be a liar.

4–In July 2016, you met ACSH’s Hank Campbell in the US. What was the purpose of this visit? What is you relationship with ACSH?

Edited in Lumia Selfie
Hank and I trying to figure out how to take a selfie!

Hank was outraged when my blog was censored and then shut down – influenced by Le Monde (and another friend of yours: Stéphane Foucart who is more interested in his activism than in presenting a balanced view on health and environment issues) and Hank kindly reached out to me offering to host my blog on his site. I declined, but we opened up a conversation about how Europe had become so ignorant about basic scientific facts (like neonics and glyphosate). Hank is the founder of Science 2.0. We considered the need to set up a Science 2.0 Europe in order to share ideas from European scientists on important issues (for example, in France, not many people actually agree with the nonsense spread by the soon to be unemployed Ségelène Royal). Hank hoped I would be willing to serve as editor in this project. I agreed with the need to improve access to science and set up a multi-lingual website for European scientists to share their views, but I am also old school – I wanted to personally meet Hank first. During the summer I was taking my son on a road-trip along the US east coast, so when we were in New York, I dropped in to have a coffee with Hank. We even took a picture that we posted on twitter just to “make the NGOs apoplectic”. If we were planning world domination Stéphane, would we have posted our picture on social media? I am amused that you took the bait. I assume you are part of one of Claire Robinson’s secret NGO circles sharing information about people like me and I am thoroughly amused that you waste so much time on a lowly blogger operating out of a dank basement outside of Brussels.

Because I have been unsuccessfully battling a painful disease, my health has been too poor to follow this project up (we never talked about money – I was willing to do it for free), but I firmly believe Brussels badly needs a voice for regulatory science. I am hoping to find someone else to pick this project up.

As for ACSH, I have no relationship with them (although I understand their reprint of my 20 Reasons not to Feed your Family Organic blog was the second most highly read article in 2015). I respect the work Hank has done in reorganising ACSH and am fed-up with the bullshit spread by Organic Industry paid lobbyists like the USRTK using old documents to try to discredit Hank’s work. Once again, Stéphane, do you really want to be associated with professional liars?

5–What is your relationship with Genetic Literacy Project?

I have no relationship with the GLP – I have never met Jon Entine or anyone else involved with the site. If I publish a blog related to their audience, Jon contacts me and asks if he can reprint it (that is actually quite nice – most people just reprint my blogs without letting me know). I have no say in how they edit the blogs but I do sometimes engage in debates and discussions that evolve from their reprints. The GLP tries to encourage debate on GMOs and other plant protection issues – I have often seen them publish critical articles against the industry. They want to encourage open debate. I am sure, Stéphane, that they will publish your present article on glyphosate (they may even help you translate it) in order to help share your views among the scientific community. But, that implies that you are confident enough that your views can stand up to the scrutiny of scientists involved in research. Too often the NGO community attacks the GLP instead of engaging in debate. Like me being banned from the Monsanto Tribunal, not only do I find that cowardly, but also against open dialogue (and a bit fascist, no?). So where do you stand on that issue Stéphane – are you interested in open, honest discussion, or like those in CEO and USRTK, only interested in attacking and insulting people? Are you a drive-by assault activist, Stéphane, or a journalist?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Michiel says:

    Exelent blog!! Just wow, you could not have responded in a better way!

    Keep up the good work,

    Michiel

    Like

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