The Risk-Monger

Memoirs of a Monsanto Shill

See the French translation

I have stopped reading newspapers.
Not because of all of the stories raising fears about chemicals, cancers, industry domination and planet devastation, but because of all of the horrible things I am finding out about this Risk-Monger character. If half of the stories about him during “glyphosate fear-surge week” were true, I definitely would not want to meet that chemical-loving little bastard! In fact, something must be done to stop and silence him.

The absurdity of the court of accusation

Mr Monger, you most definitely must be a Monsanto shill. I mean, why else would any sane person support pesticides, GMOs and conventional agriculture when our organic food will save the world? You obviously must be paid to say things that disagree with my world-view. And that means only one organisation … the one that is systematically paying everyone off: scientists, journalists, government employees … and bloggers!

This wasn’t due to my past search history. Almost everyone got this!

When some activist group sent a circular around their networks that I was a threat to their campaigns, it became imperative to them that they link me to Monsanto. How else would they be able to discredit me? So they searched … and they searched some more. They searched so much that after a certain time, Google noticed and it became a connection they could predict. I had my Facebook followers search my name and see how far into my last name they would need to type before Google suggested “David Zaruk Monsanto”. Most results were between the ‘a’ and the ‘u’. That is proof enough! I am indeed a Monsanto shill.

There was a 14-page report against me, prepared by some organisation called (Dis)Qualify your Sources. The main news from this report was the gotcha “Thank you letter” from the European Crop Protection Association (I had moderated a session for them back in 2004).  It seems Monsanto is a member of this trade association!!! That is proof enough! I am indeed a Monsanto shill.

Two weeks ago, there was an attack piece against me in EurActiv. A young, freshly graduated journalist was manipulated by the NGO “enforcer”, Civil Society Europe, to position me as the mastermind behind the effort in the European Parliament to stop all funding of NGOs (I really wish I were making this up). The first version of the EurActiv hack-attack said I wrote articles for Monsanto. A day later, this accusation was corrected (by whom?) to say “Zaruk has been interviewed for Monsanto’s blog, which quoted him in support of Glyphosate”. A glyphosate supporter??? That is proof enough! I am indeed a Monsanto shill.

I read a piece yesterday in the French newsmagazine, L’Obs, that wanted to show how Monsanto was controlling the world through their networks of lobbyists. Strangely though, the article only focused on me and the retired person who translates my blog into French. Grâce à lui, I am apparently loved in France (making the Risk-Monger a modern-day Jerry Lewis!). I had given an interview to the L’Obs journalist, Caroline Michel, who seemed to want to learn more about glyphosate and farming. This was a false pretense; her intentions were to paste me as the face of Monsanto lobbying in Brussels. She admitted to me that no other pro-industry person wanted to talk to her so I suppose I was all she had to portray Monsanto’s Brussels band of lobbyists (what a snake!).

Seriously, you had to blur and darken my photo? Et tu Caroline???

So how did Ms Michel prove that I was working for the big bad wolf? Well, I wore a red tie to her interview (oops, what was I thinking???). Once again, I wish I were making this up. And, here it comes, the biggest gotcha of all: I am on a mailing list to a biotech news-feed that is produced by someone who used to work for Monsanto (some 20 years ago). To make the connection even more unassailable, there were only two photos in that skunky little diatribe in L’Obs: one of Monsanto’s CEO, Hugh Grant, and the other of that scoundrel, The Risk-Monger. They even blurred and darkened my photo to make me look sinister. That is proof enough! I am indeed a Monsanto shill.

There were other attacks on me this year trying to link me to Monsanto (see a blog where my youthful Monsanto experimentations got into the wonderfully curious minds of Le Monde’s two Stéphanes: “Are you, or have you ever been a Monsanto shill?”).  How much of a threat am I to the organic food industry lobby’s campaign to ban the herbicide of the century? I’m blushing now, given that I have been quite ill this year and have not written on glyphosate since early May (and then only partially). Then again, it is well-documented that facts don’t matter to this pack of wolves!

So here’s where the Risk-Monger’s at. He wears a red tie, receives news feeds from a communications company headed by someone who had worked for Monsanto some 20 odd years ago. He moderated an event in 2004 for a trade association which includes Monsanto in its membership. He allowed himself to be interviewed by a consultant writing for the Monsanto news-page (and Monsanto even shares his blogs).
In the witch-hunt world of Monsanto show-trials, that is enough to paste The Risk-Monger as Public Enemy Number 1.
In the social media campaign world of Monsanto haters, repeating these tidbits thousands of times, with a few friendly activist journalists, serves as evidence enough!

You just can’t make this shit up

The absurdity of all of this is that I can’t understand how someone decided I was a threat and then managed to raise my standing to such a level that so many newspapers are running out of ink attacking me. Have I become the activists’ patsy? Their straw man they needed to erect to show their funders they are achieving great things? At least I am keeping them occupied with hunting me down instead of attacking someone of substance and significance.

I mean, seriously!!! I am just a low-level communications professor coming out of retirement to keep millennials interested enough to get through a two-hour lecture with me. I live in the unfashionable side of a village next to the Brussels Airport and write these little blogs out of a dusty basement. I am lucky enough to make my train or my mortgage payment on time. But to the organic food industry lobby, I am “evil incarnate”. You just can’t make this shit up.

Fortunately I don’t take myself seriously at all (what I had called the “key to happiness” in a presentation I had once given). Those who know me in my private life, my classrooms, my church, the civil society organisations I give my time to … watch all of this with disbelief. I reassure them: “I’m fine. In fact, I’m enjoying this.”

As a communications professor, I find the research opportunities incredibly valuable. I started the Risk-Monger character eight years ago when I was asked to give a course on social media to journalism students. I have watched the character evolve along with social media and continue to study how things work with this essential communications tool (frankly my Age of Stupid observations scare the hell out of me!). Now the personal attacks on me in the main newspapers have become a living lab that I am bringing into my classroom.

So please keep attacking me – this case study is valuable for all of us.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

OK – I must be a Monsanto shill … the arguments are so convincing. After retiring from active work in 2006, I don’t need the money, but I decided it would be fun to pretend to be what my trolls and the mainstream media had been trying to make me out to be. So I started to tease my judge and jury. I posted on Facebook that I had made a comment on a panel about my daughter learning to drive. The next week I discovered a brand new car in my driveway.

Then I said I had called up Monsanto CEO, Hugh Grant, and asked him for some money (come on now, I’ve got kids in university!). Nothing! My trolls didn’t pick up the ball and run with it (not even on Russia Today). Anti-industry chemophobes don’t work according to a “fact or evidence-based” narrative. They make their coin raising doubt, innuendo and uncertainty – that’s all their campaigns are built on. So my coming out of the shill-closet and putting the facts on the table was housed in a language they couldn’t understand. Activists and gurus don’t improve their standing by attacking an enemy who doesn’t run from them – they crave my outrage, not my amusement.

I realised then how I am providing an essential service to these single-minded activists: my very presence provides order to their simplistic, binary (bipolar?) view of the world; a world ordered into good (them) fighting evil (Monsanto … and by extension, now me).

Humanity has always sought the face of evil – an enemy to rally and unite a tribe. Our loss of Christian faith left Satan no longer with the power to mobilise the masses. After “we” defeated the Nazis and the Soviet Union, having enemies around proved to be useful for political purposes. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, we began the search for a new face of evil (but Darth Vader wasn’t real). Radical Islam has provided this service for around two decades, but the left and the Greens rightly felt there was something wrong about hating a religion of peace. They needed something more “corporate” to hate … something that could literally get inside of us and, if not stopped by our heroes in white hats, could cause us a slow, painful death. Monsanto played into this role perfectly and the company’s very existence mobilised the self-important zealots to go to war. But this ultimate source of evil needed a face in Brussels where the first battle was about to take place.

I am humbled by how much these activists need me to serve in this designated role! I suppose I have to learn how to run so they can give chase and be fulfilled.

An utter state of madness

Monsanto was not just an evil company, it was pure evil. This created the means for opportunists to build their own brands and reputation by fighting this iconic dark side. We could all feel good about ourselves every May marching against Monsanto and strengthening our dogma, boycotting them, making and watching low-budget lobbumentaries against them, creating some sort of fictional international kangaroo criminal court with a paid “Tribunal” trying Monsanto for a new abstract crime against the planet.

Somehow we had forgotten that this was just a seed company making products that farmers used and appreciated. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that this single mid-sized corporate entity is able to control governments, scientists, journalists … Monsanto has used its militants to get inside of our brains.

How the hell did we get to this utter state of madness?

Suddenly, I had a “Leave Britney Alone!” moment. I started looking at Monsanto in another light: as a persecuted victim of a raging mob with pitchforks. The Risk-Monger decided to take an unpopular stand.

Bart Staes and the Denial of Dialogue

How slime attracts victims and makes a case in the US

It was not simply a few leftists, anti-trade anarchists, green activists or organic-industry opportunists taking their swings at Monsanto – if it had been so simple, we could have continued to ignore this loud-mouthed minority.

International governments and agencies realised they could get into this game. A WHO-recognised agency, IARC, allowed an anti-Monsanto activist scientist to come in and abuse the monograph process to lead an attack on Monsanto’s main herbicide substance, glyphosate. The dubious conclusions of this “UN agency” (what became known as IARC-gate) were enough for the class action lawyers in the US to come in and litigate Monsanto’s ass off, gaining access to thousands of internal emails. The law-firms’ minions at the organic-industry-funded lobby group, US Right to Know, poured over the emails for the smallest of details they could then exploit in some shock and awe shitstorm on the company we all love to hate. Everyone had a book to publish and an axe to grind!

With a whiff of suspicion, activists fabricated their scandal by giving it a name: The Monsanto Papers. This created the opportunity for Monsanto to be hauled back before the court of public opinion. Given the failure of last year’s Monsanto Tribunal, Belgian Green MEP, Bart Staes, who had been at The Hague, decided, with a few other Greens, to create a public hearing in the European Parliament. It was set up like a witch-hunt show trial with testimonies from activists like Corporate Europe Observatory’s Martin Pigeon and USRTK’s Cary Gillam – two lobbyists who have made a career out of undermining trust in industry. Seeing the pitchforks and the motivation of the participants, Monsanto politely declined the invitation (there was, after all, no legal summons) and wished them well.

This was no doubt expected, and with the counsel of American carpetbagger lobbyists like Carey Gillam (who seems to be flown into Brussels too frequently on EU taxpayer money to advise European Greens on how to ban glyphosate), the European Parliament banned all Monsanto employees from entering the European Parliament. What Staes and others essentially are saying to Monsanto is that we disagree with you, and since you will not let us verbally attack you on our terms, you have no right to speak or engage in the democratic process.  This regrettable action was more like a twitter block from a silly, angry little troll – not something representatives of European democracy should be proud of.

This is a denial of dialogue and a regrettable form of dictatorship by an angry political mob looking to score some points from the angrier mob they have radicalised. This group of punks and zealots in the European Parliament has decided to silence those with whom they disagree, those representing research and agri-technology, those providing services to EU farmers. How is this democratic? It looks to me more like a fascist, strong-arm tactic used in 1933 than something that a party committed to openness and freedom would do. I asked MEP Bart Staes for more details, particularly on his actions with, and funding of, the American anti-Monsanto lobbyist. He declined to reply (maybe I should ban him from Casa Monger!).

Monsanto is not only the face of evil, it is now a scapegoat to enrage the mob and allow unscrupulous opportunists to shut down our democratic dialogue process.

Have we become a mob-driven society?

No matter what you think of Monsanto or any other company; no matter what you think of certain political actors and parties, of researchers or journalists; no matter what you think of people on the other side or trolls who have been created to personally attack those they disagree with; no matter what you think of some insignificant blogger living outside of Brussels … the minute you try to ban, block, silence or remove them, you are denying dialogue and silencing democracy. You are embracing fascism and feeding the mob.

I am aware this is unpopular. The mob has made it hard for anyone to stand up for something they don’t agree with.

I decided to stand with Monsanto, not because I am their shill, but because I think the mob has got out of control.

I’m not afraid of the mob … I am afraid of what the mob is doing.

So I did something unpopular. I got up to stand with Monsanto and against the mob. OK trolls, take your best shot! You know you really want to!