Glyphosate: What the Zealots Really Wanted

Today we celebrate a hollow victory. The European Union renewed its authorisation of glyphosate for five years. The science was clearer than clear – the herbicide is one of the safest substances on the market. All but one research or regulatory agency gave glyphosate an unequivocal approval (and that one, IARC, was seriously conflicted and corrupted). For 40 years farmers have relied on glyphosate (off-patent, inexpensive and effective), giving them the means now to develop sustainable farming with no-till and complex cover cropping. Glyphosate is indeed the herbicide of the century and the very thought of banning it seems absurd.

So why couldn’t the European Commission renew glyphosate for 15 years as originally planned? As the science was clear, then the regulatory risk assessment process should have been simple. But it was never about the science, facts or data. It was never about the benefits to farmers, the environment and consumers. It was about something much larger.

The European Commission was dragged through regulatory hell for 30 months on this dossier for many reasons and it had better clean up its process. While glyphosate may have been a regulatory watershed, it has become a benchmark for the zealots to push harder on the coming policy dossiers. The Commission survived this Age of Stupid exercise, just barely, but the activists have a larger strategy in place and this process has pushed them closer to their goal.

What did the zealots really want?

Destroy the EU Regulatory Risk Assessment Process

The EU regulatory risk assessment process is meant to be evidence-based. It relies on a gathering of all available research data and scientific advice to allow for a clear decision based on science (usually via committees). Where data is insufficient, the industries involved with the substance or technology need to provide or produce further data. If a new drone technology is developed, for example, in order for the manufacturers to put the product on the market, they would need to provide the relevant European Commission research agency with the required data to properly advise the European Commission on how to manage the risks. If there is insufficient data or the evidence is questionable, the risk assessment agency may reject the authorisation and advise for precaution.

In the case of the risk assessment process for chemicals and pesticides, producers need to regularly provide data and produce evidence to keep existing substances on the market and mountains of research (in many cases, over 10,000 pages of data requirements) to register new substances. The burden of proof is on companies to prove that the product is safe. Industry follows GLP – good laboratory practice – a series of quality practices to ensure that all research is reproducible, consistent and uniform. The role of the regulator is to ensure the data provided is correct, consistent and without data gaps. The research cost burden is put on industry – in most cases they have the best scientists and the most advanced technology – as they stand to benefit from the introduction of their innovations.

With glyphosate, the activists claim that the forty years of data provided by industry and  the 3300 studies could not be trusted, quite simply because there was one company involved, Monsanto, which has become the source of their irrational rage. In the Age of Stupid, that seemed to be enough to want to scrap the entire European risk assessment system. I can’t believe, in an intelligence-based society, I actually wrote this paragraph.

gillam and portier
Partners in crime, literally!

This absolutely ridiculous argument has been propagated by anti-industry opportunists like Martin Pigeon, Marie-Monique Robin and Carey Gillam who all share an unhealthy obsession against Monsanto. What’s outrageous is that the scientist Pigeon and Gillam cooperated with, Christopher Portier, was secretly being paid by law firms who would profit nicely from lawsuits against Monsanto should this triad of trepidation succeed in trashing the European risk assessment process. That they knew about the conflicting interests of the law firms to create doubt and anti-Monsanto sentiment, and continued to work with these non-transparent predatory lawyers, speaks volumes about their lack of moral character.

If they had succeeded in destroying the EU regulatory risk assessment process, what would these zealots have proposed instead?

Institutionalise a Citizen-Science Risk Assessment Process

Activists like Pigeon call for the present risk assessment process to be reformed by excluding all industry research. This is in line with IARC’s monograph policy that pretends to reject considering non-published data, but this irrational distrust of industry creates severe limits on data and evidence. How would this lack of expertise be addressed?

I hear groups like CEO, PAN and Friends of the Earth often talking about expanding publicly-funded research. This is naive since the taxpayer should not have to pay for the costs to guarantee their safety. So I then hear claims that industry should pay the regulatory agencies to conduct the research. Of course if industry is paying for the punch-bowl, they should have a say on which scientists should be involved in these studies. Well, that’s where we are now and I suspect Saint Martin would have a hard time accepting that.

What these eco-fundamentalist groups want, ultimately, is an increased role for citizen science (crowd-sourced or community-led science).  While there is nothing wrong with the public being involved in the scientific process, having citizens and non-experts leading the research is somewhat troubling to those wanting evidence-based policy decisions. Citizen science is what Jackie McGlade, the disgraced former head of the European Environment Agency, now the chief scientist (???) at UNEP, is arguing for. But what is citizen science about?

Smartphone technology may allow apps for amateur bird watchers to better record sightings but such cases of citizen science is random and anecdotal … hardly the quality to base responsible regulations on given the calibre of today’s research technology. There is no “good laboratory practice” with volunteers of amateur activists testing water or crowd-sourcing data and samples for groups subject to bias and crowd-led campaigns.

Citizen science assumes the rejection of the superior knowledge of the expert. They feel experts are biased either by funding or a post-modern dependence on some paradigm which may not be certain (and thus not valid). So for these new-age enlightened campaigners, the expert’s contribution to such debates is not worth very much. When you hear people moaning about today’s decision to renew glyphosate, many of them are saying this was undemocratic, and the people, the citizens, want the herbicide banned. So in a democracy, the people know more than the toxicologists, chemists, plant-biologists and agronomists on the safety of glyphosate.

This is literally insane! Would we reject the pilot or the aviation mechanic and trust a randomly chosen volunteer to fly my airplane simply because he or she has no affiliation with an airline? Would we let a democratically-selected activist operate on my liver? Yet environmentalists and naturopaths are demanding the citizens’ voice take the lead on agriculture, food production and pharmaceutical decisions. How did they get so jaded?

had no experiece working on glypho prior to 112Indeed, even the leading scientist for the anti-glyphosate “people’s movement”, Christopher Portier, a statistician, admitted he knew nothing about glyphosate before attending the IARC expert panel that started this whole sordid affair. Who needs experts today when everyone has PhDs from Google University? Chris could figure out how to link glyphosate to cancer during that week in Lyon, and spend the next two years being the activists’ darling in the campaign to screw Monsanto, science, farmers and consumers. And hey Chris, the money was good!

So in the zealots’ warped world, citizen science, as the base of a new European regulatory risk assessment process, will see activist campaigners heading EU advisory panels with a select group of organic hobby farmers randomly counting bees or earthworms while industry research is excluded and university toxicologists and plant biologists sidelined. This is pure madness. The activists’ objective is to ban all agri-technology so they really don’t care about the consequences. Only in the Age of Stupid.

With glyphosate, despite the obvious evidence of the experts, despite the environmental benefits, despite the overwhelming value to farmers compared to alternatives, these activist zealots came within a hair’s breadth of achieving their goal to discredit research and undermine the European risk assessment process. They used relentless social media fear campaigns, victim-mongering, personal bully attacks on scientists and science communicators, open fabrication, innuendo and deception. And these little liars will do it again and again until they achieve this goal.

A Perfect Storm of Interests

Clearly the activists had the perfect storm with glyphosate. So many other interests collided over the last two years, with new trans-Atlantic partnerships of vile opportunists and silos of slime forming into armies of intolerance, including:

  • Anti-GMO American carpetbaggers salivating at removing the chief motivation for farmers to benefit from Roundup-Ready maize and soy by manipulating the European precautionary handicap.
  • American class-action lawyers seeking to exploit the EU’s hazard-based regulatory approach to create a confusion over the safety of public health exposure to profit from lawsuits against industry.
  • Anti-industry activist groups from both sides of the Atlantic have united flush with funds from the burgeoning organic food industry lobby seeking to incapacitate conventional farming and create market-friendly conditions for their unsustainable agricultural production process.
  • An alarming scientific ignorance at the heart of the European Commission. Many of the activist groups involved in pushing their anti-evidence agenda were involved in removing the post of EU Chief Scientific Adviser just three years ago.
  • Agroecologists have been pining to return Europe to a pre-industrial Malthusian paradise, and banning the use of agri-technology was their first important step. Having their lunatics in charge of the European risk assessment process would have been the icing on the cake! Not just yet.

These zealots will live to fight again, stronger, emboldened and convinced of their righteousness. The present European Commission will be unable to resist their next wave of emotional manipulation and deliberate deception.

This week I will be in Germany to speak at a conference on endocrine disrupting chemicals. There will be zealots in the room. I do not plan to hold back any punches.

The battle continues.

Image source



56 Comments Add yours

  1. Ben Edge says:

    I’m surprised there are no farmers’ groups suing the EU for abandoning the 15-year approval process. Is that not the legal process?


    1. riskmonger says:

      There was another piece to this insanity puzzle that I did not want to get into here, and that is the desire of Juncker to reform the Comitology process. He was likely willing to let the glyphosate process fail to push his reform measures. So by letting the process go from 15 to 10 to 5 was trying to show how broken the system had become. Few people had expected the vote to pass today. In a normal world, the PAFF would have stalled at 15 years and left to the Commission to decide in cabinet.


  2. Well, it will be awful to get back on the merry-go-round in 5 years. But by then we will have had enough time to expose the cranks. Their data is actually getting worse (when they have some). Conspiracy theories will not age well, especially for Ms. Gillam’s tome.


    1. riskmonger says:

      I’m afraid that the campaign for a full ban by 2022 has already started.


      1. AlainCo says:

        In France it is planned for 2020.

        what will be next… #facepalm


  3. AlainCo says:

    what shocked me is when on TV, BFM TV , a not so leftist TV, they repeated the “it is because of Monsanto lobbying”…
    None of them is even aware of Portier/IARC conspiracy (it is a conspiracy because few people worked a secret against common good to make something happen).

    Wh can besiege the TV journalist to make them aware of the story.
    There should be happening moments similar to the one of the green lobbyists, but will they relay it?

    our media system is corrupted.
    teven the most business freindly TV, relays the media files of green lobbyist without even checking.

    some people says the journalist are corrupet, working for thei shareholderd interest, or just trying to make money by selling paper, click or airtime…
    No they are not at all corrupted by money, by capitalism, by their selfish interests or their boss…
    If so they would cover happily this sexy conspiracy, full of evidences, of money, sexy like a White-House TV serie.
    In fact they are just lasy, for some (I suspect it is the case for BFM TV, of Le Figaro who discovered the latest good glyphosate study in a French blog), or corrupted by ideology like Le monde and other journactivists.

    the other point is they are egotic, and don’t want to admit they have been fooled by their friends, that Monsanto is a just a not perfectly honest busienss, and that greeen are just sacred cows who as any sacred cows in any theocracy, abuse of their impunity to imcrease their power and control the masses.

    You may find it funny, to play the devil, and I thank you for that, but I don’t find it fun any more.
    I have no interest in farming other than eating, I’m not poor so I will be able to eat foreign food, if not emigrate.
    But after having seen the green destroy the nuclear energy with myths (LLNT…), then GMOs, shales, the neonics, then glyphosate,
    seen them push deadly food like organic fool (remember E-coli shigatoxines with no chaneg in regulation), deadly energies like intermitent renewable and thus coal and gas… see them impoverishing, and starving, emerging countries with stupid green regulations, instead of waiting them to be rich enough to sustain hurricanes and drought with concrete houses, gasoline generators and irrigation…

    It seems that even when you have found this huge scandal, something very pleasant for a tabloid, nobody is catching the subject…

    You seems as impopular as a guy who caught the religious lords of a theocracy in a sex orgy.

    Now you next goal will be to find someone enough greedy and independent to dare to spread that scandal, because all “honest” people have been fired.


    1. riskmonger says:

      Thanks Alain – I think glyphosate is a watershed for so many reasons. The media is repositioning itself, often as campaign organisations. Industry seems to be abandoning the regulatory process. It is no joke about the lobbying here – seriously, no joke because there is none. Monsanto is no where to be found here and outside of an ECPA campaign at the Parliament, there has been little lobbying going on.
      But there is reason for hope – several high-level actors in DG Santé tweeted yesterday how fed up they were with the activists. Perhaps that is the biggest watershed – that the NGOs have lost any credibility they had enjoyed. In five years, the nature of the game will have changed.


      1. AlainCo says:

        Sorry for typos, I’m in panic.
        My way is to integrate information, and what I caught is no more a theory, a bet… I panic. They will destroy my life, in a decade.


      2. riskmonger says:

        Je dois faire une page multilangue . pour diminuer la pression sur Seppi!


      3. Jopari says:

        But there is reason for hope – several high-level actors in DG Santé tweeted yesterday how fed up they were with the activists. Perhaps that is the biggest watershed – that the NGOs have lost any credibility they had enjoyed. In five years, the nature of the game will have changed.

        Yeah, most comments under the Planète section of Le Monde show an unsatisfaction of the way Horel and cie are writing about questions such as agriculture and nuclear power.

        And such stories can no longer be buried; one day, a journalist will publish some of the facts behind the present glyphosate crisis. On 1972, Richard Nixon was unassailable from either the Democratic party or his.


      4. riskmonger says:

        Does Le Monde have an editor for the Planète section? Some of the information that passes for journalism on those pages is sadly laughable!


      5. AlainCo says:

        as far as I’ve heard comments, Foucart is editor of Le Monde Planete

        One big problems I’v noticed since 2009, is that today the Environment, Science, are same section, and often Health/Environment/science, if not energy/environment in some specialized media.

        It is as if Law/Politics/Religion were in same section…. not absurd, but this mean something about the power balance in the country.
        Today Science/Health/Environnement as one is a reality… but science is only a name, it is only “good science” which is considered.


  4. John Droz says:

    As a physicist and a citizen advocate, I’m supportive of the “citizen science” concept. That said, IMO 99% of the public has little idea as to what “Science” actually is. We need to fix our education system — and particularly the Science education part. At that point it would be more applicable, and more beneficial, to have greater Science participation by citizens.


    1. riskmonger says:

      I have no problem with the public engaging in science – I spent around ten years working on programmes to encourage that from schools to PUST (at least 15 projects – five where I was in the lead). In the early 2000s we started to see a dramatic decline in the level of science being taught in schools, in the mainstream media and in the policy arena and it has since worsened to an alarming level as you mention.
      But if policies are to be decided on evidence, then that evidence has to be top quality – not citizen led.


  5. ian says:

    Well alot of the Media here in Germany appear to be unaware of any controversy re IARC in the coverage regarding the upcoming groco talks .


    1. riskmonger says:

      There is a lot of frustration that the media have only picked up the pro-IARC NGO position – cancer fear sells and the activists invest in media relations.


  6. Giovanni Tagliabue says:

    David, what do you think about the detailed justification given by Portier regarding his conflict of interest? See
    Keep up the good work!


    1. riskmonger says:

      I got into that a bit in my last blog – that Portier was essentially hired by the law firms to work with CEO to deliver doubt on EFSA’s position. His waiting around period was due to the lack of progress CEO was making getting access to all of EFSA’s proprietary documents (until Bart Staes and other MEPs leaned on the authority). His analysis that showed 8 tumours that had been overlooked was the main outcome then of 160,000 USD. That letter to Juncker was hardly a good investment (not bad for CEO though!). I suppose they had higher “hopes”.


    1. riskmonger says:

      Ah, the tyranny of the alternatives! If it is a natural-based product that is fine, but if the market increases dramatically then they will have to find a synthetic way to produce it, meaning a registration process which people like Macron obviously have no idea what that involves.


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