In 2015-16, Glyphosate has become a big political controversy with very little scientific controversy. How is this possible in a risk world often depending on some degree of scientific uncertainty? One word: Monsanto!
The scientific community has been almost unanimous that glyphosate is the herbicide of the century. For more than 40 years, this low-toxic, highly efficient herbicide has allowed farmers to get higher yields, engage fewer manual workers, enjoy the environmental benefits from no-till farming and save money – it is off-patent. But Monsanto makes a lot of money selling Roundup Ready (glyphosate-resistant) GMO seed and that really yanks the NGO activists’ chains.
One activist scientist, Christopher Portier, squirreled his way onto an IARC Advisory Committee in 2014, which he then chaired and recommended an IARC study on glyphosate, and then served as the technical adviser to that IARC Working Group in 2015. This WG did what all IARC groups save one have done: conclude that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic. All of this with IARC trying to hide that Portier was acting on behalf of the Washington-based anti-industry NGO – the Environmental Defense Fund.
That was all the NGOs and organic industry lobbyists needed to launch a campaign that could defy the scientific consensus (reconfirmed after by EFSA and the German BfR) that glyphosate was safe. See the evolving story of IARC-gate below.
This blog assembles a series of ethical code of conduct breaches in IARC including how IARC’s Kate Guyton tried to suppress glyphosate panel members from cooperating with freedom of information requests; how IARC’s director, Christopher Wild, interfered with a US Congressional committee’s internal investigation; how IARC panel members were found to be meddling with US EPA research on glyphosate; and how IARC’s communication team displayed a series of unethical dirty tricks. As this blog went to publication, a study had just been published where ten toxicologists show how IARC’s hazard assessment is outmoded and inadequate. Conclusion: IARC is not fit for purpose!
This blog had so many issues. IARC always stated that they only use documents available in the public domain (as justification against EFSA and the BFR’s use of proprietary data from industry). I show in this blog how IARC could have used unpublished research in its glyphosate monograph as they do use confidential information in other monographs – they just chose not to. I then showed how the EPA’s latest report on glyphosate not only contradicted IARC’s findings but also concluded that every single publication the 112 working group relied upon was inadequate or misinterpreted. The blog concluded that the only way to get IARC to behave responsibly is for its member countries to stop funding the agency. Several days after this blog was published, the US Congress started to investigate if it should defund IARC. Coincidence?
IARC had always stated that their process was totally transparent (unlike those shills in EFSA and the BFR who respected industry’s proprietary data!). That is why I was astonished to learn how IARC instructed their US contributors to not share IARC discussions or allow information to be released under US transparency requirements. Ouch! Being a hypocrite has to affect one’s sense of integrity! To make matters worse, this blog also highlights how, for their big 50th anniversary, IARC did not invite a single person from the pharmaceutical industry. I suppose none of those scientists had ever contributed anything to cancer research. Hypocrite is a kind word to use in this blog of moral rebuke.
This blog looks at three things: How IARC has become badly politicised; how their science was so bad as to be laughable (I summarised a publication by Frank Dost); and questions how IARC functions as a WHO agency. I came to the conclusion that while the WHO recognised IARC 50 years ago, it is autonomous and not really part of the UN. This is an important point if we consider what action we can take to fix the wayward agency.
More than a year into the activist campaign against the herbicide of the century, I came to the conclusion that the politics in France and Germany were making it impossible for farmers to economically defend their fields from weeds. It was the victory of petty politics and self-serving idealists over science and reason – a perfect case study in the Age of Stupid.
When the WHO’s IARC had its glyphosate monograph pushed through by an activist working for the NGO, the Environmental Defense Fund, the anti-pesticide campaigners funded by the Big Organic all cheered. When the WHO and FAO published a report that dismissed the potential health risks from glyphosate, the activists all rejected it, screaming conflict of interest. This blog looks at how non-scientists can easily reject good research by Googling past affiliations. Worse, they turn their attacks into personal smear campaigns.
This blog looks at how activists from the USRTK like Carey Gillam pretend to be journalists and take a little information from mass spectrometry tests on minute glyphosate residues and try to turn them into big stories. It is malicious fear mongering, abusive and unethical. The main goal of hacks like Gillam is to create fear and destroy trust in conventional farming. That she wakes up every day and cashes in a cheque from the Organic Food Industry Lobby speaks volumes to her total lack of integrity. Legal disclaimer: That is just my opinion!
As the European Parliament was voting for severe restrictions on glyphosate, I thought it would be interesting to posture something counter-intuitive: Could industry be hoping for this widely used, but off-patent product to be taken off of the market. In 40 years, surely there are alternatives (more expensive and likely with a less favourable profile) but so long as glyphosate keeps doing the job at a fraction of the cost (and profit), then who would look for alternatives? In other words those brilliant NGO fear campaigns and strategic politicking by MEPs might just be doing the work for industry. Viciously ironic!
This blog shared exchanges between the Risk-Monger and Bart Staes, the Belgian Green MEP responsible for testing MEP’s urine for traces of glyphosate. I was protesting this stunt and suggested they also test the urine for more dangerous chemicals like alcohol and cocaine, but the correspondence then diverted into an interesting and open exchange about where agriculture should be going.
When I was asked to summarise the problems and transgressions that IARC had caused, in a single paragraph to an outsider, I realised how difficult and complex the scandal was. So I tried to summarise it into three main transgressions (not including the poor evidence and weak scientific methodology, nor the activist campaigning).
IARC has been meddling into politics since the release of their monograph in 2015, but nothing so low as to use an anti-industry attack journalist to directly attack EFSA on their behalf. This was the blog that Le Monde tried to censor and ultimately led to the end of my 16-year relationship with EurActiv.
The impact that herbicides have made on our post-war economy has been largely under-estimated. School holidays were timed in July and August so that children could add to the extra manpower needed to weed the fields. Replacing millions of manual workers with a few litres of herbicide released unseen human resources for other economic and development purposes. I was one of those child labourers but I would not like my children to have to work the fields. Unlike organic farm lobbyists, I am quite happy to keep herbicides.
IARC has not behaved like an international scientific agency within the WHO, but more like an NGO activist group. The glyphosate Working Group was driven by an activist scientist from the Environmental Defense Fund and since the publication, IARC has been attacking other scientific agencies that have roundly rejected their findings. IARC has been unprofessional, untransparent and unscientific. They need to retract their monograph on scientific and ethical grounds.
Glyphosate has been called the herbicide of the century. Around for more than 40 years, its low toxic environmental health profile and efficient results have made it a farmer’s ideal tool in fighting invasive weeds and increasing yields. As it is off patent, it is cheap and can be integrated into different agricultural technologies. No wonder the NGOs and organic food lobby get so crazy about glyphosate – it is so damn good!!!
The organic food industry has been propagating a myth (OK – they have been lying!) that organic farmers do not use pesticides. Sometimes they sneak in the adjective “synthetic”, but the reality is that while conventional farmers use highly tested and proven pesticides, organic approved (natural-based) pesticides are largely untested. Hypocrisy abounds in the Age of Stupid as the Risk-Monger’s Dirty Dozen shows 12 organic pesticides that are far more toxic than that evil glyphosate.
One of the reasons glyphosate is ultimately doomed is not the science that has supported it, nor its ability to continue to deliver efficient herbicide protection for farmers, but rather because of the total lack of ethical integrity found in the lobbyists behind the organic food industry and the environmental NGOs, not hesitant to attack conventional farmers, lie, set traps or accept their own hypocrisy. The crop protection industry is bound by their ethical codes of conduct; the organic industry lobby is not!
This is my first blog on IARC’s glyphosate monograph shortly after publication. A year later, we see how Portier has poisoned the well of cooperation between scientific assessment agencies. I also had forecast that given it was against a Monsanto product and there was no industry conflict of interest or non-transparency, nobody would really care. A year, ten blogs later and after being censored, I am glad I persisted!