In 2015-17, Glyphosate became 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. But there was another actor in this story with even sharper teeth and deeper funds.
Fast-forward to 2018-19 and we can see the slimier side of this story. American tort law firms, including the two firms who financed Chris Portier’s activities, are extracting billions of dollars from tens of thousands of lawsuits representing plaintiffs who allegedly contracted cancer from glyphosate (based solely on the evidence provided by IARC). I provide a glimpse into how scientists, funded by tort law firms, use IARC as a staging ground not only for a lucrative career as litigation consultants but also empowering them to go around the regulatory process and provide an alternative “legislation by lawsuit” approach.
See the evolving story of IARC-gate below (the most recent article first).
This exposé reveals four scandals within IARC that delegitimises the entire agency. Based on a series of emails between a well-known American scientist and Kurt Straif, IARC’s then head of the Monograph Unit, this article shows how scientists funded by US tort law firms lobby and influence which monographs IARC prepares based on the number of potential plaintiffs their law firms could mobilise. IARC directors are aware of how their monographs are designed to be used in US courts (often as the only scientific evidence) and are complicit. The IARC glyphosate monograph followed the same playbook.
Glyphosate is placed within a larger picture of how activists have managed to kill the EU dialogue process, tracking the evolution in stakeholder engagement from the 1980s to the silencing of science and the role of expertise in today’s EU policy debate. This rather long article ends with the revelation of how a group of activist scientists tried to silence me by having me fired.
The US House Science Committee invited the IARC director, Chris Wild, to attend a hearing into IARCgate and Chris wrote an offensive, mendacious letter telling the agency’s most important funder to go screw themselves. This article reads through the letter showing the different types of lying an agency director is capable of: diversion, misinformation, deception, misrepresentation, obfuscation, omission and, although it is not a form of lying, arrogance. All in one letter … showing what a moral train-wreck IARC truly is.
The day the European Union renewed the glyphosate authorisation for five years, this blog showed how the battle was just beginning. The entire sordid affair, the documentaries, marches, mobs, media manipulation … was not at all about a low-toxic herbicide, but about changing the European risk assessment process and implementing a citizen-science approach (sidelining the experts in a post-modern world built on blockchain trust).
This is perhaps the most powerful piece I had written on glyphosate (and, as usual with the work I’m very proud of, it got little attention). Glyphosate is a watershed in how precaution and the hazard-based approach has failed Europeans and how the present political institutions in Europe are not capable of managing policy responsibly. It provides a clear outline to how the EU could get its act together but ends on a pessimistic note.
As the search for the replacement of IARC director, Chris Wild, commenced, I presented what I felt the new director should concentrate on: a return to a commitment to science; engagement with all cancer researchers (stop the industry witch-hunt); an end to the monograph hazard assessment programme; and a retraction of the glyphosate monograph.
One of the more popular blogs in 2017, this one looks at the absurdity of the mob running the anti-glyphosate campaign and how I played a role to taunt and provoke them. The entire global campaign was effectively run by fewer than 50 committed activists (The Gang of 50) and in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, I showed how I took them on from my famous dusty basement. Totally absurd if only it didn’t actually happen.
IARC is a sinking ship and this article shows why the captain should go down with it. Attacking other agencies, not engaging with all stakeholders, insisting on an unscientific hazard-based approach and allowing IARC staff to operate without any evident moral code of conduct are just some of the reasons why Chris Wild had lost the legitimacy to lead a scientific agency that has lost its way.
In the Daubert Hearings to determine the scientific evidence supporting tort trials against Monsanto, information emerged about the main scientist attacking glyphosate: Christopher Portier. We learnt that Portier signed a lucrative contract with two law firms suing Monsanto (ten days after the IARC glyphosate monograph panel); that Portier was not transparent about this conflict of interest when he attacked the agencies that had approved glyphosate; that before going to Lyon to participate as the special adviser to IARC monograph, Portier had never done any research on glyphosate; and that Portier vowed to be the point-man defending the IARC process and position. While this blog merely provided a commentary on the evidence from Portier’s deposition, it had an influence on the debate in Brussels and demonstrated how awful and hypocritical the activists, journalists and Green Party MEPs were in pursuing this fraud. It should come as no surprise that I was vilified, eventually losing my job over this affair … it was worth it.
In the media madness of the final days of the EU glyphosate renewal process in September-October 2017, I saw how the activist mob was going for blood. Industry hunkered down, so as a communications experiment, I stepped up to be the one voice in Brussels ready to face the pitch-forks and declare: “I Stand with Monsanto”. It was like bringing meat to a dog-fight. I recorded all of the absurdity, linked to all of the news articles against me and showed how easily a low-level Belgian professor could become the most hated person in Brussels. I somehow managed to do all of this from my dusty basement with no funding … just to prove a point about our social media tools: “If I can do this, then any jackass can, and that scares the shit out of me!”
Much of the public fear about glyphosate, hatred of Monsanto and belief that IARC produced a risk assessment comes down to media manipulation. If it bleeds, it leads and glyphosate is a bloody shame. I published an exchange with one of the worst activists disguised as a journalist, Stéphane Horel, nominally employed by one of the most pestiphobic news organisations, Le Monde. Her questions to me were pure McCarthyism – she was not aiming at information on glyphosate and farming, but rather trying to find a gotcha moment where she could prove I was a Monsanto shill. She failed. This blog was also a unique case study on how to deal with a rabid press assassin. Knowing Stéphane Horel would not be objective, I answered her questions letting her know I would publish my answers on the day she published her story. I then worked into my replies some unpleasant portrayals of the unethical work (lies) done by her friends, leaving her with a choice: report my answers objectively or sell out her friends. She sold out her friends.
This is a translation of an interview with the head of the BfR, the German Risk Assessment Agency responsible for managing the glyphosate renewal. I added my comments as well but it provides a clear, genuine and responsible explanation of what risk assessors do, how glyphosate in German beer is not a problem and why this controversy has been so explosive.
On the day the European Chemicals Agency declared that glyphosate was safe, I wrote a letter to EU Health Commissioner Andriukaitis, begging him to show courage and respect science.
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!