Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

Opinion

The anti-glyphosate lobby strikes again

  • Activists 'sabotage' Monsanto's Roundup product with fake health warnings (Photo: Global Justice Now)

The current authorisation period for glyphosate in the EU comes to an end in December this year. But still no agreement on a renewal has been agreed upon.

What should really be a non-issue and a formality has turned into a total mess, since the anti-glyphosate lobby has mobilised on all fronts to hinder a renewal. It is a story about flawed science and scientists wearing two hats.

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Glyphosate is the most commonly-used active substance in herbicides. It has revolutionised agriculture since it was developed in the 1970s. Today it is used in 140 countries and has increased crop yields for farmers all over the world, while at the same time the need for manpower has decreased alongside with CO2 emissions.

Still the Green group in the European Parliament, with substantial help from activist scientists, has continuously questioned the use of glyphosate, with the result that no agreement on a renewed authorisation has been reached.

You could of course oppose the use of glyphosate on ideological grounds, in the end politics is about values and depending on what values you prioritise you reach different political conclusions.

However, it is hypocrisy when the Greens try to dress up their purely ideological arguments in scientific reasoning.

Especially since the one scientific study the anti-glyphosate gang rely upon is doubtful, to put it mildly.

The study in question was conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organisation cancer agency, and shows that glyphosate is probably cancerogenic.

Not only has the IARC findings been refuted repeatedly by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the German Institute for Risk Assessment and regulatory bodies all over the world, including in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Conflict of interest?

Later it was also revealed that the scientist in charge of the IARC evaluation was part of another research team, which, too, studied the link between glyphosate and cancer.

In the scientific data from that research no evidence of a link between cancer and glyphosate was found. IARC, however, takes into consideration only published research in its evaluations.

And as a coincidence the research was not published in time for the IARC evaluation and the scientist never mentioned the study's results for the IARC panel.

The scientist later said that if the scientific data from that study would have been included, it is less likely that IARC would classify glyphosate as "probably cancerogenic".

But it is does not end with that. Just a couple of days ago it was revealed that changes were made between the IARC draft report and the finalised published version.

Central sections of the draft were changed or deleted in the report that was later made public. Conclusions from multiple studies that showed no connection between glyphosate and cancer in laboratory animals were removed.

In other cases negative conclusions on the link between glyphosate and cancer were replaced with a positive or neutral one. When asked why that was the case IARC has not been able to give a sufficient answer. It is worth repeating: this is the only evaluation opponents to glyphosate refer to.

It is not the most solid case to say the least.

The IARC classification of glyphosate as probably cancerogenic has also been a key aspect of an ongoing trial in the US, where people accuse Monsanto, that the company's glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup has caused them cancer.

One might ask, why is this of interest in this context? It is of interest because one of the advisers of the IARC evaluation received no less than $160,000 from the law firms bringing claims by cancer victims against Monsanto.

'Activist' scientists

The same adviser has been one of the most activist scientists in the debate surrounding glyphosate. When he in a letter called on the European Commission to accept the IARC classification he did not declare his links to the law firms. The scientist thus tried to hide the fact that he was obviously wearing two hats - that do not match very well.

It has almost turned into a sport for the anti-glyphosate lobby to insinuate that politicians who are in favour of renewing the authorisation for glyphosate are either tricked by the industry or more likely paid by it. Of course, no evidence is provided. But the mere accusation is enough for most people to stay silent.

But if there is one thing the mess of the IARC evaluation and the Monsanto trials show, it is that the anti-glyphosate side do not play by the rules.

Really it should come as no surprise. When you lack proper arguments you get desperate and start not only to suspect the other side and the other side's intentions and motives, but also circumvent the rules yourself.

It is time to stop this nonsense. Feel free to oppose a renewal of glyphosate in the EU, but please argue for your sake in an honest and grown-up way. This issue is way too important both for millions of European farmers and for the environment to be treated like this.

Christofer Fjellner is a Swedish MEP with the EPP group

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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