The Risk-Monger

See the French translation

The following is the first of a three-part blog looking at how a corrupt unethical campaign against an essential agricultural product is succeeding in the EU. This first part will look at why glyphosate is such a good product for farmers; the second part will demonstrate how environmental NGOs, activist scientists, organic lobbyists and IARC are facing some serious questions to their integrity arising from their coordinated campaign to ban glyphosate. The last part will be a reflection of my personal experience as a child of the pre-glyphosate farming generation.

There are at least ten reasons why glyphosate is such a good herbicide.

  1. Controlling invasive weeds leads to better agricultural yields
  2. Better yields = less land in production = more meadows and biodiversity
  3. Extremely low toxicity levels compared to (organic) alternatives
  4. Allows for no or low till farming – better for soil management
  5. Reduces CO2 emissions (compared to organic)
  6. Glyphosate saves lives
  7. It is much more affordable and effective than other options
  8. Glyphosate is off patent so no single company is profiting heavily from it
  9. Glyphosate-resistant crops allow for more ecological weed management practices
  10. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that glyphosate is safe for humans

The campaign against glyphosate is a clear illustration of how successful “Stupid” can be in environmental-health debates. NGO activists from Pesticide Action Network and Greenpeace to anti-industry Rottweilers like Corporate Europe Observatory and SumOfUs have run a brilliant campaign to make it impossible for the European Commission to serve the vast majority of European consumers and farmers with good regulations based on the best scientific evidence. The Environmental Defense Fund secretly planted their demon seed into the heart of IARC, and it (Christopher Portier) has grown into a weed too powerful to eradicate with any herbicide.

Of course these activists have behaved in a non-transparent, unethical manner (most NGOs and organic gurus have no ethical codes of conduct to answer to) – it has been well-established that they play to win (their fundraising model demands that), with or without any sense of human integrity. But that is not the point. What bothers me is that they are winning through ignorance – using all of the tools of Stupid to deny farmers the means farm safely, productively and in an environmentally sustainable manner. So while we still can, let’s celebrate all of the benefits that glyphosate, this “herbicide of the century”, has brought us.

  1. Controlling invasive weeds leads to better agricultural yields

sugarbeetsThis is Farming 101. Weeds compete with crops for valuable nutrients and water in the soil, often spreading seeds virulently and toxins in the soil to increase proliferation and eventually take over the land. Weeds continue to evolve to survive and farmers need every tool at their disposal to control them. Denying farmers the most efficient tool is the activists’ way of returning agricultural land back to nature, low yields and global food insecurity. Organic lobbyists are applying the Benbrook diktat: For organic to win, you need to remove the single most beneficial product on the market. Without glyphosate, farmers will have to go organic to justify the added costs and risks to agriculture from a massive drop in yields (an average of 40%).

  1. Better yields = less land in production = more meadows and biodiversity

Farmers make a living feeding populations. If they produce better yields from less land and labour, this leaves less stress on the environment (and of course, less stress on the farmer). If a farmer is having trouble surviving, or if a society is unable to feed itself, then one regrettable solution is to plough more meadowland and chop more forests down. This has knock-on effects across all elements of the environment, reducing biodiversity, putting more stress on ecological systems, reducing habitat space for valuable wildlife (including pollinators). When one looks at the amount of land needed for organic farming (across a range of crops) compared to that used by conventional farming, the answer is obvious – the environment does better with glyphosate!

  1. Extremely low toxicity levels compared to (organic) alternatives

Glyphosate has an LD50 (lethal dose needed to kill half of the studied species, usually rats or mice) of 5600. This is far less toxic than elements in products we expose ourselves to every day, like baking soda (cookies), coffee and chocolate. See a blog where I show how 12 pesticides approved for organic farming (yes, organic farmers use pesticides) are far more toxic than glyphosate. And glyphosate has been highly studied – substances of a natural origin used in organic farming to control weeds (including certain soaps and vinegars which are more toxic than glyphosate) have very little research on their consequences on wildlife and soil. Being of a natural origin does not mean substances are less toxic (Ebola is natural) and less harmful to people, pollinators and soil.

  1. Allows for no or low till farming – better for soil management

Organic farmers are not allowed to use glyphosate as an approved herbicide since it has a synthetic origin. To control weeds, organic farmers then have to till the soil regularly, in many cases around five times a year. Soil experts agree that tillage disrupts the bacterial wealth that the soil needs to restore nutrients. It tramples on the biodiversity process within the soil. Tillage also releases valuable humidity from the ground and leads to higher risks of erosion. Glyphosate has allowed farmers the ability of developing no (or low) till farming practices, improving overall soil management (and saving valuable time and energy).

  1. Reduces CO2 emissions (compared to organic)

Repeated tillage of fields entails the use of heavy machinery (tractors, ploughs …). The greenhouse gas emissions from repeated tillage (plus air and noise pollution effects on beneficial wildlife) exacerbates our battle against climate change. When pro-organic lobbyists try to convince me that organic farming is better for the planet and global warming, I usually reply: “Oh, really?” The most ridiculous example is how farmers have replaced glyphosate with an organic-approved weed control measure known as flame weeding. Natural gas or propane may be of a natural origin, but shouldn’t farmers think twice about high greenhouse gas emissions by flame-blasting their fields when simpler, more benign means exist?

  1. Glyphosate saves lives

When glyphosate is used in other, non-agricultural sectors, there is usually no other option. The European Rail Network managers are very concerned that a withdrawal of the registration of glyphosate will lead to an increase of loss of life along European rail networks. Presently, they claim that glyphosate is the only viable (environmentally-friendly) option to control the weeds along the rails, allowing train engineers to have clear visibility to any threats to rail traffic. Without that visibility, rail accidents and innocent victims will likely increase. We could go back to traditional weed control measures (goats and cows) but then the fronts of trains will have to be re-fitted with plough mechanisms.

  1. Glyphosate is off patent so no single company is profiting heavily from it

Activist troops and their B-grade scientists get fired up over glyphosate because of the evil M-word. But glyphosate went off patent many years ago and there is a wide variety of suppliers of this vital herbicide. That explains its popularity among farmers: glyphosate is not only highly efficient, having a low toxicity and environmentally benign, it is also cheap. I suspect that one reason why the crop protection industry seems to be laying over and playing dead on the renewal of the glyphosate registration is that, besides low revenues, the agricultural community needs some sort of wake-up call to the absurd crop protection policies coming out of Brussels. Now I do not think it is wise to radically increase food prices on European consumers and risk global food scarcity in developing countries, but this is not the fault of industry, but rather that of the European Commission’s DG Santé, for listening to the loud-mouthed lunatics lobbying outside of their windows.

  1. Glyphosate is much more affordable and effective than other options

We have established that glyphosate is effective, cheap for farmers, having a toxicity level below that of cookies and chocolate and having a low impact on the environment (concerning soil, water, wildlife and climate issues). The goodness of glyphosate becomes even starker when it is compared to the alternatives (which will need to be applied once the ban comes through). One option of course is to allow weeds to thrive and sap the soil of most nutrients – we will need though to learn a whole new alimentary process for weed cuisine. High tillage or flame-blasting weeds with fossil fuels might reduce weeds, but at a heavy cost to climate change and soil degradation. We could bring back paraquat, which was also highly efficient, but suffering with a certain reputation. The most viable option is to return to the traditional practice of engaging children to manually remove weeds … this of course is practiced today in many developing countries where the price or access to glyphosate products is still out of reach of most subsistence farmers. Without sounding facetious, outside of paraquat, the organic lobby favours all of these alternatives.

  1. Glyphosate-resistant crops allow for more ecological weed management practices

If anyone has ever tried to plant grass under a fir tree, it is clear that nature has evolved by fighting for competitive resources. By designing GMO seeds that have an advantage over invasive weeds, and essentially removing any competition for soil nutrients, science has created the ultimate one-up in the evolutionary arena. This increase in yield from glyphosate resistant plant varieties comes with the added advantage that farmers use far fewer herbicide applications, less or no tillage and less costs to the environment. There are of course those unwilling to embrace science and progress – every generation has such fear-mongers – but outside of their reflexive denial, those who are reasonable cannot help but be impressed by the remarkable benefits of glyphosate-resistant crops to consumers, farmers, the environment and the planet.

  1. Overwhelming scientific evidence that glyphosate is safe for humans

Every NGO activist and organic lobbyist relentlessly chants “IARC” and “WHO” and “probably carcinogenic” but the scientific establishment has rejected the IARC findings outright. The head of EFSA, Bernhard Url, has referred to IARC’s work and letter writing campaigns as the “Facebook age of science”. Given the outrage and activism against EFSA’s decision, dialogue between EFSA and this band of activist scientists has ceased. The author of one of the studies IARC used to base their decision came out against IARC’s interpretation of his research. The German Federal Institute for risk assessment, the BfR, responsible for the EU dossier on glyphosate, did not mix words on condemning the IARC study for lack of credible science. There are over 3000 studies supporting the safety risk assessments in favour of glyphosate and a few activist science publications by agitators outside of the mainstream (just Google Stephanie Seneff plus glyphosate for a good chuckle). IARC based their conclusions on eight studies (dispelling six others that had given glyphosate a clean bill of health).

But as readers of this blog know, science does not matter when activists get their teeth into something. The coming ban on glyphosate will signal a further victory for ignorance in the Age of Stupid. In the second part of this blog, I will look at how IARC has been corrupted by activists, failed to act professionally and is in dire need of a wholesale housecleaning.

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