Economy & Business

Glyphosate Ban: Not about Green. About Greed.

European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France (Reuters photo: Vincent Kessler)
The case against the substance is rooted in bad science and conflicts of interest.

Caving to pressure from environmental activists, the European Parliament voted on October 24 to ban glyphosate, the weed killer commonly sold under the brand name Roundup, by the end of 2022. A subsequent vote to renew glyphosate’s EU license, which expires at the end of this year, failed, and growers in 28 countries are now faced with the real possibility that this safe herbicide used by farmers around the world will be permanently outlawed. The move will have consequences here as activists trumpet the EU glyphosate ban as a reason to enact the same prohibition in the U.S.

Greenpeace EU, the group leading the crusade against glyphosate, cheered the news: “Although the phase out periods are longer than technically needed, the Parliament’s proposal is a breath of fresh air. More than one million Europeans and now the Parliament are calling for a ban on this dangerous chemical.” Against the wishes of his country’s farming interests, French president Emmanuel Macron fought hard to win support for the ban. Hundreds of French farmers blocked the Champs-Elysées last month in protest. “It’s a real pity that members of Parliament allow themselves to be influenced by anti-glyphosate activists who claim to represent public opinion, but only represent hostility toward industry, and more worryingly, hostility toward science,” Graeme Taylor, a spokesman for the European Crop Protection Association, told me. “It ignores the clear and unequivocal opinion of the EU’s own agencies on the safety of glyphosate.” The ban would have a crippling effect on the EU’s agricultural sector and the international grain trade.

It is also a major blow to Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, and a huge victory in the decades-long war against that corporation by the misanthropic environmental Left. The anti-glyphosate crusade is a proxy battle against genetically engineered crops, too, because Monsanto has engineered many such crops, especially corn and soybeans, to be “Roundup-Ready” — i.e., to survive the application of Roundup so they don’t die along with the weeds. Since the introduction of genetically engineered crops more than 20 years ago, yields of these grains have soared while pesticide use has decreased. Study after study confirms that glyphosate poses a minimal risk to the environment or human health.

But activists and their lapdogs in the European Parliament are choosing to ignore the large body of evidence supporting glyphosate’s safety and instead rely on an outlier report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In March 2015, IARC, which is under the purview of the World Health Organization, issued a report concluding that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen based on “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” as well as “convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The finding was swiftly rebuked by government agencies and agricultural interests around the world; the scientists who produced the report have been criticized for misrepresenting data, editing drafts to delete contrary evidence, and using the report as propaganda to promote their own anti-glyphosate agenda. Nonetheless, it has been a gift to activists and lawyers seeking to profit off of glyphosate “victims.”

One of these is Christopher Portier, the scientist who initially encouraged IARC to conduct the glyphosate analysis and served as a special advisor to the committee that drafted the final IARC report. In a deposition last month for a court case pending against Monsanto for glyphosate “damages,” Portier admitted he was retained by a law firm representing glyphosate victims less than two weeks after the IARC report was published. Since then, Portier has been a hired gun, giving expert testimony on behalf of cancer-stricken farm workers and their family members who believe glyphosate caused the disease.

It has been a profitable gig. Over the past two years, Portier has banked about $160,000 for his time and has another $30,000 in billable hours now outstanding. (He is earning $450 per hour for his “expertise,” so take that, NRO writers.) During that time, as he pressured EU and U.S. agencies not to publish favorable findings about glyphosate, Portier failed to disclose his conflict of interest; in fact, Portier insisted “nobody has paid me a cent to do what I am doing with glyphosate.”

Activists and their lapdogs in the European Parliament are choosing to ignore the large body of evidence supporting glyphosate’s safety.

Portier also had close ties with high-ranking officials in Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, which delayed its own final assessment on whether glyphosate is carcinogenic, although two internal reports concluded it is not. Congress is investigating possible connections between Portier and the EPA on how the IARC report was handled; in an October 25, 2016, letter to then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, House Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith accused her of making “misleading and untruthful statements” about EPA’s involvement and interactions with Portier: “Moreover, the increasing amount of evidence depicting the close ties between EPA officials, Christopher Portier, and the IARC study of glyphosate show that there were activists working both inside and outside the agency.” He might have hoodwinked his pals at the EPA, too. In his deposition, Portier admitted communicating with several EPA officials over “concerns about glyphosate” yet not disclosing to them his new gig as a paid consultant on glyphosate-related lawsuits.

Portier has a history of such obfuscations. In a May 5, 2016, email to me objecting to an NRO article I wrote about his involvement in the IARC report, he told me this: “I am no activist. I realize that you will probably not change a word of your article, but felt the need to correct you simply because I believe that by characterizing a scientific debate as activists with an agenda, you are doing a diservice [sic] to your readers.” At that time, he had been getting paid by law firms representing alleged glyphosate victims for more than a year.

Europe’s glyphosate ban is yet another example of weak-kneed politicians’ capitulating to bad science, shady scientists, malevolent environmental activists, and greedy lawyers, and it could have grave consequences. While this cabal cheers its victory over Monsanto, European farmers fear for their livelihood.


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