In Brazil, about 2 weeks ago, a federal court got to answer that age-old question: “Your money or your life.” Only this time, it was posed in a new way, “Your economy or your environment?”
The court chose, it said, to protect Brazil’s agricultural economy by overturning another court’s banning of products containing the popular weed-killer glyphosate from use in the upcoming soybean season.
Gyphosate is the main ingredient of the former Monsanto, now Bayer AG’s Roundup, and according to the World Health Organization’s cancer threat assessment committee is a “probable” carcinogen, that is a probable cause of cancer.
This judgment is controversial. When the Obama-era EPA considered banning glyphosate, one division, the Office of Research and Development, used epidemiological research to urge a ban, while a separate division, the Office of Pesticide Programs, dismissed the epidemiological studies and determined that glyphosate was not a carcinogen. EPA decided against the ban. Monsanto, now part of Bayer, is even more skeptical about actual studies of human effects, because as one top executive said, with acute scientific precision, “such studies are well known to be prone to a number of biases.” As if producers and shareholders aren’t.
This view was weaponized by that well-known expert, not on science, but chiseling, cheating, and financing his political career on contributions from the energy and chemical industries, Scott Pruitt, the disgraced, and resigned Administrator of Donald Trump’s EPA. Epidemiology, Pruitt said, before he was forced to quit the EPA, was “secret science,” the very phrase the tobacco industry used in the 1970s to try to discredit research linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer.
Pruitt, who broke EPA rules to spend tens of thousands of dollars building a secure telephone booth in his office, likely to hide his secret contacts with the top polluters of the world, wants epidemiologists to share with industry the names and personal data of human beings being studied by health scientists. He apparently explained this strategy in a secret meeting with leaders of the agri-chemical industry, held one day after he had rejected an earlier EPA decision to ban another pesticide, chlorpyrifos.
Since protecting the identities of subjects of scientific research is a basic principle, breaching that shield could halt lots of ongoing research, which, one suspects, is the whole idea behind Pruitt’s know-nothingism.
In Brazil, the suit which won the ban of glyphosate was intended to spur a decision from that country’s environmental protection agency. The appeals court ruling overturning the ban allows that agency to return to considering their decision, something they have been doing since 2007.
But in California, 2 recent court decisions have gone against Pruitt and Monsanto. The 9th federal court of appeals rejected Pruitt’s attempt to overturn an EPA ruling banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos, and a jury in Superior Court of California in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages, because it failed to warn a school groundskeeper named Dewayne Johnson and other consumers of the cancer risks posed by its weedkillers.
Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, researcher and writer with more than 25 years experience in the news industry covering corporate America. She is the author of last year’s explosive book: Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer Cancer and the Corruption of Science. Since 1998, Gillam’s work has focused on digging into the big business of food and agriculture. As a former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service, and current research director for consumer group U.S. Right to Know, Gillam specializes in finding the story behind the spin; uncovering both the risks and rewards of the evolving new age of agriculture. Gillam’s areas of expertise include biotech crop technology, agrichemicals and pesticide product development, and the environmental impacts of American food production. Gillam has been recognized as one of the top journalists in the country covering these issues.