FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Continued Use of Toxic Glyphosate has Left Greens’ Strategy in Tatters, What Now?

The ecology of Planet Earth is rapidly collapsing under a rising tide of toxic pollution and plastic waste as, in every sector of the economy, natural products and methods are replaced with synthetics.

One example, just recently reported, is that in 1974 non-organic wheat production in the UK required 2 sprays per year. In 2014 UK wheat required 20.7 sprays.

The chief strategy of the environmental movement to stem the toxic tide is to challenge specific “bad actor” chemicals and force their withdrawal from the market. Occasionally, this has been successful.

Chemical testing

Many countries no longer spray DDT or lindane, for example. But given that there are 70-100,000 man-made chemicals on the market, most of which aren’t tested and may be toxic, this effort is likely to be successfully concluded in approximately the year 1 million AD.

Assuming that is, the chemical industry doesn’t invent any new products in the meantime, and that removing a toxic chemical only takes ten years of campaigning effort, both of which assumptions are very optimistic.

There is another problem with this environmental approach. It assumes that carefully conducted tests, honestly done, can separate toxic and nontoxic chemicals in a meaningful way.

In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite. It can easily be shown that chemical testing is a pointless procedure.

The potential serious harms from toxic chemicals are essentially endless, whereas chemical testing assesses these harms: carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, liver toxicity, reproductive toxicity, multigenerational effects, one at a time.

Epidemiological evidence

A whole city’s worth of rats would have to be tested to even begin to work out if just one chemical was harmful, and that is just harmful to rats. Whether that chemical was harmful to people would still be open to considerable question.

The conventional extrapolation by toxicologists from rodents and other animals to humans is not scientific. It is an arbitrary convention that frequently turns out to be wrong.

This wrongness is tacitly accepted even by regulators. The IARC of the World Health Organisation, which has come closest of all official regulators to damning glyphosate, has toxicological categories that distinguish between human and animal toxicity; this concedes that animal experiments do not, after all, predict human toxicity.

Leaving aside the ethics of testing millions of animals to no purpose, this kind of fuzzy logic on the part of regulators is manna to the chemical industry.

Whenever a chemical is found irrefutably toxic to animals, it simply moves to insisting on epidemiological evidence in humans. On the school playground it’s called moving the goalposts.

Technical knowledge

So what seems to be a moderately successful environmental strategy, of challenging chemical approvals with science, is really just a poor tactic and a losing strategy; not least because it seems to imply that all other chemicals are safe.

And even when it appears to succeed it really fails. One chemical is phased out (or exported) and is merely replaced by another. Atrazine for glyphosate anyone?

Opponents of chemical pollution might instead want to borrow from anti-GMO campaigns. These have more-or-less successfully kept GMOs out of Europe, China and Asia, and Africa, and made GMOs a pariah even where they are grown.

The secret of this campaign has been to not distinguish between different GMOs. Opposing GMOs carte blanche allows diverse people and interests to unite behind one banner—whether they oppose patents on life, corporate control, or chemical pollution, or simply hazards specific to GMOs.

It is a broad tent, and it doesn’t require detailed technical knowledge on the part of the public.

Fair trial

Which is easier, to get behind a banner saying “NO GMO”, or one saying “I oppose the active ingredient 1-methonomethyl-2-arbitrazine because of its cumulative hyperplastic effects on the ovaries and vestigial glands of certain species of frogs at doses between 1 and 0.1ng/ml (Doolittle and Dally, 1983)”?

As I showed once before, opposing chemicals on narrow scientific grounds wrongly and disastrously concedes the efficacy of conventional toxicological testing. It concedes the partiality and often open dishonesty of government-picked regulators.

It concedes regulatory reliance on industry-generated evidence. It concedes that industry guided the development of chemical toxicology regulations from the beginning. It concedes the ethics of animal experimentation. It concedes the use of GLP guidelines that compel regulators to ignore the peer-reviewed scientific literature that taxpayers so expensively payed for.

It concedes that companies can conceal their evidence behind “Confidential Business Information” claims. It concedes that most chemical testing by independent laboratories is likely to be fraudulent; and it concedes the narrowness of chemical trespass being a scientific question in the first place.

So while it is true that campaigners will grouse about such unfair and unethical practices, to campaign against specific chemicals like glyphosate is to imply to the public that such defects are, ultimately, acceptable, when the reality is that they doom from the outset any real possibility of a fair trial in the court of science.

Synthetic chemicals

So while anti-GMO campaigns have their own challenge of gene editing as an end run around the definition of a GMO, this is a fine complement in comparison to being laughed at by the chemical industry, which is tonight celebrating the reapproval of glyphosate with copious quantities of Belgian beer having persuaded the EU to ride roughshod, and probably fraudulently, once again over the niceties of chemical regulatory rules and the democratic process and to approve glyphosate for five more years.

The solution to the issue of chemical pollution is therefore an oppositional strategy that is equal to the existential nature of the threat at hand. The environment movement needs to end single chemical campaigns and hit the chemical industry where it hurts.

Ban all synthetic chemicals from agriculture. Ban all synthetic chemicals from schools and school grounds. Ban them from public areas, or your entire municipality (it can be done), including from food contact.

Some such campaigns have already been tried, and where they have succeeded, unlike the banning of individual chemicals, the results make a real difference. But the environment movement could go further: How about making regulators liable for their decisions? How about proposing to end subsidies to industries that use synthetic chemicals in or on foods?

How about automatically compensating individuals whose bodies contain toxic chemicals and who become unwell from a fund provided by the industry which made that chemical? Now that would get the attention of the chemical industry, it might energise the public too.

Dr Jonathan R. Latham is editor of Independent Science News.

More articles by:

Jonathan Latham edits Independent Science News.

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail