Mention Monsanto and everyone’s ears pop up. They are the company that wants to feed the world and the world’s convinced they’re killing us slowly with a combination of toxic pesticides and genetically modified crops. Science assures us it isn’t so, repeatedly. Events, however, and emerging data suggest that Monsanto and regulators may enjoy a relationship that is in no way beneficial to the pursuit of healthy science or public health.
If you’re not up to speed on the common ingredient Glyphosate, a systemic weed killer used for decades and the basic active component of Roundup, this enlightening hour-long documentary from Aljazeera entitled The Price of Progress: How safe is European food production? will give you all the relevant context you need.
This article isn’t about whether Roundup or Glyphosate is safe or not. While this is clearly a question that needs to be urgently addressed, as the compound ends up in most of the food we eat and is used across the globe as our primary weed killer, there is a clear and growing consensus that there is in fact trouble in paradise and that the world’s favorite weed killer may not just be killings weeds.
The inflexible scientist
To understand how science can get things wrong, let’s turn to more current events and a disclaimer before we start. Science, good science, is critical to our survival. Without it, we’d be pottering around in the dark still, hitching horses to sleds with no wheels. Science is however a tool, and its one that is subject to our human tendency to assume we know everything, even when science tells us exactly the opposite. It’s this human tendency for certainty that causes problems. That and our proclivity for harnessing good for bad.
Take the SARS-CoV2 virus. The WHO categorically stated in March of 2020 that the virus could not become aerosolized or airborne. Six foot was all you needed and a face covering. Droplets. Not fine particles. For nearly a year, American-based scientists argued with the WHO, telling them they were making a massive mistake. They had proof that the virus could in fact “float about” for extended periods in the air, just like the measles and TB virus.
After a year of vocal and very public outrage by a growing number of scientists, the WHO capitulated. They agreed that the virus was in fact airborne and that the only real protection was a proper, well-sealed N95 grade mask and proper ventilation. They had been wrong, spectacularly so and the evidence and the science they’d been shown was ignored. Why? Their inability to question accepted scientific dogma in the face of new research cost lives.
You cannot argue this, it is fact. The advice the WHO issued led to many of the policies that engaged close-quarter lockdowns for many across the globe. Had the world been put on notice earlier, we may have been able to avert many deaths. It didn’t happen and not because science was wrong, but because WHO scientists and experts had become fixated in their beliefs, inflexible, and unwilling to listen without prejudice to new research.
The WHO based their advice on data that was over 80 years old and they wilfully ignored new data, new research, and new information.
You can read more about this particular story here in a fantastic piece on Wired. It’s a fascinating indictment of our scientific regulatory systems and the people that decide our fates. It also exposes exactly how certain mechanisms employed by groups like the WHO and EU regulatory bodies can compromise, discount, and dismiss out of hand, honest and open scientific exploration.
There is a maximum in science that institutionalized scientists choose to willfully and arrogantly ignore. Never say never.
The influence of the mighty dollar
To what extent is grift involved in this process, the direct or indirect enrichment of individuals, projects, and organizations by the very companies that regulators are asked to police? Hugely so, it’s an open secret, widely known and largely glossed over as the part of the game politics, science and big corporations engage in. Again, the public is the inevitable victim of the gatekeeper’s complicity.
Companies like Monsanto budget hundreds of millions of dollars annually for lobbyists. Individuals who operate in the shadows, quietly influencing political policy, legislation, and the passing of corporate-friendly bills. In the halls of political power in Brussels, these lobbyists have become permanent fixtures, as have their colleagues across the water in Washington, filling the coffers of politicians and influential individuals from a bottomless pit of wealth.
It’s not just companies like Monsanto who pursue this practice. Big Pharma, energy companies like Shell and Enron, and almost every sector of big business is accounted for. Grift is how you oil the wheels of progress and science ends up on the losing end. We end up on the losing end. It’s a simple question of logic. Any act or business dealing that requires financial lubrication to enable its deployment, is by its very nature questionable. If you see a lobbyist, it’s a sure bet a potential crime or cover-up is afoot.
The losers are you and I, our children, our environment, and most importantly, our health. It is, without doubt, the one single mechanism that contributes most to the growing list of ailments Americans and their global counterparts suffer from. Mothers, who now question the wiseness of being able to breastfeed their children, as their breastmilk is contaminated with dangerous toxins, antibiotic-resistant super bacteria, and skyrocketing levels of cancers, obesity, diabetes, and conditions like autism. We are being systematically poisoned and our scientists and governments are complicit.
They achieve this by circumventing processes put in place to protect us and the practice of good science leads this list. We establish risk and identify dangers with science, data science, and unimpeded, transparent research. Lobbyists seek to undermine all these processes or, ideally, bypass them completely.
It happens with companies like Shell promoting and exploiting fossils fuels at the cost of the environment, with pharma pushing the envelope of what is legally licensable and suppressing that which it cannot profit from, chemical companies polluting our rivers and water tables and in instances like Monsanto, questionable products are whitewashed and rubber stamped. There are, quite literally billions to be made, and everyone demands a slice of the pie.
Hens Teeth and independent researchers
They’re a dying breed, the independent researcher, a rare beast that hasn’t been corrupted by the ever-present influence of corporate reach. Research isn’t cheap and the best paying jobs don’t reside in academia. Most researchers cut their teeth in laboratories funded or directly owned by Monsanto or their peers. Universities are the feral breeding ground of conscription, where generous donations ensure a constant feed of new young minds, grist for the mills of profit-based research.
While this shouldn’t appear to be a major problem on the surface, after all, individuals are entitled to go where their purse strings draw them, when it comes to appointing or recruiting staff for regulatory bodies, conflicts of interest abound. To try and find, for instance, a scientist to work on agricultural pesticides, who hasn’t at some point in their career, been indentured to either Monsanto or one of their competitors, becomes challenging, to say the least.
The end result is far from ideal, with the opportunity for past relationships, friendships, loyalties, and a host of other factors to impinge on open and transparent research. To sway opinion and research. In some instances, as suggested by the documentary above, companies like Monsanto enjoy such close relationships with regulators they forward their own prepared documents for simple rubber-stamping by the regulators, who then issue the statements as their own.
Clearly, a problem exists and one that isn’t going to simply resolve itself. There are also serious questions that require addressing when it comes to the mindset displayed by supposed science-based institutions like the CDC and WHO, where scientists have arguably exchanged their white mantles of science for the darker cloaks of politics and profit.
When these individuals are no longer able to question their own beliefs and firmly held opinions in the face of incontrovertible evidence, then science is the loser, humanity suffers and our health becomes forfeit. Accountability matters, transparency matters. The pursuit of truth and real science cannot and must not be impeded by anything as mundane as profit or politics. To allow this to continue is to doom the very society we seek to protect.