One of Germany’s largest companies is trying to buy Monsanto, which changes everything.
By Don Quijones, Spain, UK, & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
A majority of EU governments voted on Monday to extend the European license for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s flagship product, Roundup, for another five years. One of the deciding votes was cast by the caretaker government of Germany, which came off the fence after abstaining in previous meetings.
The decision was made despite a petition signed by more than 1.3 million EU citizen-subjects calling for a European ban on the weedkiller.
The five-year extension is welcome news for Monsanto, which has found itself in the rather unusual position of being on the back foot in recent years, especially since the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) declared that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”. The company is facing a rash of potentially costly law suits in the US from farmers, members of their families, and others who claim that Roundup is connected to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
It’s also good news for the German chemical behemoth Bayer, which is trying to acquire Monsanto for €66 billion. Bayer’s main area of expertise is developing pesticides, but if it pulls off the merger, the deal would create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and farm chemicals. Uncertainties about deal remain, however. Bayer would need to take on a huge amount of debt in order to acquire Monsanto; and US anti-trust regulators appear to have woken up recently.
But if it were to get the go-ahead for the deal, Bayer would certainly prefer to have its acquisition target in the best financial health possible, and that might be difficult if it were forced to withdraw or phase out its biggest selling product from one of its most lucrative markets.
Plus, if the EU were to go ahead and ban or phase out glyphosate, it could set a very dangerous precedent that might be eagerly followed by other countries. It’s not just Monsanto’s products that feature glyphosate; so, too, do products sold by a host of other agrochemical big-hitters, including BASF, Syngenta, Dow Chemical, DuPont and China’s Zhejiang Wynca Chemical.
As such, despite the blossoming public opposition in Europe to the continued use of a chemical that many fear is doing terrible damage to both human health and the environment, the decision about whether to extend glyphosate’s license was always going to be a hard-nosed business one, especially given that Europe’s immensely powerful biotech lobby has infiltrated just about every relevant regulatory and policy body in Brussels.
One of the most influential organizations is a German-based lobby consultancy called Genius, which helps run the website of the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), an industry platform uniting producers of glyphosate-based herbicides including Monsanto, while also providing helpful advice to EU and German public authorities on topics that are of key interest to biotech corporations.
The fact that Germany’s 5th and 6th biggest corporations (Bayer and BASF) have a potentially vital stake in the outcome of the glyphosate debate was always likely to stack the odds even further in the biotech lobby’s favor. It’s often forgotten that Germany, famed for its anti-nuclear activism and passionate environmentalism, is also, as Le Monde puts it, “a paradise for pesticides manufacturers.”
Lo and behold, in September it was revealed that dozens of pages of a study on the health risks of glyphosate by the European food safety authority (EFSA) are word-for-word copies of passages in an application submitted by Monsanto on behalf of the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF). The sections analyse peer-reviewed studies into links between glyphosate and genotoxicity (how likely it is to cause cell mutations), carcinogenicity, and reproductive damage.
“They quoted long bits and pieces,” said Sven Giegold, a German member of the European Parliament from the Green Party. “You would be committing fraud if you did this for your Ph.D.”
For Monsanto, a company that has long perfected the art of befriending and subverting governments, lawmakers, academia and national regulators worldwide, a little spot of plagiarism and ghostwriting is small beer.
Indeed, so extensive is the influence of Monsanto & friends over the workings of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that an email between two US EPA officials in May 2015 disclosed that the EFSA had already decided to reject the finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a “possible human carcinogen.” But the IARC Monograph containing the data on which the cancer agency based its March 2015 assessment had not yet been published – and only became available to the EFSA and others on 29 July 2015.
This strongly implies that the EFSA had already made up its mind to fight the IARC verdict before it had even seen any data underlying the assessment or had done its own assessment.
After that, it was just a question of convincing enough European governments to buy the story and toe the line. The fact that it took two years to be able to achieve that is testament to just how toxic Monsanto & friends’ legacy has become. By Don Quijones.
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