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Issue #1813      March 7, 2018

Culture & Life

Have a glass of glyphosate!

Capitalism is not a system that thinks small. Its ambition is simply to rule the world, to eliminate any competing non-capitalist system and to make the world an obstacle-free playground for those engaged in the serious pursuit of profit.

The tiny upper strata of capitalist society lead lives of extraordinary luxury while the toiling masses who actually produce the wealth the rich enjoy are begrudged the pitiful fragment they are reluctantly allowed to retain. And they are only allowed to keep that so they can go on producing riches for a greedy minority.

Capitalists begrudge every penny that does not go into their own coffers. There is nothing, in their opinion, that governments do that cannot be done just as well by private corporations. Of course, private corporations will insist on making a profit from providing whatever government service or enterprise they are responsible for, but the public pays for that so where’s the harm, eh? Which is why the politicians they control try so desperately to privatise everything in sight.

However, capitalism has refined its goals over the last half-century or so. In the 20th century, its key goal was to gain control of global energy resources. Today, however, its goal is nothing less than gaining control over not only energy but also over global food and water supplies. If it manages to do that it will have achieved what the American military terms “Full Spectrum Dominance”. Or we can use the name of the favoured instrument of the world’s first billionaire, John D Rockefeller of Standard Oil and the Chase Manhattan Bank: a monopoly.

For the biggest capitalist corporations, this is no more than the way things should be, the way the world should in fact be organised. In pursuit of this lofty aim, they utilise all the techniques developed by their most useful creation, the advertising industry. To ensure success, they expend substantial sums of money on bribes and hiring PR firms to “mould” public opinion to accept their tame politicians putting people’s health at risk or jeopardising their future supplies of essential commodities like food and water.

Notorious chemical giant Monsanto uses every trick in the book to “persuade” farmers – especially in Third World countries – to not only use its ferocious weed killer Roundup, but to also use Roundup-resistant seeds from Monsanto when planting their next crop. That way they can go on spraying their crops with roundup but only the weeds will be killed, not the crop. The catch? These crops will not produce seeds that can be saved for future planting, leaving the unfortunate farmer in the position of having ever after to buy seed from Monsanto or some other chemical giant if he wishes to have any crops. Monsanto’s bosses must really be laughing all the way to the bank!

Roundup kills weeds but in March 2015 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified its active ingredient, glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” (category 2A) based on epidemiological studies, animal studies, and in vitro studies. However, in November, 2015, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that “the substance is unlikely to be genotoxic (i.e. damaging to DNA) or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans,” later clarifying that while carcinogenic glyphosate-containing formulations may exist, studies “that look solely at the active substance glyphosate do not show this effect.” The WHO and FAO Joint committee on pesticide residues issued a report in 2016 stating the use of glyphosate formulations does not necessarily constitute a health risk, and giving admissible daily intake limits for chronic toxicity. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) classified glyphosate as causing serious eye damage and toxic to aquatic life, but did not find evidence implicating it to be a carcinogen, a mutagen, toxic to reproduction, nor toxic to specific organs.

However, given the intense commercial pressures on these organisations and on governments implementing their findings, many people in Europe feel that glyphosate is not something one should take chances with. They are understandably dubious about farmers spraying it on the food they eat.

Nevertheless, 18 member states of the European Union have approved the continued use of glyphosate for the next five years, although nine voted against the extension and Portugal abstained. Sixteen votes were needed for the extension to pass; Germany swung the vote after having been on the fence in preceding weeks. About 40 percent of crop-growing land in Germany is treated with Roundup. Monsanto would not want to lose that revenue earner!

Progressive opinion was outraged. Greenpeace EU declared that the European Commission’s new approval of the chemical was based on flawed science. “The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them,” said the group’s food policy director, Franziska Achterberg.

“The European Commission and most governments have chosen to ignore the warnings of independent scientists, the demands of the European Parliament and the petition signed by more than one million people calling for a glyphosate ban.”

Friends of the Earth Europe also expressed dismay at the decision. “Today’s approval, even if only for five years, is a missed opportunity to get rid of this risky weedkiller and start to get farmers off the chemical treadmill,” said the group’s senior food and agricultural campaigner, Adrian Bebb. “Five more years of glyphosate will put our health and environment at risk, and is a major setback to more sustainable farming methods.”

It is widely believed that the 18 countries that voted for the license extension did so under pressure from Monsanto. There can be little doubt that Monsanto would move heaven and earth to protect its investment in Roundup, which is used widely in Europe. Monsanto has previously been accused of suppressing information about the potential dangers of Roundup and ghost-writing research that portrayed the herbicide in a positive light, a typical manoeuvre from the playbook of the PR industry.

There were protest demonstrations outside the HQ of the European Commission in Brussels. A typical protester’s sign read: “Our kids are not Monsanto’s lab rats!”

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