The Science and Politics of Glyphosate
This workshop on Thursday June 6th brought together academics, scientists and policymakers to explore the controversial case of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup® and other commercial broad-spectrum herbicides.
As the most used pesticide in the history of the world, glyphosate deserves closer examination. Herbicides are complicated: they are sluices containing multiple chemicals, which may be individually or in combination dangerous to human and ecological health. Recent scientific studies have shown that some of glyphosate’s co-formulants present in its commercial version as Roundup® are even more dangerous than the so-called active ingredient.
The recent public treatment of glyphosate exposes many flaws in the existing laws and policies concerning pesticides more generally. Widespread and heavy use of pesticides takes an accumulating toll on the environment and health. We should start to think about how to reduce the amount of pesticides by monitoring how much is used globally and the side-effects of its application.
Impression of the Workshop
The Science and Politics of Glyphosate Workshop held at Erasmus University Rotterdam organized by Alessandra Arcuri and Yogi Hendlin in June 2019, aimed to create a better understanding of the ramifications of the glyphosate case. As part of the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative, this workshop was attended by prominent scientists from EFSA and IARC, and helped drive home that without a healthy environment, there is no such thing as inclusive prosperity. It is to be hoped that such intellectual exchanges move forward this program, because the way we think determines the way we live. A sustainable agricultural society is aware of the hazards of toxic substances. In this context, a more prominent role for public research is essential.
While to the dismay of their shareholders who have experienced a 40% stock price decrease, Bayer last year bought agribusiness giant Monsanto, the maker of glyphosate and Roundup®. The over 13,400 open glyphosate cases in the US alone may cost Bayer hundreds of millions if not tens of billions of Euros to contest or settle. Among other things, these trials have revealed documents from which it appears that Monsanto has lobbied regulatory agencies in problematic ways and has possibly hindered the production of knowledge for the public interest.
Interview with Prof. Sheila Jasanoff
The question of who produces policy-relevant knowledge was a hot topic during the Workshop. Such questions have implications that go well beyond the single substance (i.e. glyphosate). Given that pesticides impoverish the environment, contaminate water and destroy ecosystems in irredeemable ways, we need new approaches for this next phase in human history. As we heard half a century ago with DDT, the claim that we need “more pesticides” to feed the world and that without them we die, is an old canard. The health of people, farmers, and ecosystems must be the primary litmus test for safer crop management systems, in line with the forms of integrated pest management currently used around the world that work without synthetic inputs. With glyphosate as with other pesticides, the question is not whether there is enough food grown to feed the population on our planet. It’s rather that it is not distributed in a fair way.
We must at least start thinking of how to enable sustainable agriculture, and swiftly begin experiments piloting alternatives to endless chemical inputs. What emerged from the Workshop is that prevailing institutions in some ways do not even want to know all the hazards of toxic substances. And this needs to change.
09:30-10:00 Coffee and pastries
10:00-10:15 Welcome - Prof. Martin de Jong, Director of the Erasmus Initiative: Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity
10:15-10:45 IARC Evaluation of Glyphosate - Dr. Kate Guyton, Group Head of IARC Monographs Group (videoconference)
10:45-11:15 EFSA Evaluation of Glyphosate - Dr. Guilhem De Seze, Head of the Scientific Evaluation of Regulated Products Department at EFSA
11:15–12:30 Panel 1. Law & Politics - Chair: Prof. Alessandra Arcuri
Prof. Laura Westra, Dr. Marta Morvillo, Dr. Ton Van Den Brink, Dr. Vesco Pascalev
13:30 – 14:30 Panel 2. Science - Chair: Dr. Yogi Hale Hendlin
Dr. Angeliki Lysimachou, Dr. Nicolas Defarge, Prof. Chris Portier
15:00–16:00 Keynote- Prof. Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard Kennedy School
16:00–17:15 Roundtable on the Interrelation of Glyphosate Science and Policy + Wrap-up - Chair: Prof. Alessandra Arcuri & Dr. Yogi Hale Hendlin
Dr. Robert Lepenies, Dr. Maria Weimer, Prof. Alberto Alemanno, Dr. David Demortian, Dr. Charles Benbrook (videoconference)
Pavilion (Paviljoen) Serre
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Professor Alessandra Arcuri, Erasmus School of Law & Assistant Professor Yogi Hendlin, Erasmus School of Philosophy.
The Workshop was a joint initiative with funding provided by the Erasmus Initiative of Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity & The Erasmus Institute of Public Knowledge.