This is part of the book “Stéphane Foucart et les néonicotinoïdes. The World and disinformation 1” in which we analyze in depths a few articles of the corpus. All quotes are translated (by me), except the ones marked between [ ] in the french version (french quotes are to numerous to be marked in this one).
In May 2013, the European Commission announced the ban of 3 NNIs (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) on the basis of an EFSA report, published the same year, questioning their dangerousness for pollinators. This article ( (9) May 3, 2013 : Les insecticides Gaucho, Cruiser et Poncho enfument la ruche) is in reaction to this event.
4.II.1. EFSA’s opinion ‘could have been expressed’ ten years ago
S. Foucart defends the idea that this decision would actually be a defeat:
“Late and pusillanimous, the Commission’s decision appears rather to be a symptom of a tremendous failure of risk assessment systems. And, more generally, a serious lack of vigilance on the part of the public authorities on questions of environmental risks – the same mistake that led to the chlordecone scandal (Le Monde, April 17) in the French West Indies.
In fact, agrochemical companies are by no means losing out in their confrontation with beekeepers and conservationists. On the contrary. Pesticides in the spotlight today clearly should have been taken off the market many years ago. ” (9)
Indeed, EFSA’s opinion that the 3 NNIs in question (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) could “yet have been formulated by EFSA on the basis of scientific knowledge available ten years ago.” He bases this assertion on the report made by the CST in 2003.
Before presenting the latter, let us note the first sentence of the second paragraph:
“In fact, agrochemicals are by no means losing out in their confrontation with beekeepers and conservationists. ” (9)
The journalist therefore presents the regulatory issue as a clash between two camps, as a “war”. This eases conspiratorial doubt in two ways. First, there are rarely neutral people on a battlefield. Second, it denies a possible integrity of the industrialists (everything is permitted in war), also obliterating the fact that it is they who produced or financed a large part of the studies that were used to ban their pesticides …
[Apparté: I call that polarization (consisting of defining two camps and a single choice: to rally one or the other) and it is a recurrent practice in what I call “activism cancer”. (Baumann 2021) ]
4.II.3. The CST’s report
“In 2001, the Minister of Agriculture, Jean Glavany, brought together a group of experts (the Scientific and Technical Committee for the Multifactorial Study of Bee Disorders, or CST), made up of researchers from universities and public research organizations (CNRS, INRA, etc.). In its report, released in September 2003, the CST had already firmly concluded that imidacloprid (marketed under the name Gaucho) presented an unacceptable risk to bees. Without, of course, ruling out the contribution of natural pathogens (virus, varroa).
Above all, the experts wrote, the scenarios of exposure of bees to imidacloprid were “in agreement with the field observations reported by many beekeepers in large-scale areas, concerning the mortality of foragers, their disappearance, their behavioral disorders and certain winter mortalities “. The CST report, if it led to the Gaucho ban in France, was then conveniently forgotten. And this although it would have been easy to extend it to other neonicotinoids. The moratorium proposed in 2013 by Brussels is therefore a decade late. “ (9)
So there are many details, probably very accurate, about the report in question, but none of these elements support his argument. It shows that a study by a ministry in an EU country concluded that an NNI was dangerous.
You see that we are far from the generality of a decision of the European health agency on 3 NNIs. It does not in any way demonstrate that the moratorium would be “a decade late”. To do this, it would have been necessary to do a (complete) review of the literature on the subject and see if it was credible enough to justify the ban.
One can seriously doubt it, almost all the studies referred to by S. Foucart in his articles being… after 2011. The main one, which he cites in 17 articles, is that of Hallman et al. (on the -75% of insect biomass) and it dates from… 2017 (and it is, as we saw in the second chapter, very questionable).
This is one of the techniques that comes up often in his work. It presents elements as if they are actually answering a question, when they are absolutely not.
4.II.4. The question of persistence: the slide from pragmatic to hygienist
“This late moratorium also ignores scientific facts established by agrochemists themselves. The three targeted molecules will only be withdrawn for two years, while their persistence in the environment can exceed several years. In addition, they will only be suspended for certain uses: they will continue to be used for winter cereals on the grounds that these are not in contact with bees. The three neonicotinoids will therefore continue to accumulate and disperse in the environment. “ (9)
Here we see a very interesting slide. The persistence of a product is assessed by its half-life, that is to say the time needed to degrade half of the dose of the product. The disappearance is not instantaneous, it is gradual. However, he suggests that the mere fact that the half-life of these products could be several years would mean that the moratorium would be ineffective. This assumes either that the dose would not decrease or that the dose is irrelevant.
We can defend the idea that the first interpretation would be valid, however the author does not envisage that the remaining uses imply a use of NNI (therefore an addition in the environment) equivalent to the reduction linked to the degradation of the previous quantities.
It is therefore the second interpretation (the dose does not matter), which is the good one. However, this rejection of the idea that “the dose makes the poison” is central in the speech of S. Foucart. I call this logic hygienist, because it is about valuing physical “purity” as an absolute. We are moving from a pragmatic logic (NNIs at such doses cause such effects) to a hygienist logic (no NNI must remain in the environment).
4.II.5. Conspiracy’s theory return
“The Commission has therefore not fully taken note of the state of knowledge accumulated on these new generations of insecticides. But it is true that certain “expertises” have maintained political power in “socially constructed” ignorance on the subject. The history of science will probably judge with severity the various reports – such as the one made in 2008 by the late French Food Safety Agency (Afssa) – echoing, sometimes in questionable conditions of integrity, the vulgate of agrochemists: since bee disorders are “multifactorial”, new phytosanitary products would play no determining role. “ (9)
We note first of all that S. Foucart claims to know “the state of accumulated knowledge”. He presents it as a consequence of what he said before, although he has not presented anything convincing. It helps him legitimizing what he said before which is, as we have seen, a hygienist discourse, not a scientific discourse. This handling of the obvious is, I think, another important mechanism used by S. Foucart: “Obviously, there is no point in specifying”. We feel it present throughout this article. He builds on that feeling of obviousness to put together a rather terrifying paragraph.
He first asserts that “certain “expertises” have maintained political power in “socially constructed” ignorance on the subject.” There are a lot of implicit messages here:
- The knowledge produced by expertise would be disinformation, nurturing ignorance instead of fighting it. S. Foucart does not justify it.
- The intention that expertises would have to misinform is simply insinuated, but quite obvious: how, if not, to explain that, having as their object to reveal reality, said expertises make political power “ignorant”?
- We find the principle of conspiracy: we evoke the reference of sociology to hide a clearly conspiratorial statement. Thus ignorance would be “socially constructed”, a term broad enough to include conspiratorial thoughts while being defensible (what is not socially constructed?).
The rest of the paragraph is no better:
- The thesis that “bee disorders are” multifactorial “, new phytosanitary products play no determining role” would be a “language element” for industry. This would not be a position long defended by many scientists.
- AFSSA is said to have “echo“. This implies that the industry has given AFSSA the necessary language to convey. (this is more clear in french)
- This would have been the case “sometimes under questionable conditions of integrity“. The author does not specify which ones and does not source his point, leaving the reader free to imagine any conflicts of interest or embezzlement he wishes.
The message is clear: the industry has been successful in influencing AFSSA to obey it. We are indeed in a conspiratorial logic. It would be such that “the history of science” should judge it severely. We enter the register of the trial which is not without evoking the call for a new social order: “once the revolution is made, you will leave your heads there…”
4.II.6. Obviousness and complacency
“It took more than a decade to convince oneself that organizing the permanent presence, on millions of hectares, of the most powerful insecticides ever invented could possibly have an effect on these insects that are bees. It remains to be convinced of this other truism: these products will not disappear overnight from the environment. It will be well over two years before the full effects of their withdrawal are felt. “ (9)
We find his almost automatic practice of innuendo: the EFSA opinion is not cited. Yet the whole article is about it… In fact, the meaning of the first sentence is “EFSA’s report was obvious anyway”. This link, however extremely simple to formulate, is left to the reader’s imagination.
The author pushes the central point of the article (the EFSA opinion should have been given ten years earlier) by presenting it as obvious, and this… without providing the slightest evidence. The fact that pollinators could be exposed to significant doses was not obvious and took a long time to be established by the scientific community. This pure rhetoric continues the previous paragraph, which goes into bombastic excess. This tone reminds me a lot of that of the salesperson who adds tons of it to sell his product …
To give him credibility, he recalls an obvious fact referring to what he said earlier: NNIs will not disappear in two years. This helps to give credibility to what he said a little earlier, without the reader being too aware of it, and to shed light on it: the NNI would have to have completely disappeared for there to be any improvement. We find the hygienist logic of which I spoke earlier: the dose would not make the poison. This confirms our interpretation of the penultimate paragraph (“Late, this moratorium…”).
Thus this apparently benign article is in fact loaded with a dense web of innuendos that radically broadens the possible interpretations. We can have a reading of this article “moderate”:
There was a failure of the pesticide rating system. The EFSA has been extremely negligent in not taking seriously the alert given by a study by a Member State showing as early as 2003 the dangerousness of NNIs. The moratorium is too small and comes too late to be able to hope to have a sufficient effect. (9)
We can also have a “radical” reading:
Agrochemicals have managed to delay bans for more than ten years, especially with the help of institutions like AFSSA which have acted like their PR firms. The reaction, the moratorium, is too small to see any effect. This reflects a failure of the risk assessment which questions: how can we not see such evidence (the dangerousness of NNIs)? Above all, why? (9)
There is no “the one correct interpretation”. A bit like these drawings which change in nature depending on the perspective with which we look at them, this article changes according to its reader. Some “radical” people will take the most extreme sense and conspiracy, which will strengthen their convictions; some “moderates” will take the meaning “moderate”, while catching the seeds of extremism which will swarm their minds; others, finally, will only take the informational dimension.
This allows the author to promote an agenda surreptitiously.