This is part of the book “Stéphane Foucart et les néonicotinoïdes. The World and disinformation 1” in which we present one of the information manipulation techniques often used by journalists. 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).
Double standards is a term for treating two similar situations differently. This technique is used by S. Foucart to mark the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in his story, even in the absence of any objective element distinguishing them. He mainly uses it on the one hand to present in a positive light the pressures of NGOs and politicians in favor of his ideas; and on the other hand in its presentation of conflicts of interest.
1. The good and bad pressures
Foucart presents pressures from a different perspective, depending on whether they come from activists or businesses. This difference is perfectly illustrated by this single sentence:
“The vote took place in a context of great tension, between intense lobbying by agrochemical companies and strong mobilization of the beekeeping sector.” (8)
The action of companies is an “intense lobbying”, while the action of the beekeeping sector is a “strong mobilization”. The first refers to the idea of occult negotiations, the second to popular enthusiasm… Similarly, he writes that, in the context of the vote on the 2013 moratorium:
“This time, European expertise came under intense pressure. Several letters sent by Syngenta to EFSA’s senior management, made public by the non-governmental organization Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), show that the Swiss agrochemist has demanded, in vain, amendments to EFSA’s position , going so far as to threaten some of its prosecution officials: “We ask you to formally confirm that you will rectify the press release by 11 am, write Syngenta executives to an EFSA official on January 15. Otherwise, you will understand that we are considering legal options. ” [Editor’s note: Note that he suggests they would be threatened personally, when they are simply announcing that they will use their avenues of appeal against the contested decisions …]
On the other hand, a considerable mobilization was organized by the beekeeping unions, as well as environmental movements like Greenpeace or Pesticide Action Network. The NGO Avaaz prides itself on having obtained more than two and a half million signatures for the ban on neonicotinoids.” (8)
Thus, on the one hand, sending letters and threatening to “consider legal options” (which means “to launch appeals” against the administrative decision, that is to say one of the most ordinary things in the world) would be “intense. pressures”, which would weigh unduly on the shoulders of the agency…
On the contrary, the pressures coming from political organizations are presented as legitimate2.
There would be the “bad” pressures, those from industry which would occur despite the lack of transparency, and the “good” pressures, those from politics and NGOs, which would need transparency to be exerted. Here are some other examples of pressure from environmental organizations, always presented in a very positive way. For example, on discussions around a ban on NNI in 2015:
“The government is, on the subject, pushed by the voluntarism of certain parliamentarians, but also by a growing mobilization of civil society. Launched at the end of April by the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and the Générations futures association, a petition calling for the withdrawal of “neonics” has collected some 50,000 signatures in three weeks.” (22)
On the re-authorization of NNIs in 2020:
“It is under strong pressure from civil society that the deputies were to begin, Monday, October 5, the examination in session of the bill authorizing the partial return of neonicotinoid pesticides, banned since 2018 for the risks they present on biodiversity in general and bees in particular. The day before, questioned by Le Journal du dimanche, the former minister of ecological and solidarity transition, Nicolas Hulot, called directly on the deputies “not to vote [this bill] law”.
In the same edition of the JDD, around thirty environmental organizations and agricultural unions, including WWF, Greenpeace, the Bird Protection League and the Peasant Confederation, conveyed the same message to the national representation: “Tomorrow, your vote will engage you, in the present and towards future generations. In the midst of a health and ecological emergency, the French, their children and grandchildren will judge your willingness to prioritize – or not – their health and the environment.”” (68)
Note that his very strong criticism of the pressures exerted by the agrochemical industry does not combine well with his demands for more transparency, which he repeatedly voices directly (51) or through the Pollinis association. (48) Indeed, if it were coherent, it would defend the anonymity of decision-makers, to prohibit the industry from putting pressure on them. We may wonder if he does not regret, on the contrary, that NGOs cannot exert more assiduous and more personal pressure on the institutions…
2. Extensive conception of conflicts of interest
The author has an extremely broad conception of conflicts of interest when it comes to the agrochemical industry and basically non-existent outside of it. In fine, he presumes that all scientists involved in any way with industrialists to be compromised and the others of impeccable integrity. Conversely, he presents public scientists whom he recognizes as having no conflicts of interest as irreproachable and having superior credibility. This, while no concrete difference is demonstrated. In fact, he uses it to deny the words of some scientists and to dub those of he agrees with.
a. The “bad scientists”
“Bad” scientists are quite clearly (although it remains implicit) defined in the following passage:
“During its last conference, at the end of 2011 in Wageningen (The Netherlands), seven new working groups were formed on the issue of the effects of pesticides on bees, all of which are dominated by researchers in conflict of interest situations. The participation of experts employed by agrochemical firms or private laboratories under contract with them varies between 50% and 75%.” (2)
All researchers employed “by agrochemical companies or private laboratories under contract with them” would be in “conflict of interest”. This is nonsense: an employment contract is not some kind of absolute bondage pact.
More broadly, all the work in which they participate would be affected by this imprint and therefore suspected of being “under the influence” of the industry and willfully biased. This is notably what emerges from his comments on the IUCN (16) (17), IPBES (25) report
It’s pretty clear in this passage:
“An elementary school child can figure out the deception in a matter of minutes. But it was not until nearly fifteen years of decline in beekeeping, the first signs of a massive collapse of all the entomofauna and the protests of civil society and parliamentarians, for the European executive to s ‘questions the integrity of risk assessment procedures, and asks EFSA to take a closer look …
And this is just one example: other protocols for assessing risks for bees, now questioned, considered chronic toxicity tests unnecessary, considered the loss of 30% to 50% to be acceptable. % of brood, etc.
How is it possible? It’s not very complicated: these protocols were designed by groups of experts infiltrated by the agrochemical industry. In a report released this week, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Future Generations suggest that this example is not isolated. On the contrary, it falls within a standard. The two NGOs reviewed twelve standard methods or practices used by public expert agencies to assess the health or environmental risks of “phytos”. Result: in 92% of the cases examined, the techniques in question were co-developed by the manufacturers concerned, directly or indirectly.” (39)
The mere presence of people linked to industrialists would explain the extent of the flaws in the assessment protocols. Likewise, he writes, around the discussions on the re-authorization of NNIs on beets in 2020:
“Regarding neonically treated sugar beet, EFSA rated the risks of guttation water as ‘low’, but independent academic work from the industry is lacking on the subject.” (64)
Work loosely related to industry would therefore be of no value.
b. The “good scientists”
Opposite, scientists not working with industry are said to be of irreproachable integrity:
“If we are to be dismayed, this dark week should not, however, make us forget that many scientists from public research organizations or universities participate in groups of experts with the sincere desire to put their knowledge at the service of society. And that they do it without recognition, to the detriment of their own research activity, and therefore of their careers.” (21)
Scientists affiliated with other entities would therefore not have, by definition, “the sincere desire to put their knowledge at the service of society”… We can almost explicitly see who the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are …
Yet there are many ways to monetize one’s position as a researcher through activism. For example, G-E. Séralini, a researcher for a public establishment, had organized a communication campaign around his study observing, according to his allegations, a carcinogenic effect of GMO corn. He had sent the information to several newspapers, requiring them not to consult researchers. All the press echoed the study, unanimously endorsing its conclusions. He thus had a lot of exposure for his book, that of Corinne Lepage and a film about his study, all of which came out in stride. I don’t know if you realize: we are talking about a MOVIE. It is not a few pennies, but tens or hundreds of thousands of euros which are at stake.
The scientific community has proven that its study showed nothing at all, and its conclusions have been invalidated by large-scale studies. To my knowledge, he has had no sanction for this terrible scientific imposture and was able to finance and carry out by following many other research.
More broadly, I detail the many business models that can reward activism in Militant Cancer (Baumann 2021a) and Agribashing (Baumann 2021b). Note that among these potentially interested players, we find newspapers, which gain a large and reactive audience, ideal for making content viral …
Therefore, if S. Foucart were coherent, he would not cite any scientist…