This is part of the book “Stéphane Foucart et les néonicotinoïdes. The World and disinformation 1“ where I show the journalist misinforms (= false or misleading statements) the reader. One of the myths he develops is that the regulatory response against NNIs has been delayed by industry influence. 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).

The author will repeatedly imply or claim that it was through the same practices used by the tobacco industry that the agrochemical industry succeeded in delaying the ban on NNIs.

Tobacco industry dishonesty

The tobacco industry has used many ploys to delay recognition of the carcinogenicity of tobacco as much as possible, and then second-hand smoke. This was revealed in 1998, when the US court ordered the tobacco industry to release its internal documents. A WHO report published in 2000 notably denounced pressure from the tobacco industry:

“The contents of tobacco industry documents reveal that tobacco companies have acted for many years with the deliberate aim of countering efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to control tobacco use. This subversive action was very complex, received significant funding and generally remained invisible.”

Zeltener et al. 2000

These practices allegedly consisted in particular of communication campaigns aimed at discrediting the WHO:

“The documents show that the tobacco companies have instead sought to divert attention from major public health problems, to reduce the budgets devoted to the decision-making and scientific activities of the WHO, to pit other United Nations agencies against the WHO.”, to convince developing countries that the WHO tobacco control program was a pro-industrialized program implemented at the expense of developing countries, to distort the results of important scientific studies on tobacco and to discredit WHO as an institution.”

Zeltener et al. 2000

The industry often lurked behind “various supposedly independent pseudo-academic, public policy or business organizations.” The authors describe such practices in detail over 22 pages. I encourage you to read the document, it is really terrifying. Here are just two excerpts:

“If we can manipulate the press, we can, for the first time, spark controversy in areas where public opinion feels there is none. This, of course, requires being able to secure the support of top scientists… obviously the industry cannot [sic] come across as sponsoring the activity or funding the travel of participants. This will have to be done through donations to foundations or independent institutions…”

An industrialist, quoted by Zeltener et al. 2000

“The tobacco companies have worked to adopt epidemiological standards that would prevent governments from relying on the IARC study and have worked to build a strong, supposedly independent scientific coalition to advance the interests of the tobacco industry in the plan. legislative challenge by challenging the use of certain types of studies as the basis for policy development.”

Zeltener et al. 2000

The practices of the tobacco industry have also been extensively exposed in Robert Proctor’s “Golden Holocaust” and “The Merchants of Doubt. How a handful of scientists have masked the truth about societal issues such as smoking or global warming” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. They have also been recognized by the courts and resulted in very heavy sentences.

Extension to agrochemistry

S. Foucart insinuates that the agrochemical industries would follow the same practices that the tobacco industry would have had to reinforce his discourse on the influence of the industry. Here are some examples:

“We search in vain for the words” agriculture “,” agricultural practices “… We rub our eyes. It is as if an epidemiological study on the causes of lung cancer had not only failed to question participants about their tobacco consumption, but that, moreover, the words “cigarette” or “smoking” were excluded from its study. report. […] This semantic modesty recalls that of old studies funded by American tobacco companies, which initially attributed lung cancer to air pollution, radon, genetic predispositions and, possibly, to… “way of life” – c that is to say with a cigarette.” (16)

In short, it’s a bit like assessing the smoking risk by making guinea pigs smoke one cigarette a year.” (39)

So 2003 could have marked the beginning of the end of the controversy. But that was not the case. Agrochemical companies used the toolbox of tobacco companies to turn science against itself and sow doubt. Use rigor and accuracy in the instruments to delay awareness of the risks as much as possible.” (45)

I think it would be a big exaggeration to say that lobbies have infiltrated the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). But it is true that among the key authors of the first report of this organization, which dealt specifically with pollinators and their decline, there was an employee of the industrialist Syngenta. Researchers have also strongly protested, in the journal Nature, against this obvious conflict of interest – all the more so since the scientist in question was, at the time of her participation in the work of IPBES, at the center of ‘intense scientific controversy. It is impossible to determine the impact that this person’s participation in the work of IPBES had in the end, but the history of science work carried out on the tobacco industry’s influencing strategies – in particular those of the American historian of science Robert Proctor (Stanford University) – shows that the participation, in expert work, of researchers in conflict of interest has the effect of biasing its conclusions.” (57)

An insinuation reinforced by frequent references

He reinforces this link by frequently referring to tobacco:

“To understand, it may be helpful to do a little thought experiment. Take a group of young, healthy men. Make sure they all weigh around 70 kg. Then lock them up for two days and force them to smoke enough cigarettes to kill half of them. Read off the quantity of cigarettes inhaled to achieve this: You just got what toxicologists call the “lethal dose 50” over forty-eight hours (or LD50-48 hours). This is the amount of a poison that, given over a two-day period, has a one in two chance of killing an individual. Based on the toxicity of nicotine alone, it is likely that the LD50-48 hours of the blond cigarette is in the order of 150 packets per individual. Then divide this amount by ten. At this point, you still don’t know what the result is (i.e. fifteen packets).

To nothing? Think again: the experience and the calculation that you have just carried out bring you “scientific proof” that cigarettes are a product of “low risk” for humans, as long as their consumption remains below the threshold of fifteen packs per day . At five packs of blondes per day, you are therefore very much below the risk threshold.” (11)

“For example, an epidemiological study showing the proportion of smokers affected by lung cancer does not, in itself, establish a causal link between smoking and the disease. But that doesn’t mean that this causal link doesn’t exist.” (44)

“Thus, the European decision to ban these three ‘neonics’ comes at a time when the damage they have caused is immense and undoubtedly already partially irreversible. Kind of like a doctor who waits until he is diagnosed with lung cancer before advising his patients to quit smoking. Or change the brand of cigarettes.” (45)

As we have shown, this parallel is indefensible: there is no consensus on the effects of NNIs like on the ones of tobacco and the influence denounced is ridiculous. The journalist only adds specific elements that might make one think about it: it is only a logic of evocation (“it looks like”) and not of demonstration. It is a manipulation technique aimed at concealing the weakness of the elements he identifies and reinforcing the fable he invents: “there would be a scientific consensus (as had been the case with tobacco)”; “There would be influencing practices (such as those implemented by the tobacco industry)”.

Thus, S. Foucart builds his argument around the lateness of the regulatory response against NNIs on the invention of scientific consensus and influence; invention which it reinforces with explicit or implicit references to the practices of the tobacco industry.

Page bibliography

  • Zeltener T, Kesseler DA, Martiny A, Randera F. « Les stratégies utilisées par l’industrie du tabac pour contrer les activités de lutte antitabac à l’Organisation Mondiale de la santé. » Résumé d’orientation. Rapport du Comité d’experts sur les documents de l’industrie du tabac. OMS, juillet 2000