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. More specifically, we show here how he neutralizes the voice of farmers to support his misleading image of NNIs and agriculture, presented in 2.I.1 and 2.I.2. 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).

According to the journalist, farmers are trapped in the “industrial model”, notably because of the incentives for cooperatives and councils to promote the use of pesticides.

The explanation: the fable of the agricultural model

To explain why more farmers do not adhere to the practices tested by L. Furlan in Italy, the journalist writes:

“The Italian experience seems almost too good, too easy. Especially since farmers spend a lot of money on treatments… Why did such an initiative wait thirty years before seeing the light of day? “In Italy, the companies that provide technical advice to farmers are also those that sell them pesticides,” replies Lorenzo Furlan. And we constantly tell them that they will lose their harvest if they do not use these products…” The same observation holds true for France: all the parliamentary reports on the subject highlight this institutional conflict of interest which leads to mechanically upwards the use of phytosanitary products. In France, agricultural cooperatives are the masters of the game.” (37)

“The literature review conducted by the researchers asks: why do farmers spend large sums on chemicals that are mostly unnecessary? “The reason is a structural conflict of interest: technical advice to farmers is provided by those who sell them the pesticide treatments,” Mr. Bonmatin summarizes. If this advice were provided by independent agronomists, the situation would be very different. »» (40)

Note the connection with the L. Furlan study (which we have shown to be of no scientific value) and the idea of NNIs’ uselessness. The latter cannot exist without this story. This myth is “continued” with a quote from a UNAF representative:

“But farmers have little choice: it has become very difficult for them to obtain seeds that are not coated with pesticides – the content of which they do not necessarily know. Today, the cooperatives, to which three quarters of them belong, sell 70% of the seeds presented as genuine “all-risk guarantees” and dictate their way of proceeding. “Farmers depend on cooperatives and cooperatives depend on pesticides,” said UNAF.” (36)

These elements are part of a recurring discourse: there is a “model” of “industrial”, “dominant” agriculture that is opposed to organic agriculture. This idea is detailed in the article on the “paradox of the red queen”:

In reality, the dominant agricultural model seems subject to the paradox of the Red Queen. In a famous scene from Lewis Caroll’s book Beyond the Looking Glass, the Red Queen explains to Alice that in the world she has landed in, you have to keep accelerating to stay still. Agriculture is embroiled in a similar frenetic race to stand still. As time passes, each new innovation produces ever weaker beneficial effects and ever greater damage, which are in turn corrected by other innovations, also coming with their externalities… As a result, returns only stagnate. ‘at the cost of endless chemical and technical escalation.” (27)

A story with multiple authors

Note that, if we have spoken of S. Foucart, this story is in fact quite widely repeated. It can be found in the introduction to the WIA of Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP) :

“Although systemic pesticides can be highly effective at killing pests, there is clear evidence from some farming systems that current neonicotinoid use is unnecessary, providing little or no yield benefit. Agrochemical companies are at present the main source of agronomic advice available for farmers, a situation likely to lead to overuse and inappropriate use of pesticides.

Van Lexmond et al., 2015, p.3

So it’s a story written by many hands.

A dubious story

First of all, we observe that the author only bases his assertion on opinions. The researchers concerned do not present any study on which to base their arguments. However, there are several innuendos that seem questionable:

  • Pesticides would be more and more toxic and the agrochemical industry would push in this direction
  • Farmers would make most of their phytosanitary choices on the advice of pesticide vendors. What about specialized magazines? Decision support software? Agricultural cooperatives? Think tanks? Colleagues? Chambers of agriculture?
  • Admitting that this is the case, what would prevent farmers from switching providers based on the results? All consulting professions (doctors, lawyers, etc.) have an “inefficiency premium”: often the less effective they are, the more they are needed (that’s one of the problems of agency theory). This is solved simply on the one hand because of professional integrity [Notice that this can be deduced from the work of the psychopathology of work (Yves Clot, Marie-Anne Dujarier, Christophe Dejours, etc.): people generally want to do their work “well”, with quality criteria. which may even conflict with those of their management.] and on the other hand because of the competition: the badly advised person will simply stop working with the dishonest consultant (and probably speak badly about him or her).
  • Admitting that there is an influence, would it be such as to rise the demand for pesticides?

Indeed, it is the overall consumption of neonicotinoids that the journalist is talking about here. We would therefore need a huge influence, the specific purpose of which is to sell precisely these pesticides. In addition, this grip should make it possible to conceal the so-called alternatives, the merits of which the author praises to us. If the vaunted model was so virtuous, why is it not better known? There is nothing to prevent word of mouth and there are many networks of farmers. If that worked, the practice would “spill out” quickly.

The mere fact that there is no source for obviously dubious material is enough to indicate there is manipulation here. However, I wanted to go further and explore the subject by interviewing farmers.

Page bibliography:

  • Lexmond, Maarten Bijleveld van, Jean-Marc Bonmatin, Dave Goulson, and Dominique A. Noome. “Worldwide Integrated Assessment on Systemic Pesticides.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research 22, no. 1 (January 1, 2015): 1–4.