Caring about food, where it comes from, how it’s produced and what’s in it is proving to be as superficial as any other trend.
The agricultural industry — and this includes farmers — has responded to what it assumed was a genuine interest in knowing more about what it’s up to by responding to questions that seemed scientific with scientific answers.
Caring about food was supposed to be simple. It was supposed to be about appreciating the hard work and toil overall-wearing farmers put into growing fruits and vegetables. Instead, the consumer, having not taken interest in the comings and goings of the ag industry for quite some time, is now face to face with an industry that is far from simple. Agriculture has adopted complex chemistries, complex technologies, complex business practices and it trades on a comprehensive understanding of global markets and trends.
Coverage of agricultural issues needs to keep up. Many media outlets need to do better, if they want to be the gatekeepers for the distribution of food and food production-related information.
- China’s canola embargo once again turns Canadian farmers into political footballs
- Superfruits of their labours: Farmers grow market for new berry in absence of government support
- The new Canada Food Guide won’t kill farming and it’s not pitting farmers against each other either
Last week’s episode of CBC’s The Weekly with Wendy Mesley tackled glyphosate, the active ingredient in popular herbicide Roundup.
The episode was an oversimplified treatment of a complex topic, and aired days before a U.S. federal jury ruled against the herbicide’s maker, Monsanto, saying Roundup was a factor in California resident Edwin Hardeman’s cancer.
The segment opened with an archived cigarette commercial assuring people that smoking poses no risk to your health.
“Remember when we learned that big tobacco had been hiding the science that linked cigarettes to cancer,” narrated Mesley as the commercial ended. It was the tie-in that would set the tone for the remainder of the story, which was anchored on the release of the Monsanto Papers, a collection of information related to the growing number of lawsuits against the namesake company.
The next few minutes struck me as fear mongering at its most effective: open-ended questions, zealous naysayers and claims that were hard to verify or disprove.
“They’re (Health Canada) continuing to bury their head in the sand and actually look at the science,” U.S. Attorney R. Brent Wisner told Mesley. Wisner is the co-lead counsel for the Roundup JCCP, which consists of more than 150 California-based lawsuits connecting the Monsanto product to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“The fact that Health Canada has turned a blind eye is really a disservice to Canadians. They’re wrong on the science. And when they’re wrong on the science, people get cancer and people die,” said Wisner, who implied that perhaps Monsanto had cast a spell on regulators.
The segment also cited findings that Monsanto was bedfellows with the research body that claims glyphosate is safe. A close inspection of the Monsanto Papers also revealed interactions where it appears as though the company attempted to edit research results. The public is led to believe those edits were tantamount to tampering, but that is not necessarily the case.
Not one farmer was interviewed, and Health Canada’s position was only mentioned a couple of times. The overall effect left viewers with only one conclusion to draw — one that runs contrary to Health Canada’s own findings.
“Our scientists left no stone unturned in conducting this review,” reads Health Canada’s official position on glyphosate, published in January. “They had access to all relevant data and information from federal and provincial governments, international regulatory agencies, published scientific reports and multiple pesticide manufacturers. This includes the reviews referred to in the Monsanto Papers. Health Canada also had access to numerous individual studies and raw scientific data during its assessment of glyphosate, including additional cancer and genotoxicity studies. To help ensure an unbiased assessment of the information, Health Canada selected a group of 20 of its own scientists who were not involved in the 2017 re-evaluation to evaluate the notices of objection.”
“No pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed. We continue to monitor for new information related to glyphosate, including regulatory actions from other governments, and will take appropriate action if risks of concern to human health or the environment are identified.”
As a farmer, and as a journalist who has worked in mainstream media, it is continually disappointing to see agricultural topics treated this way. Agriculture has some strong lobbies behind it, but they often don’t hold a candle to the ones rallying in opposition.
I’m not an apologist for glyphosate, but I use it. The effective herbicide has allowed my farm to reduce its reliance on chemicals, overall.
If the consumer cares, then pay attention to the details. And if the media wants to investigate large ag companies — which they should — they should give both sides a full airing. The public deserves that.