Putting Monsanto “On Trial”? Not So Much | Vol. 3 / No. 6.2

The ICC in The Hague, where the "trial" will not take place | Photo: Vincent van Zeijst, CC BY-SA 3.0
The ICC in The Hague, where the “trial” will not take place | Photo: Vincent van Zeijst, CC BY-SA 3.0

Putting Monsanto “on trial”? It’ll be a kangaroo court at best.


It was to my great surprise to discover yesterday, thanks to Facebook’s “trending” notifications, that Monsanto is being “put on trial”:

“Monsanto: US Agricultural Biotech Company to Face ‘Tribunal’ for Crimes Against Nature and Humanity,” read the headline. “The trial will be held Oct. 16, 2016, in The Hague, Netherlands, advocacy groups announced Saturday at the COP21 summit. Monsanto is charged with damaging health and the environment.”

So, of course, I looked into it.

And no, they’re really not.

I mean sure, they’re being put on trial the way, say, the rabbis in Auschwitz put god on trial, or the way your high school’s model UN might have debated global warming, but they’re not being put on trial the way, say, people accused of committing genocide are, at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

They’re being “tried” (probably in absentia, because why would they show up to the debate?) by a “citizen tribunal” — a group of activists who, to all appearances, have already made up their mind. As far as I can tell, this is an entirely self-congratulatory action by a group of people who traditionally have aligned themselves with anti-GMO activism.

Taking a look at the crowd-funded organization running the show, we find a few of the usual suspects. First, noted anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva is at the top of the list. She’s a black-and-white, GMO-hell vs. naturalist utopia thinker whose grasp of the issues is rather suspect. As reported in Michael Specter’s Vanity Fair article in 2014:

“There are two trends,” she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. “One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives.” She paused to let silence fill the square. “And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don’t want that world of death. […] we would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers,” […] “They want to take that away.”

Even speaking charitably, that’s a severe oversimplification. But that kind of black-and-white thinking is what’s made her one of the patron saints of the anti-GMO world. But what do you really expect from the kind of person who answers the question “what is a GMO?” with the phrase “it is, creation and God move over.” She’s also, incidentally, spread the myth that GMO cotton caused a wave of Indian farmer suicides.

Next in the list is French politician and anti-GMO activist Corinne Lepage, who currently serves as the head of CRIIGEN, the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering. That sounds good, until you realize CRIIGEN was founded by Gilles-Éric Séralini (yes, that Seralini — and of course he’s also backing the “trial”) and who went on the record as opposing Anne Glover’s science-based policy recommendations, at least until the European Parliament removed Glover’s post at the urging of anti-GMO groups.

After that it’s Marie-Monique Robin, author of the book (and maker of the film) “The World According to Monsanto,” which from the reviews seems to be about the company’s production of Agent Orange, DDT, and Bovine Growth Hormone, and about its shady business practices… which don’t seem all that shady compared to, well, others in the industry anyway. I haven’t seen the film, and the only people on the internet who seem to have are the ones who leave links to it in comment thread after comment thread, but I suppose I’ll have to sit through it at a later date. At this point, all I can say for sure is that Robin has made up her mind already about Monsanto’s guilt as well.

And it looks like that’s the case for all of them. Arnaud Apotheker is a spokesperson for Greenpeace, an organization whose anti-glyphosate scaremongering is pretty well documented. Andrew Leu is the head of IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. Ronnie Cummins is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association in the US. I haven’t investigated every name in the list, but it’s looking an awful lot like a kangaroo court.

Their press release is full of claims — “Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Monsanto has developed a steady stream of highly toxic products which have permanently damaged the environment and caused illness or death for thousands of people” — but as Science Alert points out, “it’s proven incredibly difficult to find evidence against Monsanto.” Most of the things they’re accused of having done wrong in the past — DDT, Agent Orange — were done with governmental and regulatory approval, and the things they’re accused of doing wrong today — glyphosate (RoundUp), Bt corn — haven’t been shown to do any real harm (at least, not compared to what they replaced). Even the “patent bully” accusations haven’t stuck, with claims of GMO pollen blowing into neighbouring fields and causing farmers to be sued having been recently deemed unsubstantiated.

When it comes down to it, this really is just an anti-GMO grandstanding event with the “great satan” taking center stage. People who are already anti-GMO are going to get together, have a “trial,” find Monsanto “guilty,” and then in all likelihood proceed to go nowhere new because the evidence they’re going to present isn’t going to change anything about whether Monsanto has actually done anything illegal.

All in all, it sounds like it’s going to be a massive waste of time. But, my dear skeptical readers, I’m guessing you already knew that.


Richard Ford Burley is a writer and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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