Sommaire | Content
- 1 GMO, asbestos, tobacco and mad cow disease, same struggle
- 2 Could the precautionary principle really prevent the arrival of more GMO in Europe?
- 3 In conclusion
Three weeks ago, a new « Global March against Monstanto » took place. Back in 2013, I wrote a post in which I pinned a column published to inaugurate this new international day on the French HuffPost by Corinne Lepage, a lawyer and former environmental European MEP as well as long-time anti-GMO activist. In it she cumulated a certain amount of mythes about Monsanto and GMO, so I felt it could be interesting to dismantle them all at once (only in French for the moment). She made a particularly noticeable factual error as she reported a really nasty and unfounded rumor about the American firm: she said that it had bought Blackwater, the infamous private mercenary multinational, known for its numerous exactions in several area of NATO military actions. Instead of acknowledging this mistake, which had been revealed by Wackes Seppi, a skeptic frequently contributing to the French blog « Imposteurs« , she suppressed his comment under her column and stealthily modified her text.
This year, I’ve decided to replicate this exercise with Corinne Lepage’s recent column written on the occasion of the 2015 March against Monsanto, because within two years, her discourse has somewhat evolved. More specifically, it appears to reflect a change of angle among anti-GMO activists, who seem to realize that they are loosing the scientific battle, despite the media prowess by Gilles-Eric Séralini, Lepage’s comrade in a white coat, and their repeated attempt at disqualifying national health authorities and science institutions. They therefore attempt to limit the debate to another field, that of law and civil rights. And as Corinne Lepage is a lawyer, she evidently feels more confident that way, without reckoning her mastering of rhetoric.
GMO, asbestos, tobacco and mad cow disease, same struggle
From the very beginning, she tries to nail it down:
This is a typical case, like the asbestos or tobacco records, where a 30-years old topic comes back on a regular basis like a long-time discussed subject, but with no concrete reality, haunting European institutions. We are being lectured about the virtues of plants supposedly capable of withstanding drought, diseases or insects. We are being told about feeding 10 billion human beings with these plants. In fact, we are being presented with patented plants whose sole advantage is to enrich those who own these patents, while incidentally creating a health risk.
And this is how the debate on GMOs is framed in utterly predictable terms: the GMO producers, like the building or the tobacco industry, are supposedly trying to smoke consumers out in order to maximize their corporate benefits as long as they can, until a huge scandal blows up and forces them to radically change. In the case of genetically modified plants, Lepage succeeds in treating the prospect of greatly improving farmers’ work conditions and contributing to feed more easily 10 billions people as a completely minor issue in comparison to the huge outrage caused by the enrichment of patent owners. Because, for the environment activist, the agri-food industry shouldn’t be making profits. It is bad. And too bad if, at the same time, it makes the work of tens of millions of farmers around the world easier! Besides, even the potential health risk she mentions, without actually specifying it, is only of secondary importance to her! It just shows how much she really worries about those she identified as victims of the industry!
A maize plant, depending on its characteristics, will always need the same amount of water to produce a protein. There are different breeds that need more or less water, but that is called genetic selection, not a GMO. The solution to produce that protein using the same amount of water, will be to eliminate from the field all the other plants that could compete with the cultivated maize for the available water. The GMO developed in response to this water issue will be either herbicide-resistant or an herbicide itself. Monsanto, with its flagship herbicide RoundUp, is the best example of this logic. And it doesn’t matter that glyphosate, the main active component of RoundUp, has been classified as probably carcinogenic by the WHO!
At this point, I must acknowledge I almost fell over when I read that! Basically, she is telling us that the ways by which some plants can withstand a drought is reduced to eliminate all other competitors so as to monopolize the low water resources. I have no idea where she went to look for such an explanation, but it is completely wrong! Even Greenpeace, one of the most vocal anti-GMO group, doesn’t spread such nonsense! Yes, there are species that are capable of hindering other plants’ growth by releasing toxins in the soil through their roots, but that has nothing to do with the process we are talking about here. It is perfectly possible to create breeds through transgenesis that are capable of the same mechanisms as drought-resistant plants to survive a drastic lack of water (or even other means). Besides, as we’ll see later on, the fact that glyphosate has been recently classified as a « probable carcinogen » doesn’t mean one should stop using it altogether.
She goes even further when she states that the proven benefits of genetically engineered plants, which she doesn’t actually question, are really only parts of a propaganda aiming at bypassing the opposition to this technology! Hence, selling plants that have been widely acknowledged as profitable and which harmfulness has never been demonstrated, isn’t enough, in her opinion, to legitimize this industry! As a result, the marketing of plants that have been genetically engineered with traits that can make them useful not only to farmers, but also to consumers (with the new generation of GMOs), especially those living in countries where properly feeding the whole population is still a challenge, simply becomes a new humanitarian angle which has been changing over time in order to deceive the public opinion about corporate true intents! This supposedly Machiavellian industry has even gone so far as putting forth its medical GMOs! This is probably why so few people, especially among anti-GMO activists, know about insulin having been produced by genetically engineered bacteria or yeast for the last 20 years!
And then, when marketing isn’t enough, the industry would even try to force through with the help of the abominable Uncle Sam! This is how European cereal importers supposedly attempted to have cargo boats of American soybeans accost in Europe with an undetermined amount of GMO on board. So, according to Lepage, in reaction to this stunt, the EU designed what she deemed a very sound directive. But, the 2001/18 directive on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms, which imposed a labeling of all products containing GMO and a mechanism to make its ingredients more easily traceable, has indeed been modified to establish a minimal threshold under which it isn’t mandatory anymore to indicate whether the product includes ingredients from genetically modified plants. But, this hasn’t changed much on the ground. For almost 15 years, there has been a sort of de facto moratorium on the approbations of GMO for culture and of their marketing for human consumption within the EU.
She goes on to deduce that if European populations are still skeptical or opposed to GMOs, it can be for only one reason: GMOs are heralding another health crisis similar to that of the « mad cow » disease, which everyone still remembers well. Because we all know that transgenesis is the same as an infection from the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy prion! She then explains that in the USA as well, consumers would like that products with GMOs to be labeled, but but they didn’t succeed in obtaining it, except in Vermont where a referendum imposed it! She conveniently forgets to specify that it was the American citizens themselves who rejected these propositions submitted to them through referendum by grass-root organizations in several States. It therefore looks like the consumers who want to « know » so badly whether there are GMOs in their food don’t make up the majority of citizens. Except in the State of Vermont where activists were able to convince their fellows citizens to accept this idea.
As a result, she continues, Monsanto has launched a lawsuit against the State of Vermont…except that it hasn’t. Yes, such a legal challenge has been lodged with the State Court, but by industrial associations such as BIO (which does include Monsanto as a member), Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. Of course, Monsanto is supporting this action, but it didn’t start it, nor is it spearheading it. She also vaguely mentions a class action recently opened against Monsanto. As I tried to figure out where she got that information from, all I could find was announcements of it on several anti-GMO websites, but nothing in large scale and well-established media. So, I guess, that she got it from other militants and didn’t think it would be very useful to verify whether it is true or not and what it entails. Although it does seem like a Los Angeles lawyer, named T. Matthew Philips, has indeed decided to take it upon himself to start such procedure and is now trying to get people to participate in it, his chance of success are actually quite low. In his file, he accuses Monsanto of fallacious advertisement about glyphosate, which he believes is supposed to interfere with the action of the enzyme EPSP that plays a role in the smooth running of intestinal bacteria that are found in some species, but not in human beings. This idea that glyphosate interferes with EPSP in humans is an old anti-GMO tune that has been debunked time and again and which no one takes seriously anymore. One can therefore really doubt that this class action will lead anywhere. This is maybe one reason why no so-called « mainstream », that is large and well-established, media got interested in this story.
Could the precautionary principle really prevent the arrival of more GMO in Europe?
Science, industry lobbying and the law
For Lepage, the most significant difference between North America and Europe lies not so much in people’s attitude with respect towards transgenic plants as in their approach to this issue. While the formers prefer to act after damages occur, taking the risk of being « sorry » afterwards, the latter prefer to act preventively. This is why, according to her, the European Union has developed two legal tools to prevent the worse from happening: on the one hand, the « risk of development », which means that if a producer cannot know the risk of his product, because the current state of scientific knowledge doesn’t allow it, he can’t be held responsible for subsequent damages when they happen; and on the other hand, the « precautionary principle ». But the problem is that the industry seems to have found a way to bypass these legal constraints thanks to an intensive lobbying of international institutions, such as the office of cooperation and economic development (OECD), through the US and Canadian governments, in order to obtain very low protocols which are limited to very short-term studies and rest on fallacious principles such as the dose-response relationship.
Well, first of all, it isn’t the office, but the organization of cooperation and economic development. Then, here, we can see that she still hasn’t gotten over the terse criticisms that the silly study carried out by her « scientific » activist partner, Gilles-Eric Séralini, attracted. Indeed, his inconsistent measurement results, especially in term of dose-response relationship, but also of threshold effects that were introduced as an ad hoc hypothesis, have been the target of many sarcasms from scientists all over the world. That’s without reckoning with the fact that the professor first promoted the cancer results as the study’s major finding, before doubling back on his word and claiming in 2014 that it was not a carcinogenicity study! As a last resort and faced with almost unanimous criticism from the scientific community, he then claimed that if one can’t draw any conclusion from his study, the same can be said about those from the industry, which supposedly follow the same protocol (but it doesn’t). This hasn’t stopped him from continuing to trumpet everywhere that his study, which he acknowledges to be pretty much worthless, still proves the carcinogenicity of all GMOs (and not just that of Maize NK603, which was the one he tested) as well as glyphosate! Since his ally in white coat was unable to obtain dose-response relationships that would prove the danger of GMO and glyphosate in a credible manner, she just decided that they were fallacious principles.
Anyway, for her, it’s the whole world of science that is at fault in this affair! Indeed, she strongly implies that hundreds of thousands of scientists, scattered in thousands of institutions across the planet, would all be sold out to the industry and the WTO.
Furthermore, producers can rely on the world trade organization which works towards lowering gray barriers. Thus, in order to fight against these obstacles, the WTO adopted a formula taken straight out of North-American legislations containing two words: « science based » (in English in the original text – she then explains how this could be translated in French). And thus, for 15 years, the EU and the USA have been stuck in a legal struggle, each using the legislation of its own institutions. Yet, we all know that the « science based » expression only serves to hide the organizing of scientific ignorance, which makes it possible to slow down legislation in matters of care, prevention and precaution. In this respect, the book by Stéphane Foucart, entitled « The lie factory » (« La fabrique du mensonge » – I don’t think this book exists in English and Stéphane Foucart is a scientific journalist at the national newspaper Le Monde – NT) clearly reveals the pseudo-scientific methods that have been used by the tobacco, asbestos and the GMO industries in order to prevent knowledge and then keep alive a doubt that is no longer needed.
I haven’t read Stéphane Foucart’s book, but if this is really how he reported the way the dangers from tobacco or asbestos were communicated to the public by the industry, experts and politicians, then, there is a problem. Contrary to a very widespread myth, asbestos has been known to cause lethal diseases since at least…the end of the 19th century. By the early 1900’s, doctors, medical experts and unionists began sounding the alarm bell about the safety of workers exposed to this material. By the 1950’s, there was a general consensus that asbestos was carcinogenic for them. In other words, not only corporations and the political circles, but everyone knew about the dangers of asbestos way before the scandal exploded in the 1970’s. What lay people might not have been aware of was the magnitude of the health risks at the population level. As for tobacco, the link between smoking and lung cancer was established later, that is true, but then again, it was pretty well known, even from the larger public, when the industry did try to counter campaigns of prevention and public actions to raise awareness of the danger of nicotine addiction, by buying up some researchers or by producing its own biased studies in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
So when the EU delayed its authorization of GMOs, the US lodged a complaint with the WTO and won their case in 2006, as the organization deemed that the restrictions were not based on risk assessment as defined in the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. When German honey producers wanted to make GMO-free honey and found out that there was a contamination from Monsanto GMOs, they filed a complaint with a German court to obtain compensation. The German court found in their favor and the Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed this decision. This judgment had become extremely bothersome and a hindrance for the development of GMOs in Europe. Never mind! New legislation, pushed by the industry and supported by the liberal, the conservative and the extreme-right parties in the European Parliament, was introduced that recognized that pollen was not an ingredient of honey. Therefore, the jurisprudence became inapplicable.
There again, the problem is that things didn’t happen exactly that way. The German Court of Justice, with which a complaint had been filled back in 2006, didn’t find in favor of the plaintiff. The judges only noted that pollen isn’t an ingredient of honey (made by bees from the nectar they suck from flowers). However, traces of pollens can sometimes find their way in it by accident. Accordingly, they sought advice with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and asked it whether the mere presence, in the apicultural products in question, of genetically modified maize pollen which has lost its ability to reproduce has the consequence that those products may not be placed on the market without authorization. To this, the CJEU responded yes, in September 2011. And from what I gather, this is about it. However, such a legal opinion could have had important consequences on the labeling laws concerning products including components from GMOs, as it was making it mandatory to systematically signal their presence, even if only as mere traces and they made up less than 0,9% of it. It is therefore not surprising that the industry fought against this. However, contrary to what she claims, it wasn’t the seed producers who went against it, but the European importers of food products, especially honey. And yes, we can consider that reason finally prevailed within the European parliament, when the MEP admitted that pollens can be considered a constituent of honey and since pollen only forms around 0.5 % of any batch of honey, it would never exceed the labeling threshold.
Science can’t prove that GMOs are dangerous? We’ll do without science!
Nearly a year later, anti-GMO activists struck a big blow. And yes, Corinne Lepage was with them. I’m talking about the crazy media circus orchestrated by her and Gilles-Eric Séralini around his aforementioned study. The public relation strategy they adopted quickly made the scientific community realize that it wasn’t the target of their communication, which was rather aimed at the larger public opinion, on which they were hoping to rely in order to drive the EU institutions and member states to change their legislations in a way that would ensure a definite ban of GMOs. Indeed, the way they prohibited journalists from seeking other experts’ views on this study if they wanted to have access to it before its official release demonstrated that its authors wanted to avoid at all costs any scientific criticism before the launching of their public campaign. Once the public opinion had become white-hot, it was then a lot easier to make any critics look like they were just sold out to Monsanto.
However, even though the media storm they triggered through this over-exposure has caused some political and institutional players to falter for a moment, European, North-American and Australian public health institutes quickly rang the end of the game, by underlying the crippling flaws of the protocol, the inconsistencies in the results and the wide gaps between the conclusion and the data presented in the study. Thus, despite an attempt to lead science completely astray and to put it in the service of a purely political cause, they weren’t able to win the war on that ground. After all, the conspiracy theory of Monsanto being able to buy out every single scholar and experts working for public health institutions around the world could convince only the most fanatic activists. And if they are capable of wielding an influence that is completely disproportionate with regards to their actual numbers, they are still far from being allowed to speak in the name of humanity as a whole.
Even so, European environmentalists, Corinne Lepage in their lead, weren’t going to give up the fight. Since they have lost the scientific battle, they are shifting their efforts on the legal and socio-economic ground, where expert consensus is much less prevalent and, as such, easier to ignore if it doesn’t suit their agenda. So, for 3 years, they have pestered all European institutions so as to drive them into acknowledging the right of member States to reject GMOs culture and the sale of products containing ingredients from these plants on the basis of non-scientific criteria. Indeed, the international law, especially WTO regulations, stipulates, as she stated earlier, that the refusal to approve the marketing of a new technology must be justified on the ground of recent scientific results that have been confirmed by the science community and must show a real danger for the environment and/or human beings. Yet, as we have just seen, anti-GMO militants have miserably failed in providing even the slightest scientific clue or even evidence capable of shaking the common opinion among experts on GMO safety.
We changed the legal basis of this text to allow a ban taking into account environmental and health criteria, which were already provided for by the 2001/18 directive, precisely not to get out of the WTO protocols and to avoid condemnation of States who decide to implement this legislation. The Council of the European Union decided to block this directive under the leadership of some member States, spearheaded by Spain – a country who had been under pressure from the US for the development of GMOs, as we remember was revealed in the WikiLeaks – and the States found themselves blocked yet again by their bans.
As this plainly states, they therefore had to succeed in demanding that other non-scientific criteria be allowed as pretext to reject GMO approbations. Besides, contrary to what she states, Wikileaks documents never said that Spain was subjected to pressures from the USA. Actually, it’s exactly the other way around: Spain has seemingly asked the USA to keep pressuring Bruxelles!
With this directive revision blocked and the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union bypassed, the field was clear again for all authorizations that the European commission might want to issue. As a matter of communication, the European commission indicated that member states were henceforth given the possibility to ban GMOs on their territory on any except environmental and health criteria. The text that had been adopted was back to square one, that of the trap!
In fact, the European commission didn’t have the choice anymore, stuck as it was between repeated obstructions that had kept accumulating for 15 years and the pressure from the industry that had seen its activities hindered in a completely unjustifiable way during all this time.
No, the precautionary principle doesn’t make it possible to dismiss glyphosate-tolerant GMOs
But, Corinne Lepage never runs out of ideas:
Yet, the European Commission could have taken advantage of a recent decision which had come just in the right time to strengthen the legal framework of the EU and the WTO, as it is both grounded in the precautionary principle and « science based ». Indeed, when the WHO classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, it made it possible to reject authorization or renewal requests for glyphosate-tolerant GMOs on both principles.
The problem here is that she grounds her analysis in a completely erroneous understanding of the « probably carcinogenic » category from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Indeed, an agent can be put into the 2A class on the mere basis of limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans as well as sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Strong evidence that the carcinogenesis is mediated by a mechanism that also operates in humans can also justify to put an agent in this category. Finally, in some exceptional cases, the IARC can base its conclusion on limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. In other words, the IARC only suspect the possibility of a link between exposure to glyphosate and certain types of cancer, but doesn’t have any evidence of it for the moment. And one should keep in mind that agents as common as acrylamide, a component frequently found in plastics and that is released during the process of frying food, has also been classified as « probably carcinogenic ». And professions such as barber are also put in this same class. Who demands that one stops from issuing or renewing barbers’ professional licenses?
It emerges from these considerations that even on the basis of the precautionary principle, it wouldn’t be possible to reject requests for approbation or for license renewal of RoundUp Ready GMOs. Indeed, it seems that Lepage is relying on an understanding of this notion that is quite common in the public at large, which is probably why she doesn’t even go into defining it, but that is also quite far off from its actual legal definition. For many people, the precautionary principle boils down to abstaining from any action if it might result in harmful consequences, even if the probability of them to happen are very low. It thus becomes a sort of immobility principle. However, for the EU (as well as for France), it is essentially an aspect of risk assessment (which includes also risk management and communication). The precautionary principle requires before all the identification of potentially adverse effects; the evaluation of the scientific data available and determining the extent of scientific uncertainty. In other terms, « imagining » potential risks is strictly limited to present scientific knowledge, thus automatically excluding fantasies caused by personal prejudices. Moreover, the legal implementation of the precautionary principle demands proportionality between the extent of scientific uncertainty and prevention measures. This means that the higher the uncertainty among experts, the stronger the precaution measures should be. However, it doesn’t result from this that one should systematically abstain from using a technology in case of high uncertainty, but rather that one should invest in research to reduce it.
To get back to glyphosate, it happens that the scientific uncertainty about its potential adverse effects is quite low, as it has now been widely used as an herbicide around the world for nearly 40 years and it has been examined in depth by numerous studies, many of which are public and independent, while other are from the industry. Until now, there has been a general consensus that it is one of the least toxic herbicide on the market, giving it a good efficiency-safety ratio. Even the re-classification of glyphosate as a « probable carcinogen » by the IARC doesn’t change much to this common opinion within the scientific community. So, the measures advocated by Lepage go against some of the main rules on which the precautionary principle rests and are completely disproportionate with respect to the potential adverse effects. At best, she could demand that the use of glyphosate, especially by workers, be more strictly regulated and subjected to more controls. Because the people potentially most at risk aren’t the individual gardeners who spray glyphosate a few times per season, but the farmers.
In fact, the accusations bordering on defamation that Lepage is repeating here against EFSA and the European Commission only serve as a diversion in order to avoid having to acknowledge that anti-GMO militants really have no valid scientific or even legal or political arguments to oppose the culture and sale of GMO. Indeed, when an activist realizes that her/his arguments have all been debunked, s/he often starts accusing the other party of being corrupted as a last resort.
She then returns to Séralini:
In the meantime, the grip is tightening on GMO toxicity and the refusal to replicate G. E. Séralini’s study, even to question it, shows a culpable deficiency.
Actually, more like the political grip and fear-mongering campaigns encouraging citizen to be scared and to pressure their policy makers. But certainly not the scientific grip, as we’ve just seen. And that is without reckoning with the fact that the replication of Gilles-Eric Séralini’s study hasn’t been refused, but, on the contrary, has been launched back in 2013 and is still going on.
Given the WHO decision, the European leaders have put their personal liability in line, but member states can lodge an appeal for annulment proceeding by the ECJ for failure to respect the European principles guaranteed by the treaties.
In fact, not only have the EU health and political authorities taken their full responsibility towards their citizens, but one can even say that they have even been overzealous. When one knows how difficult it is for researchers to raise money for projects that are often much more needed than this one, one can understand why some of them look so unfavourably at the 4 millions Euros of public funds that have been mobilized to reproduce a protocol, which insignificance has been widely demonstrated! One can then hope that those replicating this study have corrected some of its most crippling flaws. But then, one can even wonder whether this would still be a « replication » of that research!
Beyond this battle, another one is taking place, that of the future TTIP, since one of the US objectives is precisely to annihilate the European legislation on this matter and a few others, even if we have already dangerously lowered our guard on cloned animals. The European parliament under the previous mandate had succeeded in blocking chlorinated food, meat glue and a few other « innovations », without reckoning hormone meat. Ultimately, beyond the necessary mobilization against TTIP, the main struggle is that for transparency and labeling, which will allow consumers to be a true counter-power against those unscrupulous multinationals and States failing in their major objective, that of ensuring the physical integrity and the health of their citizens.
In this last tirade, Lepage is mixing up a few things. In fact, TAFTA is considered a problem by more than one political players, as they consider that it will seriously cut down the protection of privacy and individual freedoms for European citizens, exactly in the name of transparency. It is therefore amusing to see a lawyer complain that this agreement would reduce transparency. Besides, contrary to what she claims, this text doesn’t aim at imposing American laws on Europeans, but to set up negotiation mechanisms that should help increase the compatibility between the European and North-American legislations. As things are now, there is no reason to think that Europeans will be forced to eat GMO, chlorinated food or meat glue, nor that they should loose their right to know when there are GMOs in their food products. As for the capacity to mobilize citizens by scaring them about an issue, she should feel reassured. Americans will certainly not try to prevent that kind of civic actions, since they have a long tradition of grass-root activism relying on « fear-mongering ».
It isn’t possible to say precisely how much this column reflects the common position of anti-GMO movements. However, it definitely seems like there is a sort of shift from science towards more legal and political perspectives, which I have noted more and more frequently in conversations with people from these groups. In her text, Lepage hardly hides her disdain for, or at least her strong annoyance with, the scientific community which stubbornly keeps holding a consensus that goes against the convictions of those who oppose transgenic plants, even when they wear a lab white coat. More than that, whether biotechnologies can be of any use for farmers and consumers is finally of completely secondary importance to her.
For her, the real issues lies completely elsewhere: all the misfortunes of the world come from the transnational corporate industry which takes advantage of failing States in order to impose their capitalistic modernity, which crushes everything on its way in the name of the sole profit of a tiny elite. What really motivates her struggle, in my opinion, isn’t really a desire to ensure an environment- and human-friendly agriculture, but to put as many spokes as possible in the wheels of multinationals. And if needed, she’ll do so by manipulating citizens in order to drive them to pressure their State institutions and to have them establish always stricter norms and controls. For her, the USA and any European country who aren’t trying to force economic players into a rigid yoke of legal constraints and surveillance, is a failing State.
She and other environmentalist militants have it then easy to depict the agro-chemico-food industry as dominated by multinationals. But what small company would have the necessary human, material and financial resources to go through the incredible jump race that has become the process to obtain the approbation to market the slightest innovation?
Even more absurd: the people who keep advocating for citizens’ safety to be always more strongly protected are the first ones to complain when the EU limits its authorizations of marketing to products which strictly meet the most stringent criteria. Thus, back in 2013, activists created a big stir on the Web when they made hysterical announcements about a new European directive that would make it illegal to grow, reproduce, or trade any vegetable seed or tree that has not been been tested and approved by the government, more specifically the “EU Plant Variety Agency”. They then went on claiming that henceforth, only government approved varieties would be allowed, even for private gardeners. This was of course a completely manipulated piece of information. However, and this was what really bothered them, the EU had indeed decided that it wouldn’t be possible anymore to mass-market farm products from seeds that weren’t in the official list of authorized varieties, and this, for food safety reasons. Thus, such directive was indeed putting a number of organic culture and agroecology practitioners in a tight spot, since many patent-free conventional or heirloom breeds were at risk to be considered not safe enough to make it into this list. But rather than acknowledge that this paradoxical situation was a result from their own long-term and constant hardliner lobbying with State institutions and political bodies on behalf of consumers, they preferred accusing the seed producers, and particularly Monsanto, of trying yet again to seize control of the whole food chain. And Corinne Lepage does exactly this in this column.