At the start of February 2018, the European Parliament announced that it had formed a committee to examine the authorisation process for pesticides. This comes after MEPs, NGOs and activist groups recently cast doubt over the EU’s regulatory processes, following the announcement that glyphosate was granted a five-year renewal in November 2017.
The PEST committee was created to ‘assess and analyse’ the alleged failings and scientific quality of the EU’s authorisation procedure as well as ‘independence from industry’. The committee will comprise 30 MEPs from across the European political spectrum, who will have nine months to renew the pesticide authorisation process. The PEST committee will make a final report of its findings and provide recommendations for approval by the European Parliament’s plenary session.
Alistair Hide, Monsanto’s European corporate engagement lead, spoke to Politico’s Brussels Influence and said that ‘attempts to cast doubt on the EU’s regulatory processes were dangerous, even though glyphosate was eventually renewed at the end of last year.
“Whichever way you try and polish this, it doesn’t feel great,” he said, describing how the chemical’s renewal should not have been controversial because “the science at the end of the day is incontrovertible.”
Hide emphasised the important role played by NGOs and activism as a part of a democratic society. “Ideologically, NGOs are the natural counterbalance to corporations and have been a positive influence in many ways, but they can sometimes use social media as a tool to generate controversy and the visibility that is critical to obtain funding.” Hide added that a real strength of activists is their use of social media to create communities of “people who agree with each other”, which can result in “lots of catchy, easy to digest-type conspiracies appearing which then get shared very quickly”.
“It’s not surprising you see a rise in populism if the discourse of complex issues is being discussed with social media posts that may not have any basis on facts,” said Alistair Hide. He also added that there are different consequences for the various players when things go wrong:
“Ultimately, companies by definition will be held accountable when things go wrong, but will NGOs be held accountable for the consequences of a poor regulatory system?” Hide asked.
Even though many companies now manufacture glyphosate, Monsanto remains the target for most activists, a situation which Monsanto acknowledges. “We probably ignored too much of the emotional end of the conversation,” Hide said. “It’s fair to say we haven’t connected very well.”
Looking forward, Monsanto hopes to change that by increasing engagement with communities, both offline and online, and contributing positively to the debate around the future of agriculture and food production.