In his final term in office, and his last as the powerful Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, one of Congresses leading climate change deniers, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), continues to lead the fight against science and facts on behalf of powerful corporations that regularly put profits over people.
His latest tirade is against an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) after a group of 17 international scientists found that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the agribusiness giant Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, causes cancer in human beings, as well as harms bees, butterflies, and other wildlife.
Their analysis for the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the WHO – an unbiased scientific agency charged with protecting public health – announced in 2015 was based on independent, peer-reviewed research which showed that Roundup is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Now Republicans, led by Smith, are threatening to cut off all U.S. funding for the WHO, which this year will be about $236 million out of a total budget provided by nearly 200 countries of almost $1.1 billion.
The hearing was called by Smith at the request of Monsanto, which has been lobbying to save Roundup, the most widely used weed killer in the world, which can be found on not only food like corn, soybeans, and crops including cotton, but also on lawns, golf courses, and other public green spaces.
Monsanto also makes millions selling genetically modified (GMO) seeds that produce plants that can survive in a field sprayed with Roundup.
Monsanto spent about $4.3 million on lobbying Congress in 2017 alone over Roundup, the use of GMOs and other issues.
What happens when Monsanto doesn’t like what WHO has to say about its product Roundup? “The chemical company convinces U.S. lawmakers to hold a ‘smoke and mirrors’ Congressional hearing,” writes the Organic Consumers Association, “under the guise of ‘defending scientific integrity,’ but really to undermine the findings of 17 international scientists.”
A number of other countries have banned the sale of Roundup, and it is the subject of a large number of lawsuits. In recent months, the state of California also determined Roundup causes cancer, and it is now requiring every label carry a warning about the danger. Monsanto has a year to put the warning on labels but is fighting that as well.
The hearing in Washington on Tuesday was typical of Smith. He began by making clear he was on the side of Monsanto expressing his opinion that the WHO scientific research as fundamentally flawed and relied on cherry picking facts.
Smith said he was seriously concerned about anti-industry bias and a lack of transparency in the program, which is based in Lyon, France.
As he has done in his hearings on climate change, Smith had a long list of witnesses who agreed with him and Monsanto and allowed only one dissenter, apparently so he could claim he was being fair.
One of those in attendance at the hearing represented President Trump’s toothless Environmental Protection Agency, which under President Obama agreed with WHO, but now suddenly disagrees.
Under President Obama, the EPA used independent analysts. Under Trump, most of those employed in jobs intended for scientists are political appointees who came out of the industry they now are supposed to regulate – and will return to it eventually in high paying jobs.
An EPA review announced in December, some of which was funded by the industry, found that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer at the typical levels of exposure.
“Labeling requirements will drive costs up for farmers and consumers,” warned Smith, “and create unjustified public fear.”
Other witnesses said that WHO was using outdated methods and misinterpreted data.
The one witness for the other side was Jennifer Sass, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who defended IARC’s results. She said the well-respected international group “was the target of a well-financed campaign by the pesticide industry seeking to discredit its findings,” according to a report by the Associated Press.
“This hearing is about the ability of a public health agency to call a carcinogen a carcinogen,” said Sass, “even if it makes a huge amount of money for a powerful corporation.”
“Are we willing to sell out the public’s right to know about harmful chemicals in the places we work and live and play,” continued Sass, “just so Monsanto Company can sell more glyphosate?”
In advance of the hearing, the minority Democrats on the committee, information based on what has been discovered in several of the on-going lawsuits against Monsanto, which showed agreement with what Sass said.
The documents unearthed showed that pesticide industry’s efforts to control the public debate about glyphosate and scientific studies about it.
“These efforts,” said the Democrats statement as reported by Ecowatch, “appear aimed at corrupting and disrupting any honest, thorough and complete scientific evaluation of glyphosate and its potential adverse impact on the public’s health.”
Most of Smith’s career has been spent protecting the fossil fuel industry (oil, natural gas), especially anything that might impair Exxon Mobil, but as his actions this week show, he can bring his narrow-minded, anti-science, pro-industry views to help others like Monsanto, a company that has repeatedly shown it will do anything to protect its profits.
The only good news is that Smith has announced he will retire after this year but he leaves behind a disturbing, even dangerous legacy.
As award-winning L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik put in in a column about his climate change denial in November when Smith said he would step down, “Smith waged a war on scientists, research administrators, and even state officials whose offense was to establish the human role in climate change.”
“Smith’s legacy will be long-lasting and entirely discreditable,” added Hiltzik. “Our generation and those that follow will be paying the price of obstructionism like him, into the limitless future.”
So as people consume GMOs and walk across public parks where they get Roundup on their clothes and into their lungs, without knowing credible scientists believe they are endangering their very lives, they will have Rep. Lamar Smith as the devil on their shoulder, as he goes on laughing all the way to the bank.