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John Reitman

By John Reitman

'Follow the science' takes on new meaning in glyphosate saga


"Follow the science" has been a common theme for the past year. It is impossible to turn on the TV or scan social media without being reminded of our duty to help protect others and ourselves during a time of global crisis.

reitman_op-ed.jpgLike the medical community, the agri-chemical industry too has its roots in science, however its future is being dictated more by pure emotion than the scientific method. 

Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides used on golf courses are coming under increased scrutiny, which is fine, as long as such scrutiny is based on science. But that is not always the case.

Despite scientific studies that have concluded that glyphosate is safe when used according to label directions that have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, decisions in U.S. courts say the science does not matter. And Bayer, the maker of Roundup, is staring at $11 billion in settlements to prove it.

The World Health Organization, with only the discredited Zhang paper as proof, has determined that glyphosate "probably"  is to blame for thousands of cases of non-Hodgkins lymphoma reported by users of Roundup. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but maybe it could.

The EPA says there is no scientific proof that glyphosate is a carcinogen. Maybe it causes cancer, maybe it doesn't, but there is no proof it does. But "maybe it does" is also why there are instructions for safe usage on the label.

So much for innocent until proven guilty.

For the past year, our lives have been dictated by scientists trying to outguess a new viral strain. They implore us to "follow the science" to reduce the risk of spreading a disease that has been blamed for more than 2 million deaths worldwide, including 500,000 here in the U.S.

That science includes wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others and washing your hands. And it sounds a lot like the "keep your hands to yourself, wash them and don't hack on others" drum that my kindergarten teacher, Miss Wincup, dished out way back in 1967.

The only one saying definitively that glyphosate causes cancer has been the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Three cases, three verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs in excess of $2 billion translate into "no doubt about it, glyphosate is a carcinogen."

Courtroom decisions regarding the safety of glyphosate were made based on opinion, conjecture and speculation, foreign concepts to those in the scientific community.

The narrative is being driven by ambulance-chasers, late-night television commercials and email spammers all employing scare tactics to influence the opinions of the public and mainstream media that has lost its way and its objectivity and hand picks stories and themes to fit its cause du jour.

One law firm citing the dangers of glyphosate references on its web site the threat to golf pros "who spend a lot of time on golf courses treated with Roundup." That same site automatically opened a chat window asking site visitors if they want to speak to someone about possible litigation.

There are limited needs for glyphosate on golf courses, but golf has been low-hanging fruit in the war on chemicals for a long time, largely because no one fights back, so the truth matters little. Specific uses for glyphosate in golf include renovations and repair projects that require removing wide swaths of turf and would drastically limit the need for a golf pro anywhere in the area. But hey, follow the science.

A recent webinar by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Ireland notes that there are many commonly used products that have toxicity levels that far exceed glyphosate. That list includes salt, aspirin, caffeine, sodium fluoride, vitamin D3, nicotine and botox, almost all of which a child can purchase.

A highly respected weed scientist at a very large U.S. university has said it is absurd to think the EPA would shill for a chemical company, or that there is anything for the agency to gain by falsifying data. And that's what we are talking about here ultimately - lawyers and media accusing the EPA of providing false data. And with no science to support such claims, we've swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

Follow the science - but only when the science reinforces our unscientific beliefs.

At least now you know what you are dealing with.

Edited by John Reitman

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