Why Professor David Zaruk was fired for loving GMOs
Professor David Zaruk lectured on risk communication at Saint-Louis University in Belgium for that past 10 years. In his spare time he is quite vocal about his knowledge that biotechnology and glyphosate are not risky enough to apply the precautionary principle to in Europe, and is quite critical of those using bad pseudoscience to demonize them.
Knowledge that opponents of agricultural advancement cannot allow to spread. According to Zaruk they had him fired.
Professor Zaruk discusses it on his blog:
I was even more surprised that the source for my dismissal did not even come from my university. The attack was instigated by a professor from Louvain: Olivier De Schutter. His university is in the process of taking over Saint-Louis and De Schutter found an easy way to put pressure on several low-level professors to take his personal issues with my views on agricultural science to the Saint-Louis hierarchy. Olivier is an influential public figure in the Belgian academe and local media darling (always happy to reassure journalists how their elitist food choices are going to save the world).
Among the charges I had to answer to was that I was “pro-glyphosate, pro-biotechnology and was not particularly kind to one Christopher Portier” (referred to by my vice-rector now as a “University of Maastricht professor” … in other words, I committed fratricide on a fellow “academic”). I do stand guilty on all accounts, but I would never dare to be such a bastard as to try to get poor Chris fired because we disagree on definitions of ethical scientific conduct.
Portier was instrumental in getting the herbicide glyphosate classified as a “probable carcinogen” (the same commerical use classification that being a hairdresser falls under) as reported on by Forbes:
Portier himself, who as chair of an IARC committee in 2014 had proposed that the agency undertake a review of glyphosate in the first place. He then went on to play a key role in the deliberations resulting in the IARC conclusion that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic.
Portier had a significant conflict of interest as Forbes continues:
….during the same week in March 2015 in which IARC published its glyphosate opinion, Portier signed a lucrative contract to act as a litigation consultant for two law firms that were preparing to sue Monsanto on behalf of glyphosate cancer victims. His contract contained a confidentiality clause barring Portier from disclosing his employment to other parties.
In the years following the IARC glyphosate decision, Portier has frequently claimed that he had no conflicts-of-interest and that he has never taken a cent for his glyphosate work. At the same time, he and IARC generally have portrayed any scientist who questioned the evidence of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity as being motivated by pro-industry bias. This has proved an effective tactic for suppressing substantive arguments based on the scientific evidence.
Forbes goes on to explain how forces behind the editing of the IARC report worked to exclude evidence of glyphosate’s safety:
On the heels of Risk-Monger’s exposé, three days ago, Kate Kelland, a journalist for Reuters, who has been investigating IARC’s recent assessments, published findings indicating that the glyphosate document underwent significant editing to remove null results and to strengthen positive conclusions. Kelland obtained a draft of the key chapter of the report devoted to animal studies, which became available as part of the lawsuits against Monsanto, and she compared the draft with the final, published report. She found 10 significant instances in which “a negative conclusion about glyphosate leading to tumors was either deleted or replaced with a neutral or positive one.” Kelland’s findings indicate that the original draft found little animal evidence that glyphosate was a carcinogen. Her textual analysis provides confirmation of Tarone’s independent re-analysis of the original studies. Furthermore, Portier admits in his deposition that the interim report produced by the animal subgroup during the Working Group meeting also concluded that there was “limited evidence of animal carcinogenicity.” He proclaims ignorance of when or how the conclusion was upgraded to “sufficient evidence of animal carcinogenicity” during the deliberations of the entire Working Group. It is crucial to repeat that the classification of glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans relied entirely upon the conclusion that there was sufficient evidence of animal carcinogenicity (because the epidemiologic evidence was not strong).
Olivier De Schutter, the professor that Zaruk says worked to get him fired, is another lawyer who was angered by the inconvenient truth of Professor Zaruk’s writings and speeches. As recently as December he had filed a brief to prevent the reauthorization of glyphosate for an additional five years in the European Union.
While Saint-Louis University is a public institution, free speech laws in Belgium are quite different than in the United States. In the US a substitute teacher can’t even be fired for making a YouTube video mocking religions, because the courts have long held that public employees are free to speak on matters of public interest. As long as the speech does not cause interference in the school.
According to the Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities freedom of expression in Belgium does not extend quite as far:
Written insults are paper or digital texts, pictures or symbols that are insulting.
So whereas a public employee in the United States can freely call Olivier De Schutter a kwal and snotneus who is acting like a schijtluis and needs a kick in the zak, Professor Zaruk can actually be fired for calling Portier a greedy liar for being paid by greedy lying lawyers to demonize farmers.