Asinof: Who is an “enemy” of the people?

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There is a delicious irony in the way that the phrase, “enemy of the
people,” has been adopted by President Trump and his followers to deride and to cast
blame on the news media for producing what the President has labeled “fake news,”
particularly for those who are familiar with its origins of the phrase: “An Enemy of the
People” which was the title of a play written in 1882 by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen.

In Ibsen’s drama, the main character, Dr. Stockmann, discovers that the town’s health
bath has been contaminated from toxins flowing into the water from a local tannery. The
local newspaper at first agrees to publish the story about the contamination, because it will expose the corruption that happens behind closed doors.

But, after meeting with mayor, the newspaper changes its mind and decides not to publish
the story, fearful that it will damage the reputation of the town. In response, Dr.
Stockmann decides to call a town meeting to present the evidence. But the meeting turns
rowdy, and the audience turns on Dr. Stockman, shouting: “He is an enemy of the
people.”

Is Monsanto an “enemy” of the people?

Last week, jurors in California awarded DeWayne Lee Johnson, a terminally ill man,
$289 million – $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive
damages, holding Monsanto liable for the cause of the school groundskeeper’s cancer,
non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which Johnson said had developed after years of applying the
company’s Roundup weed killer.

Many environmental activists, who have long questioned the safety of the active
ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, were thrilled by the verdict, as reported by The Los Angeles Times reporter Geoffrey Mohan.

A weakened EPA might benefit some big businesses, but what about the rest of us, Richard Asinof wonders?

“Monsanto made Roundup the OxyContin of pesticides, and now the addiction and
damage they caused have come home to roost,” said Ken Cook, president of
Environmental Working Group, as reported by Mohan .“This won’t cure DeWayne Lee
Johnson’s cancer, but it will send a strong message to a renegade company.”

Linda Wells, Midwest organizing director for Pesticide Action Network, called the
verdict a turning tide, according to Mohan’s story. “It’s time to get carcinogenic
pesticides off the market, and fight for the protective regulations we all deserve,” Wells
said.

Monsanto, which continues to be run independently after merging earlier this year with
German agro-industrial giant Bayer AG, said in a statement that it will appeal the verdict,
according to Mohan’s reporting.

Changing the way we think about disease

The verdict against Monsanto and its ubiquitous weedkiller, Roundup, may also force a
re-thinking by the medical establishment about what is meant by disease. Instead of
looking at cancer treatments as the major focus of clinical research, the jury’s award may
prove to be a warning shot across the bow, saying: let’s look upstream at preventing
diseases such as cancer by limiting exposure to toxic chemicals found in pesticides and
weed killers.

That, of course, would fly in the face of the current efforts by the Trump administration
to undo consumer protections about toxic chemicals in the air we breathe, the water we
drink, and the food we eat.

Most recently, the EPA has sought to limit environmental protections for asbestos, a
proven carcinogen. [A Russian asbestos firm has even put the image of President Donald
Trump on its packaging of asbestos products. Really.]

Roundup is ubiquitous in its industrial use in agricultural production of cotton, soybeans,
rice, corn and rapeseed [used to produce canola oil] in the U.S. and the world.
It is also a popular household consumer product promoted heavily by big box hardware
stores.

Like tobacco, and lead paint before it, ending the use of Roundup will require a massive
public education and a public health intervention.

One small step the state of Rhode Island could take is to halt its use on all state
properties, as a precaution to save lives and reduce future medical costs.

Richard Asinof
Richard Asinof is an award-winning journalist who frequently writes about health, innovation, science, technology and community in Rhode Island. He is the founder and editor of ConvergenceRI, an online newsletter offering news and analysis at the convergence of health, science, technology and innovation in Rhode Island. He can be reached at RichardAsinof@gmail.com.
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