University of Guelph’s research is not for sale, as The Walrus accuses  

University of Guelph’s research is not for sale, as The Walrus accuses  

A response to Bruce Livesay’s article “Big Agro on Campus”

Published by The Walrus, the article “Big Agro on Campus” by Bruce Livesay is based on opinions and half-baked facts.

Livesay incorrectly portrays the University of Guelph as an institution that is influenced and perhaps even controlled by the pesticide giants.

That the big pesticide companies pump “hundreds of thousands of dollars” every year into the University is completely blown out of proportion.

In reality, the total funding received by the University of Guelph from large pesticide companies contributed to a paltry 0.44 per cent of the University’s research budget in the 2015 to 2016 funding cycle, according to U of G’s annual research report.

Livesay’s excessive focus on the influence of pesticide companies on researchers at U of G is downright insulting to their integrity.

My experiences as a graduate student in the Department of Plant Agriculture have been quite the opposite; I have always seen my professors uphold rigorous standards when conducting their experiments.

On glyphosate

The article discusses glyphosate—the world’s most used pesticide—and its safety regarding usage has been covered extensively by the United States and European Union’s regulatory agencies.

The United Nation’s classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen is an outlier to the general consensus of most scientists in the world. In fact, the joint meeting of the FAO/WHO in May 2016 reaffirmed the general consensus that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”

Livesay mentions the research published by Dr. Stephanie Seneff from MIT, which indicates a correlation between glyphosate and disorders such as autism and multiple sclerosis. Seneff’s “correlation is causation” theory is highly misleading since we can cannot interpret that just based on correlation. That is akin to saying that the increase in the number of pirates is the cause for global warming! (Not true.)

Anti-pesticide activists have conveniently used the popularity of MIT as an effective cover to propagate their views on the use of pesticides in agriculture.

However, a closer look reveals that multiple researchers have debunked the work from MIT because they haven’t conducted a single original research project on the topic.

Mariah Bridgeman | The Ontarion

On neonics

Livesay then writes about the neonics debate. There was a huge bee loss in 2014 and beekeepers pinned neonics (neuro-active insecticides similar to nicotine) as the reason for the sudden decline. A ban on neonics was then implemented in Ontario.

In this discussion, Livesay leaves out important facts and paints a one-sided picture of Guelph’s participation.

U of G’s Dr. Cynthia Scott-Dupree’s research on the correlation between neonics and bees (she found no correlation) is written about in detail, but the research of U of G’s Dr. Nigel Raine—which demonstrates that neonic pesticides threaten the breeding of wild bees—was not mentioned at all.

Livesay’s contention that Guelph produces industry-favorable research is absurd and uncalled for. Research on both sides of the spectrum is conducted at U of G in order to produce unbiased work.

On standards

I am not denying that the big pesticide giants sometimes flex their muscles to push forth their agendas. However, concluding that they influence how research is conducted at Guelph is taking it too far.

“Big Agro on Campus” also mentioned how certain environmentalists feel: “Industry-funded scientists often demand an incredibly high standard of proof before they will accept something as toxic.”

Isn’t that how science works? Isn’t it every scientist’s duty to perform research of incredibly high standards?

Scientists demand rigorous standards because they follow those standards as well.

I strongly believe that the University of Guelph produces research that is unbiased and objective, regardless of their funding source. For science to progress it requires more outreach so that the general public understands the research conducted at Guelph. Having said that, the information that is released should strive to show both sides of the story. Hopefully, this article provides the other side to Livesay’s “Big Agro on Campus.”

Photo by Mariah Bridgeman/The Ontarion.