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French press review 27 October 2017

The bizarre survival of the Monsanto weedkiller Roundup. And the end of the embargo on publication of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy assassination files. Will we finally learn the truth, 54 years after the facts? Almost certainly not.


Le Monde's editorial looks at the surprising survival of the Monsanto weedkiller Roundup.

In March 2015 the UN's International Cancer Research Agency classified the glyphosate-based chemical cocktail as "probably cancer-inducing". Ever since the European authorities have been sitting on the fence, caught between the lobbying power of the American manufacturer and the popularity of the product with farmers.

The licence to use the weedkiller in Europe expires in December and the commission was, earlier this week, on the verge of renewing the Monsanto best-seller for a further 10 years, despite the fact that a globally recognised scientific agency has warned that Roundup is probably going to cause cancer.

France wants the chemical banned completely within the next four years, the European Commission is in favour of a seven-year deadline. Le Monde wants to know how we got to a situation where a US agricultural giant can exert so much pressure that Europe's farmers are put at risk for such extraordinary lengths of time.

The product is potentially dangerous. That's not in doubt and the paper wonders why it has not been withdrawn from sale immediately.

Perhaps because Monsanto is very good at lobbying and exerting pressure which Le Monde qualifies as both "aggressive" and "dubious".

The American agrichemical company is fond of basing its campaigns on what it claims to be scientific evidence and even provided the basic research which led to the original approval of glyphosate on US farms back in 1974. That same research was accepted by the European control agencies as they gave Roundup a clean bill of health in 2015 and again earlier this year.

Unfortunately, the leak of the so-called Monsanto papers, revealing the level of internal dishonesty at the company, cast a huge shadow over the reliability of the basic research, with a worldwide negative reaction, except in Europe.

Serious questions remain to be answered about the way Europe evaluates the toxicity of pesticides and weedkillers. People are confused and angry, says Le Monde.

Brussels has defended its various decisions, saying they are all based on "science". Except that, in this case, the science is provided by the major interested party, Monsanto, and is of a complexity to baffle most commissioners and most of the public they represent.

It is time to balance the science with some politics, for the safety of all. The European Commission has to stand up for its citizens, even against a monster like Monsanto, the paper says.

Most secret Kennedy papers declassified

Left-leaning Libération gives the front-page honours to last night's declassification of previously secret government files on the 1963 assassination of US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The perhaps overly optimistic headline reads "The end of a mystery".

The crucial fact is that, of the 3,100 documents that were scheduled to be made public overnight, the FBI and the CIA managed to have an additional block of six months put on 209 files, describing their publication as a potential threat to national security. Those are the files everyone obviously wants to see and the delay will serve only to feed the darkest suspicions of the conspiracy theorists.

It is ironic, says the left-leaning daily, that it should fall to Donald Trump, a president who clearly appreciates the power of conspiracy theory, to lift the veil on a series of questions which have remained unanswered for more than half a century. Trump had no say in the release of the documents. That is the automatic result of a law passed 25 years ago.

That law called for the full and uncensored JFK files to be published this morning but left to presidential discretion the withholding of any documents which could endanger military, intelligence or security operations or prejudice foreign relations.

Libération quotes Philip Shenon, former correspondent at the New York Times, as speculating that the reserved files are being kept out of the public domain because they would reveal the huge amount of information accumulated by the CIA and the FBI on Lee Harvey Oswald, the man currently recognised by history as the president's killer, in the years leading up to the assassination.

Shenon says the authorities had sufficient evidence to prevent Oswald from carrying out his plan. They did nothing.

Successive federal administrations have aided and abetted the coverup of intelligence failings in the JFK affair. But Donald Trump has no love for either the FBI or the CIA, pillars of the so-called "deep state", a sort of secret military-intelligence alliance, which has repeatedly tried to undo the new president by leaking confidential information.

Historians may profit as Trump takes his revenge. Unless an unfortunate accident should see the crucial files damaged or destroyed before they, too, reach the public domain.

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