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OPINION

Eye on France: Poisons, prisons and plots

One of the range of Monsanto weedkillers which contain glyphosate
One of the range of Monsanto weedkillers which contain glyphosate REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Strange revelations about the source of information in a European Union report on the weedkiller glyphosate. The French birth rate is down again, but the population is stable. And Carlos Ghosn is still in jail and back in the news.

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You may remember the angry debate last year about the weedkiller glyphosate? Some experts warned that exposure to the chemical, widely used in European farms and gardens, could lead to cancer and be bad for the environment. Others, equally expert said, “nah, it’s probably harmless”.

Today, the centrist paper Le Monde reports the rather disturbing news that the 2017 report on which the European Union decided to authorize the continued use of glyphosate was a word-for-word copy of a study carried out by Monsanto, the chemical company which manufactures and markets the suspect chemical.

Two German cheat-chasers have shown that 50 percent of the 4,000-page European Union report is plagiarism, with 70 percent directly copied.

The information on which the European decision was based was thus “uncritical, biased, incorrect or incomplete”. And written to the orders of a hardly disinterested party.

Glyphosate is still widely used in Europe.

Birth-rate down, population up

Last year saw the French population increase, even if the number of births continued to decline.

If that sounds illogical, or even impossible, read on.

The national statistics institute has just published its latest report, announcing the arrival of 758,000 French babies last year. For the third time in a row, that’s several thousand fewer than the previous year.

There are two explanations for the declining trend: there are fewer women of child-bearing age, and they are having fewer babies. The current figure is 1.87 babies per woman. Of course, if you want the population to remain stable, you need 2.1 babies per woman. So France is falling far short of that target.

But the country still has the leading birth rate in the European Union, ahead of the Swedes and the Irish.

2018 in France was also marked by a slight rise in the death rate, mainly due to the ravages of winter flu and summer heat waves on a population of post-war baby boomers who are now getting to their sell-by date.

And it’s the narrowness of that contrast between arrivals and departures which ensured the very slight net increase of the French population last year to ,just short of 67 million persons.

Ghosn loses latest bid for freedom

Carlos Ghosn tried to get out of jail earlier today. Not by knotting his bedsheets together, simply by getting his lawyer to ask a judge to set him free on bail. The judge said no. The lawyer said he’d appeal.

Carlos, as I’m sure you know, is in Kosuge prison just outside Tokyo where the former head of the Renault-Nissan motor monster is being held for questioning on suspicion of financial misdeeds.

He’s already been on a rice diet since 19 November and, if this appeal fails, will remain behind bars until 10 March. At the very least. Le Monde quotes several well-informed Japanese judicial commentators who suggest that the man might be kept in jail until his formal trial, and that could take six months to organize.

Ghosn whistleblower says he's shocked

The same story dominates the front page of French financial paper Les Echos, where Hiroto Saikawa, the man who has replaced Carlos Ghosn at the helm of Nissan, says he is shocked. Profoundly.

Saikawa says he admired Ghosn for the two decades of effort which saw the Frenchman turn Nissan’s fortunes around. “There are very few people who could have achieved what he did,” says the man who went on to blow the whistle on Ghosn when he discovered the alleged financial anomalies which have landed the super-boss behind bars.

So, was it all a plot, and was Hiroto Saikawa the chief plotter?

“How could you imagine such a thing,” splutters the accused. “It’s absurd!”

“Just look at the facts, Saikawa continues, “look at the impact on the company, on the morale of the workers.”

To say nothing of the fact that Nissan as a company faces a parallel series of charges for allowing incomplete reports of directors’ salaries to be published.

So if, as many commentators continue to suspect, Hiroto Saikawa did organize a palace revolution to prevent Carlos Ghosn from strengthening the ties between French mother company Renault and Japanese subsidiary Nissan, he may have bitten off more than anyone can chew.

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