Episode 21

Hello and welcome back to No Word Is An Island Advanced English, the podcast for intellectually adventurous advanced English learners and those who teach them. As I mentioned back in the very first episode, the single greatest challenge for you as an advanced English learner is the development of your productive vocabulary, that is, the words and chunks – chunks are simply phrases or expressions of more than one word – that you are able to use spontaneously in conversation and in writing. If you want to stand out as an English speaker, this needs to be your main focus. In each episode of this podcast, you’ll learn keywords and chunks to help you achieve this goal of being more articulate. 

If you are articulate, you are able to express yourself clearly and precisely on a range of topics, especially complex ones. By listening to No word Is An Island Advanced English you will become more articulate and knowledgeable about important social issues of the day. Don’t forget that each episode includes an interactive transcript with annotations on key vocabulary as well as a Quizlet flash card set to learn it by heart. At the end of the episode, I’ll read out this vocabulary along with definitions for each item. 

Before we begin, I just want to thank you for listening. Producing this podcast has been tremendously rewarding and sometimes tremendously challenging. I’ve now passed the 20 episode milestone, which apparently the vast majority of podcasters never reach, so I’m going to imagine all of you out there listening, cheering me on, maybe even applauding. A guy can dream, can’t he? 

I also want to let you know that you’re welcome to get in touch with me by email if you have any feedback on this or any other episode. Send me an email to podcast@BetterLanguageLearning.com. I’m currently in the process of setting up a membership for advanced English learners and I would love your input on what sorts of materials you would find useful. So send me an email and tell me what you need help with. I promise I’ll get back to you and you may inspire me to create a new Instagram post or podcast episode. Speaking of which, if you want more of my content, follow me on Instagram at Better Language Learning. 

Today we’re going to begin with a quotation by Doctor Martin Luther King, a Baptist minister and probably the most important American civil rights activist of the 20th century. Sadly, he was assassinated in 1968. 

Now, in the year of his death he had the following to say, he said. 

“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And this is a beautiful quotation that I was reminded of this week when I read a new story, which made me feel cautiously optimistic about the world. It was a bit of good news and I was reminded of this quotation of Doctor King’s, this sense that there is a trend towards justice, and yet it’s sometimes hard to notice because you have to have the long view of the world. You have to see things as they develop over time.

Martin Luther King

Dr. Martin Luther King

So what’s this new story I’m talking about? Well, five days ago, on June 17th, an important court ruling – a court ruling is a court decision, a legal decision – in the US, took place and it was to do with the use of a very common pesticide called Roundup and the main ingredient in Roundup is something called glyphosate and this has been around for quite a long time now. It’s been around since 1974 and it’s the most widely-used pesticide in the world and this isn’t the first court case to do with the use of glyphosate. 

In fact, there have been numerous lawsuits related to its use. And I, first of all, should point out that glyphosate is produced by Monsanto, a multinational corporation which is now owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, depending on how you want to pronounce it. The makers of aspirin. 

So, glyphosate, what’s the big deal? Why is it the focus of so many court cases? Well, it’s been tied to numerous health problems in both animals and people. Imagine this, the most widely used pesticide in the world, it’s in a lot of the food we consume. It’s in your body, probably, and in 2015 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans. And yet we carry on consuming it, and there’s more and more pressure from different NGOs to put an end to this. 

However, in 2020, the focus of this court case was a 2020 decision by the American EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, which renewed approval for the use of glyphosate or Roundup in farming. And in this ruling from 5 days ago, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided with an NGO called the Centre for Food Safety which represented, among other people, farmworkers who became sick with a type of cancer tied to glyphosate. And so this Court of Appeals in California, they sided with, they took the side of this NGO and the farmworkers they represent by overturning the EPA’s approval of glyphosate. 

So if you side with someone as the Court of Appeals did here with the NGO and the farm workers it represents, it means you will agree or support them in a disagreement. And we can also say that you side against someone. So in this case the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, they sided against the government, or rather the agency that’s part of the government, the EPA. 

Another bit of vocabulary I just mentioned, so the Court of Appeals sided with the farm workers represented by this NGO and in the process overturned a government decision. If you overturn a decision, it means you invalidate or reverse a decision that’s been made previously. The interesting thing is that the language that the Court of Appeal used was very strong in its support of the plaintiffs, the people who brought this lawsuit. So they said, the Court of Appeals said that the government shirked its duty to protect citizens from exposure to a harmful substance. 

This is a very interesting expression. If you shirk your duty, it means you deliberately avoid doing something you should do because you’re lazy or irresponsible. What’s more, the Court of Appeals, in its decision, went as far as to say that the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, disregarded the evidence proving the dangers of glyphosate when it approved its use. If you disregard something, you ignore it or treat it as unimportant. 

Now this is a very heartening news story in the sense that it’s an indication that perhaps legislation may be forced to be corrected to make human health and animal health the priority and it is a big issue, especially here in the European Union where I live, as approval for glyphosate is up for renewal in the coming year in 2023 and this has been a political hot potato as we say over the last decade in Europe. 

So as I mentioned in 2015, the WHO, the World Health Organisation, the cancer agency that’s part of it said that glyphosate use is probably linked to cancer. It probably causes cancer in human beings, while just a year later, in 2016, the European Food Safety Authority published a report contradicting the conclusion and found that glyphosate was not carcinogenic. That is not cancer-causing. And then again just last month a follow-up report came to the same conclusions, namely that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

There were a couple of scandals a few years ago that it’s really important that people in the EU be reminded of, in light of the fact that our representatives in the European Parliament are going to be making important decisions about our health in this coming year. So back in 2017, it came to light – that is, people started finding out – that big chunks, big parts of the European Food Safety Authority report that I just mentioned back from 2016 were basically copied verbatim, that is word-for-word from reports submitted by companies like Monsanto. 

In other words, the authorities were seemingly taking orders from the industry they were ostensibly regulating. If you do something ostensibly, you do it in a way that appears one way, but is in fact not the case. If we say that the EU was ostensibly regulating pesticide makers, we mean that on the surface it looked as if they were doing so, but that that wasn’t what was actually. Why do I say this? Because if the EU is supposed to look at the reports submitted by industry, presumably the government does this with a very critical eye, knowing that the reports are going to be biased in favour of the industry members who submitted them, so by copying them word for word, the suggestion is that the government, the EU, is not being critical of the claims made by industry, and obviously that’s what voters expect the government to not assume that industry always has our best interests at heart.

 To add to this, there’s something what we refer to as the Monsanto Papers, a scandal that revealed that… So first of all we have the government copying the reports word-for-word, verbatim, In their own reports suggesting a lack of critical… they’re not being critical of what they’re being told by industry. On top of that, the so-called Monsanto Papers, a scandal that showed that Monsanto, which is now part of Bayer, created ghostwritten research to support the safety claims of glyphosate. 

If something is ghostwritten the true author’s name remains confidential and a more well-known author is given credit for the work. Typically, this is what happens, for example, when a celebrity writes their memoirs, their autobiography, and needs help with writing the book so they hire a ghostwriter, a writer who is like a ghost, invisible. In that context, it seems quite harmless, but ghostwriting research to justify using a substance that could prove fatal to human beings and wildlife. I think there should be another name for that, because, well, that’s nothing short of criminal

Dead bee lying on its back

Is glyphosate wiping out bee populations?

Even if glyphosate is not carcinogenic, there are plenty of other ways in which it can harm human health and animal health. A 2020 article by Forbes highlighted research that showed the glyphosate can damage the human microbiome. That is the ecosystem of bacteria that exist in our digestive system and are a key part of our overall health. What’s more, the article points out that bees microbiomes are also weakened by glyphosate, which is particularly concerning given their role in farming and pollination.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this, you’ll find links to the article on the Federal Court of Appeals ruling, an overview of glyphosate by HEAL (Health and Environment Alliance) an NGO, as well as the Forbes article I’ve just mentioned. All of this in the interactive transcript. 

I’ll also include a link to a petition by We Move Europe to ban glyphosate in the European Union. 

As I mentioned, this is going to be debated in the upcoming year in the European Parliament. This is a very important issue. And now just to return to Doctor King’s quotation about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice. As I mentioned, the recent Court of Appeals case is an encouraging example of courts holding government accountable for environmental protection. But we can’t be complacent. We need our political representatives to know that we care about this and in the EU especially. 

As I said, this coming year may be a turning point when it comes to pesticides, so be part of the change. Get in touch with your MEP. 

Thanks for listening. I would love your feedback. Send me an e-mail to podcast@BetterLanguageLearning.com. Next week I’ll be back with an episode on how hallucinogenic drugs are going mainstream as a means of fostering mental health and well being. 

Vocabulary Summary

be articulatebe able to express yourself clearly and precisely on a range of topics, especially complex ones
a milestonean important event in the history of something, or in someone's life
a rulingan official decision, especially one made by a court
be tied to somethingbe linked, connected, or associated with something in a way that suggests causation
overturn a decisionabolish, invalidate, or reverse a previous decision
side with someonesupport a person or group in an argument or publicly recognise that they are right
shirk your responsibilities/duties/obligationsavoid something, especially if it's difficult or unpleasant
disregard somethingignore something or treat it as unimportant
come to lightif new information comes to light, it becomes known
verbatim(formal) repeating the actual words that were spoken or written
ostensiblyif something is ostensibly true, people say that it is true, but it is not really true - synonym: supposedly
be nothing short of _____used to emphasise that something is very good, very surprising, etc.

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