Sowing With Salt
As with most events of modern life, there are often parallels in antiquity. Not much of a history buff, I wouldn’t be privy to these parallels if my husband and son didn’t have something of an abnormal obsession with ancient history. The Roman Empire really only crosses my mind in February when the Superbowl numbering requires me to re-remember my Roman numerals.
While sitting at the dinner table, some truly shocking facts on ancient social improprieties often pop up. Who needs Squid Game when you have the history of three millennia prior? Combine the little anecdotal gems from antiquity about young boys and child sacrifice, and I hereby am disturbed for perpetuity. Tonight, the freshly-filled salt shaker at the dinner table opened up a new historical detail that hit disturbingly close to home.
Maybe you’ve heard of the term “sowing with salt”. Various accounts report that, in ancient times, conquerors would spread salt in the soil of the conquered land to prevent crops from growing and the conquered from rebuilding. The practice was thought to be widespread in early civilizations of the Near East – including Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.
Several academics note that salting was also implemented by the Romans against their ancient rival, the Carthaginians, around 146 B.C. When the Carthagians surrendered after three brutal, long wars, Rome vowed to make their old enemy eternally dependent on Roman agriculture to survive.
An early 20th Century academic Betrand Hallward told this depressing story with vivid detail, stating that “the plough passed over [Carthage], and salt was sown in the furrow made…A solemn curse was pronounced that neither house, nor crops, should ever rise again.”
These ideas of stealing life from the soil and destroying agricultural independence bear some depressing contemporary parallels.
New readers – yes, I mean the United States and all other countries that engage in primarily chemical farming; but mostly the US since we bully other countries into “salting” their soil with our herbicides and GMOs despite their preference for no “seasoning”.
As chemical farming continues to receive government support and dominate US agriculture, we have been forced into a frightening state of dependency on a failing GMO-pesticide system. From herbicide overuse, our once nutrient rich soil has become nearly barren. Economic independence becomes pretty hard when our soil stops growing food. We didn’t even need invading legions to ruin our soils – we did it to ourselves.
Which brings me to the recent Monsanto trial. I continue to believe that the most promising road to agricultural transformation in this country sits in the courtroom, so my eyes are always on this ongoing litigation.
As you may have heard, Monsanto won their first Roundup cancer case this week (Tally 3 losses/1 win) and there are thousands more pending. I haven’t been streaming the more recent cases, so the verdict struck me by surprise.
After screaming about the injustice of a loss, I dug a bit deeper to find out where things went awry. Our acquaintance Brian Stekloff, who represented Monsanto in the Hardeman case, was brought in as counsel for this case as well.
The Plaintiff in the case is ten-year-old Ezra Clark, whose mother claims that regular exposure to Roundup in his childhood gave him a form of cancer called Burkitt’s Lymphoma. The case was bifurcated, just like the Hardeman case, meaning that the proceedings were divided into two parts. The first part simply addressed whether there was enough evidence to support Clark’s Roundup exposure as a substantial factor in causing his specific cancer.
Juries have to decide specific cases based on the evidence presented in the trial. In the Clark case, there were problems with the testimony and evidence in support of the family’s use of Roundup. These problems apparently left several jurors unable to determine how much exposure the mother and child actually experienced. Uncertainty on that critical piece of the puzzle was enough to sway the jury that the general causation hurdle had not been satisfactorily proven.
Last week, I tuned in to the audio streaming of a different Roundup trial that is going down in San Bernardino, CA – Stephens v Monsanto. The previous trials have all used a compelling video deposition of Monsanto toxicologist and “Defender of Glyphosate” Dr. Donna Farmer for testimony, vs calling her in live. While many former Monsanto executives retired richly upon the sale of Monsanto to Bayer, Dr. Farmer continues to work for Bayer in defending glyphosate.
I only listened to one day of the multi-day testimony by Farmer, but it was extremely uncomfortable to experience. As the solid defender that she is, Farmer ate the plaintiff attorney for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She was so smooth and confident. The technical difficulties and delays involved with the Zoom hearing prevented the plaintiff attorney from getting into a flow of questioning about her incriminating internal emails. And Farmer has now had four years to perfect her responses.
The original legal teams were so on top of the details of the case that they made winning these trials look easy. In reality, nothing about these cases is easy when going up against the legal teams that Bayer has on retainer. The TV advertising to recruit the monsoon of tag-on cases may be good for lawyers trying to get a piece of the cake, but to be successful, the lawyers must know the story of the Roundup case thoroughly and the Plaintiff has to have a scientifically and logistically provable exposure-disease link. It would also be extremely helpful to not be at the mercy of Zoom and technical difficulties, which make the details of the science-intense case hard to follow.
Fortunately, these cases don’t impact the massive settlements well underway with the original legal teams. What these verdicts do impact, however, is the public sentiment surrounding the ongoing use of toxins and poisons in our communities and on our food. Hopefully, future cases will be selected carefully for trial, and more wins than losses will result.
In horrendous news, EPA Administrator Michael Regan has hired Ron Snyder to be the new EPA Ag Adviser. At first glance, he is involved in “sustainable” agriculture. But look more closely, and we see more of the same old corrupt crud – he worked for the National Corn Growers Association as well as the notorious CropLife America pesticide trade group. Are we really incapable of doing better?
In The Odyssey, Odysseus attempts to avoid being sent to fight in the Trojan war by pretending to be crazy. He exhibited the craziness by sowing salt in his own fields to render them baren. It’s “craziness” because who in his right mind would destroy his own soil? Perhaps I will gift a copy of the book to Regan for some reflection.