Jonathan Matthews talks to Paul Moreira about his acclaimed interview
As soon as I saw the interview, I knew it was dynamite. So I wrote a piece flagging up the amazing 45-second volley of exchanges, and the video quickly went viral.
According to Newsweek:
"The Internet went wild this week when a video emerged of a man named Patrick Moore bombastically offering to drink a controversial Monsanto herbicide then quickly refusing when a French journalist offered him a glass of the stuff. By Friday morning, the video was trending on Facebook and many news outlets sounded the alarm: 'Watch a Monsanto Lobbyist Claim a Weed Killer Is Safe to Drink but Then Refuse to Drink It,' read Time's headline."
Monsanto distances itself from Moore
Because Time, like many others, jumped to the understandable conclusion that he must be in Monsanto's employ, the company was forced to issue a public statement putting as much distance as it could between themselves and Moore. No, Moore was not an employee. No, it was not a good idea to drink their glyphosate weedkiller. This of course only served to spread the story still further.
In the resulting furore, a lot of attention has been focused on Moore and his curious background. Newsweek, for instance, noted his (long gone) Greenpeace past, his vocal denial of man-made climate change, and his controversial work for Asian Pulp & Paper, an Indonesian company derided for, among other things, "threatening endangered Sumatran orangutan and tiger habitats".
But almost no attention has been given to the journalist who so brilliantly exposed the hollowness of Moore's claims. I decided to put that right by interviewing him and finding out exactly how the Moore interview came about.
What Paul Moreira had to tell me puts Moore in an even worse light than the video that went viral. It also gives the lie to the distance the industry is now trying to create between itself and Moore.
Who is Paul Moreira?
Moreira began his journalistic career back in 1985 when he went to work for Radio France Internationale. Three years later he went freelance, working for publications like Politis, Current and Libération-Magazine, as he covered the Romanian revolution, the end of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and the war of the favelas in Brazil.
In 1995, he moved into television, eventually becoming a leading investigative journalist for Canal Plus, and the work of Moreira's team won several prestigious awards. In 2006, he left in order to produce his own films - films like Iraq: The Agony of a Nation, which won the award for best documentary at the 47th International Television Festival of Monte Carlo. His production company Premières Lignes has become renowned for its hard-hitting documentaries, including his recent one on GM crops, from which the interview with Moore was taken.
Outside environmental circles, Moore often gets a pretty easy ride from journalists who take at face value his confident statements and his easy narrative of the no-nonsense ecologist who rejects the agenda-driven claims of the green movement. But in Moreira, Moore came up against not just a highly experienced and canny investigative journalist, but also one who was well-informed about the issues under discussion.
Here's my interview with Paul Moreira.
Jonathan: Your interview with Patrick Moore has gone viral – over a million hits on YouTube and I'd imagine as many or more on Canal Plus, where you released it. Time magazine, Newsweek, Fortune, NBC News, they all have it, and it's won huge praise. And the host of the world's most popular online news show said he'd probably never seen someone's bluff called better in TV history!
So I have to start by asking you about the interview before we get on to the film that it's a part of. Did you know that Moore would talk about glyphosate? And did you just happen to have some glyphosate to hand when he started talking about it being safe to drink?
Paul: One month before my interview with Moore, a member of our agency was in Brussels for a pro-GMO event organized by EuropaBio, the lobbying firm financed by the biotech industry, meaning Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, etc. In January 2014, they organized what they called a "high-level panel of politicians, researchers and campaigners including Owen Paterson (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK) and Patrick Moore (a founding and former member of Greenpeace)." They called for "European consumers to engage more proactively in the GM debate".
So Moore and Paterson were the key speakers at this event. I was surprised a member of the UK Government was actually part of a Public Relations event directly organized by the biotech industry. We sent a film crew there to see what we could gather. The event was open to the media, but just in the corridors. The actual meeting was off limits to cameras. They wanted to protect Paterson (but we were still able to record his speech through the closed door).
Jules, our journalist, tried to interview the Monsanto people about pesticide cocktails in Latin America (we had tried and tried to get someone for weeks), but they were running away from the camera.
So was Paterson.
The people from EuropaBio encouraged our reporter to talk to Moore. He is a good story for the industry. He was introduced to us as a redeemed Greenpeace founder. The industry was really putting him forward during this event. Moore was officially campaigning about Golden Rice but he was also strongly defending the biotech industrial process and the pesticides.
So Jules interviewed Moore and that's when he told our reporter for the first time that "Glyphosate was so safe you could drink it." Weeks later, I interviewed him in Paris. I was not expecting him to utter something so stupid again. But he did! So I was prepared for it. That's when I realised that he'd probably say that to every journalist. It was part of his routine. Except, of course, he was never compelled to actually drink any Roundup.
I happened to have a bottle of Roundup at the office. We had earlier filmed it for the documentary. So if he ever went through with his idea, I was ready to pour him a glass!
Jonathan: Moore calls you a "total jerk" at the end of the interview and he's carried on raining insults on you on social media. I have to say how impressed I've been by the restraint of your responses. I imagine things must have been quite difficult in the studio after the interview.
Paul: After the end of the interview, we kept on talking for a while. He insulted me much more than was shown in the film. I don't know if he wanted me to get worked up and lose my temper, in order to create an incident. Maybe. Or maybe he was just furious at having been exposed so obviously in front of a camera as a PR guy and not a scientist (he really insists he is a 'Dr'). He kept sending me emails for a while afterwards. Somewhat pathetic. Very inconsistent. He was both insulting me and justifying his work, telling me he had only collaborated with the industry so he could change the system "from the inside". I thought he was a pretty desperate fellow, not very happy with the choices he'd made in his life a while back, not at peace with his position.
Jonathan: Of course, Moore's tried to claim that your interview has somehow been edited to make him "look bad".
Paul: The 45-second interview that went viral is actually an understatement of the behaviour of Moore during the interview. When I tried to get a reaction from him about the epidemiology of diseases around the GMO fields he said: he could not care less, those were lies. But when I showed him an epidemiological survey from the Medical University of Rosario, stating the increase in disease among the population living near the GMO areas, he said, on camera: "I know this document, it's a lie." Then later on, in the same interview, still on camera, he admitted he did not know this document, bluntly contradicting himself. I could have exposed this one more lie, I chose not to.
Jonathan: The interview is just one small part of your film Bientôt dans vos assiettes, which was first broadcast on French TV last autumn. Can you tell us more about the film and what exactly you were investigating?
Paul: In English, the film is called "Transgenic Wars". It's an investigative journey through Argentina, where the first victims of this agro-tech model can be found, and then the US and Europe, where the industry is putting all its weight into pressuring the continent to open to GMOs.
I start the film in Argentina. There the biotech industry has conquered all the farming land. It's 98% GMO. But recently, in the villages surrounding the fields, there has been an explosion of diseases. Deformed children, four times more than the national average. Why? The main revelation of the film is the unregulated use of pesticide cocktails in those areas. Roundup is not killing the weeds anymore. They became resistant. So, in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America, farmers are mixing Roundup with other pesticides. Stuff like Atrazine or 2,4D. The synergies have not been studied yet. Even the promoters of the GMO model in Argentina admit that they don't know the health impact of those cocktails. Even the strongly pro-GMO science minister admits that the epidemic of deformed children is linked with the "misuse" of pesticides.
But Monsanto refuses to give any interviews about that. Nor any written responses. On the other hand, they are involved in a global PR war to impose their model worldwide. That's the second part of the journey. Where we expose how the US State Department has been an efficient agent of the biotech industry, through various embassies, including the French one.
Jonathan: And recently your film won a rather prestigious award for its investigate journalism.
Paul: The film, a 90 minutes documentary, won the Investigative Award at the FIGRA (Festival International du Grand Reportage d'Actualité) that is the only French festival for current affairs and investigative documentaries. It was also awarded the "Jury Jeune", given by high school kids. I was very happy to have stirred up the interest of 15 year olds with such a story! It's in their hands that we are going to soon be leaving this planet.
Jonathan: I understand there's an English language version of the film that’s already been shown in Holland. Monsanto wasn't any too happy about that, I gather.
Paul: Yes, a shorter version of the film was shown in Holland, in a very good program called Zembla. And Monsanto called up the channel and tried to scare them into cancelling the film, just hours away from the broadcast. It was a very tense moment with exchanges of data between us and Holland. But the Dutch broadcasters held firm and the film was successfully shown.
Jonathan: It would be great for those of us outside France if other overseas broadcasters had the courage to show your film. Let's hope all the interest in the Moore interview encourages them to do that. I understand the film is also available on DVD. How can people get copies of it and are there any plans to make the English language version available on DVD?
Paul: Yes, we have an English version available, as a DVD and also via Video On Demand. You can find the details on the home page of the production company Premières Lignes. This is the link: http://www.pltv.fr/en/bientot-dans-vos-assiettes-de-gre-ou-de-force/ We obviously hope this film is seen by audiences as widely as possible. Plus you get an extended version of Dr Moore's interview!