Top EU Court Rules Public Interest Is More Important Than Protection Of Commercial Interests

from the healthy-precedent dept

As Techdirt noted some years back, there has been a steady push to strengthen the protection afforded to trade secrets. Similarly, the argument is often made that transparency must be subordinated to protecting commercial interests, as happened recently in an important struggle over access to information in the EU. It concerned the safety of the chemical glyphosate, widely used as a herbicide, for example in Roundup from Monsanto (now owned by the German chemical giant, Bayer). The EU body responsible for assessing risks associated with the food chain is EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). As part of the process of renewing approval for glyphosate, which was granted in 2017 for five more years, EFSA conducted a review of the toxicity and carcinogenicity of the chemical, drawing on a variety of published and unpublished data. Whether glyphosate increases the risk of cancer is a highly contentious area, with widely differing expert views:

In March 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group of experts classified Glyphosate in Group 2A (probable human carcinogens) with strong evidence for a genotoxic mechanism of carcinogenicity. The Joint WHO/FAO Expert Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), which is responsible for assessing the risk of pesticide residues in Food in Codex, originally evaluated Glyphosate in 2004. JMPR did not find evidence for carcinogenicity in humans and assigned an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI).

In 2018, a US court ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to a former school groundkeeper who sued the company after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he claimed was caused by his exposure to glyphosate. The award was later reduced to $78 million, still a significant sum.

In the EU, a group of four members of the European Parliament, and another individual, asked separately to see two key industry studies that were used by EFSA in coming to its decision in favor of approval. EFSA refused, because it claimed that disclosure of the information might seriously harm the commercial and financial interests of the companies that had submitted the data, and that there was no overriding public interest justifying disclosure. Those seeking access appealed to one of the EU’s highest, but least-known, courts, the General Court of the European Union. Its job is to hear actions taken against the institutions of the EU, as in this case. The court has just issued its judgment (pdf):

an overriding public interest in disclosing the studies is deemed to exist. EFSA could not therefore refuse to disclose them on the ground that that would have an adverse effect on the protection of the commercial interests of the owners of the requested studies.

Potentially, that ruling could have a big impact on future cases where EU institutions seek to prevent information relating to health and the environment being released on the grounds it would allegedly harm commercial interests. It’s also a setback for the general idea that business secrets should trump transparency.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Companies: bayer, monsanto

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Comments on “Top EU Court Rules Public Interest Is More Important Than Protection Of Commercial Interests”

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29 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright

Queen Anne’s copyright law (the first) was explicitly motivated by the need to protect the income of creators and licensed publishers (the artists get paid through the license). If copyright fails to deliver that protection, it no longer serves its original purpose. Therefore, creators have every right to "complain" if piracy or other developments have harmed their income.

American copyright law is more generous to the "public interest" but even that cites the need to incentivize creation. The best most on this site can come up with in response when something like this is pointed out is a vicious ad-hominem attack which reflects an underlying lack of charact er.

Jeroen Hellingman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Would you support author's rights?

It is a bit of cross-posting, but again: If I were to argue for author’s rights, to replace copyright, but mostly in the same vein, only that such an author’s right would be non-transferable (except by succession to heirs) and with a strict 5-year limit on exclusive licenses, all with the purpose of strengthening the position of authors against those of publishers, would you support me? If not, then please don’t pretend to speak for authors (which I do not name creators, BTW).

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Queen Anne’s copyright law (the first) was explicitly motivated by the need to protect the income of creators and licensed publishers (the artists get paid through the license).

Wrong. The explicit motivation was to protect authors from publishers. When copyright strays from a limit on the predatory nature of publishers to an enabler thereof, it’s been corrupted and needs to be restored to its original purpose.

any moose cow word says:

The entire point of allowing corporations to exist in the first place is to ultimately serve the public by producing goods and providing services that the public deems beneficial, over the cost of providing them. This requires the public to be aware of the indirect cost as well in order to make informed decisions. Though the court made the right call this time, the fact that government decisions such as this rarely even consider public interest means that it’s the public that’s expected to be subordinate to commercial and financial interests of corporations.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Except...

…DDT, Asbestos, GMO’s, vaccines, and the latest… talcum powder.

BAD science (if a fiat decree can be called science) used to pass bans and laws.

You’re not going to find a Judge and a jury of 12 biochemical engineers who can actually weigh the evidence – or even understand it in-context.

As to side effects, a few tens of millions of kids not blinded, crippled, or killed by malaria, malnutrition, small pox, tetanus, pertussis….

FlatZOut (profile) says:

Protect Public Interest? Yeah right.

If it was more important to protect public interest than commercial interests, then they would’ve rejected the Copyright Directive reforms by now. But did they? Not at all. The EU has been pushing Article 13 and 11 through the entire legislative process against the will of the people, and now the rest of the world’s getting dragged down with it. Because keep in mind, the new Copyright Directive will not only affect the EU’s internet, but it will affect the world’s internet.

Jeroen Hellingman (profile) says:

Re: Protect Public Interest? Yeah right.

The role of the court only comes into sight when somebody has a proper case to be made, for example, when an beginning artist is repeatedly blocked on various platforms due to legally mandated filters (or filters that can be considered legally mandated under the doctrine of "measures having equivalent effect")

If the EU parliament approves article 13, we will first have to wait for national implementations that have this effect, and then see this traverse through one of the national court system. So we will only know in about four or five years.

Anonymous Coward says:

Correlation with gluten intolerance and celiac

There are indications that glyphosate used in growing wheat and other grains may be related to increasing problems with gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

There are also indications that peanut oil is used as an adjuvant in vaccines, but not listed in the ingredients because of trade secrets. Someone told me they rotate the oils so it is hard to blame reactions on one particular oil.

Pathogens stimulate an immune response in a person, and sometimes bad things can happen.
Vaccines stimulate an immune response in a person, and sometimes bad things can happen.
Adjuvants enhance immune responses, and sometimes bad things can happen.

In some vaccine clinical trials, aluminum is used in the placebo, instead of using an inert placebo.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Correlation with gluten intolerance and celiac

There are also indications that peanut oil is used as an adjuvant in vaccines, but not listed in the ingredients because of trade secrets. Someone told me they rotate the oils so it is hard to blame reactions on one particular oil.

Peanut oil generally does not contain the proteins that trigger an allergic reaction, unless they’re using a different kind of oil than is generally found on your grocery store shelf that is not "highly refined". Since allergic reactions to peanuts can be fatal, it seems highly unlikely any company would expose themselves to that sort of liability by using unrefined peanut oil in a vaccine.

Cyclogenesis says:

Public Interest More Important Commercial Interests

That’s just COMMON LAW, kids.

Even Techdirt trumpets the principle when suits.

You who were demanding examples of my usage of the term, THIS is one.

And no matter how often "Gary" and Masnick or whoever try to claim that common law is JUST the consensus of courts, it’s actually bedrock Law of The Public’s Interest, which is based in the fact that We The People don’t have to just allow corporations to do whatever is in narrow financial interests.

Corporations are NOT persons, DO NOT have Rights at all, let alone superior to the whole Public.

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