Monsanto, EPA Seek to Keep Talks Secret On Glyphosate Cancer Review

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By Carey Gillam

Monsanto Co. and officials within the Environmental Protection Agency are fighting legal efforts aimed at exploring Monsanto’s influence over regulatory assessments of the key chemical in the company’s Roundup herbicide, new federal court filings show.

The revelations are contained in a series of filings made within the last few days in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as part of litigation brought by more than 50 people suing Monsanto. The plaintiffs claim they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) after exposure to Roundup herbicide, and that Monsanto has spent decades covering up cancer risks linked to the chemical.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs want the court to lift a seal on documents that detail Monsanto’s interactions with former top EPA brass Jess Rowland regarding the EPA’s safety assessment of glyphosate, which is the key ingredient in Roundup. Monsanto turned the documents over in discovery but marked them “confidential,” a designation plaintiffs’ attorneys say is improper. They also want to depose Rowland. But Monsanto and the EPA object to the requests, court documents show.

The EPA has spent the last few years assessing the health and environmental safety aspects of glyphosate as global controversy over the chemical has mounted. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared in March 2015 that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, with a positive association found between glyphosate and NHL. Monsanto has been fighting to refute that classification.

Rowland has been key in Monsanto’s efforts to rebut the IARC finding because until last year he was a deputy division director within the health effects division of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, managing the work of scientists who assessed human health effects of exposures to pesticides like glyphosate. And, importantly, he chaired the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) that issued an internal report in October 2015 contracting IARC’s findings. That 87-page report, signed by Rowland, determined that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

The EPA finding has been highly valued by Monsanto, helping bolster the company’s defense against the Roundup liability lawsuits, and helping shore up market support for a product that brings in billions of dollars in revenues to the company annually. The EPA’s stamp of approval for the safety of glyphosate over the last few decades has also been key to the success of Monsanto’s genetically engineered, glyphosate-tolerant crops, which have been popular with farmers.

But the handling of the CARC report raised questions when it was posted to a public EPA website on April 29, 2016 and kept on the site for only three days before being pulled down. The agency said the report was not final and that it should not have been posted, but Monsanto touted the report as a public affirmation of its safety claims for glyphosate. The company also brought a copy of the report to a May court hearing in the Roundup litigation as a counter point to the IARC cancer classification. Shortly after the CARC report was removed from the EPA website, Rowland left his 26-year career at the EPA.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have asked to depose Rowland to learn about that situation and other dealings with Monsanto. But, along with Monsanto’s objection to releasing the documents that relate to its conversations with Rowland, the EPA has specifically refused the deposition request, saying it would “not clearly be in the interests of EPA” to allow attorneys to question Rowland about the cancer review and interactions with Monsanto.

Monsanto has so far turned over six million pages of documents through the court-ordered discovery process, but has designated roughly 85 percent of the information as “confidential,” meaning plaintiffs’ attorneys must black out information from those documents in any court filings that could be accessed by reporters or other members of the public. That designation is improper for many of the documents, especially ones dealing with the company’s interactions with, and influence attempts over, EPA officials, plaintiffs’ lawyers argue. 

The lawyers say that the documents obtained through discovery show that “Monsanto has been confident all along that EPA would continue to support glyphosate, whatever happened and no matter who held otherwise.” According to the court filings by plaintiffs’ attorneys, the documents show “it is clear that Monsanto enjoyed considerable influence within the EPA’s OPP, and was close with Mr. Rowland… The documentary evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Rowland’s primary goal was to serve the interests of Monsanto.”

The EPA is a taxpayer-funded, public agency and its dealings with Monsanto should be subject to public scrutiny, particularly given the widespread use of glyphosate herbicide products and the ongoing international debate over the safety of the chemical, they claim.

“The health and safety of millions of U.S. citizens is at stake,” states a Jan. 16 plaintiffs’ filing. “Decisions affecting the public health should not be based on secret conversations between Monsanto and EPA officials. If Monsanto wants to advocate on behalf of glyphosate to EPA employees, they should have to do it publicly, so that concerned citizens have equal opportunity to advocate for their health and the health of their families. This issue is too important to allow Monsanto to improperly influence the EPA, and then hide such communication behind an improper ‘confidential’ designation.”

“The health and safety of millions of U.S. citizens is at stake. Decisions affecting the public health should not be based on secret conversations between Monsanto and EPA officials.”

Monsanto is adamant that its documents not be made public, arguing that releasing them would be “premature and improper.” Allowing public dissemination “of a few select internal corporate documents taken out of context… would be prejudicial to Monsanto and could cause reputational harm,” the company’s attorneys wrote in their response.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys say at least four specific documents they have obtained are clearly in the public interest and “illuminate that one of Monsanto’s chief business strategies is its secret and untoward influence on EPA.” The documents include both internal memos and email chains, according to descriptions of the documents.

“Since Monsanto’s communications with the EPA remain secret, these known lobbying efforts are only the tip of the iceberg of Monsanto’s collusion with the EPA. Monsanto’s bad acts in violating U.S. regulations through secret communications with the EPA should not by rewarded by allowing them to keep these communications secret by merely stamping them ‘Confidential,’” the plaintiffs’ attorney state in the filings. “These documents summarize communications with EPA which are not elsewhere memorialized; they are not trade secrets and the public has a compelling interest in disclosure.”

Monsanto argues otherwise, saying the four documents at issue “contain sensitive, non-public commercial information, relate to a motion seeking to obtain discovery from a non-party, and bear only a tangential, at best, connection to the questions at issue in this litigation; hence, any public interest “is minimal.’”

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing the Roundup litigation, is expected to rule on the matters within the next few days.

In a separate case, Monsanto and California environmental regulators face off Jan. 27 over plans by state regulators to list glyphosate as a carcinogen. The state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said it would add glyphosate to its list of known carcinogens after the IARC classification. Monsanto has sued to prevent the listing. The upcoming hearing takes up OEHHA’s motion to dismiss Monsanto’s lawsuit.

Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist and research director for U.S. Right to Know, a non-profit consumer education group. This article first appeared in the Huffington Post. 

New Research: GMO Insect Resistance Failing; Corn Crop in Jeopardy

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By Carey Gillam 

New research adds to evidence that the effectiveness of popular genetically engineered traits used to protect corn and cotton from insects is failing, putting U.S. corn production potential in jeopardy, and spurring a need for increased insecticide use.

The study, authored by a trio of independent researchers, documents resistance in a major crop pest called corn earworm, and adds to warnings that the popular GMO insect-resistant technology known as Bt, after the soil-dwelling bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, has lost its luster. It is noteworthy as the first long-term, in-field assessment of transgenic Bt corn’s effectiveness against one of the most damaging pests of sweet corn, field corn, cotton and many other high-value crops. Before publishing their findings, which cover 20 years of observations, the researchers presented them to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as to the corporations that developed and market the traits, said Galen Dively, a University of Maryland entomologist and lead researcher on the study.

Crops engineered with Bt genes express specific proteins known as (Cry proteins) that make the crops toxic to specific insects – the plants effectively provide their own insecticide – reducing the need for chemical applications. In 2015, more than 80 percent of the U.S. corn crop carried at least one Bt trait. Much of the corn now planted is engineered with multiple Bt Cry proteins, but the new research indicates that the insect (called earworm in corn but bollworm in cotton) is now able to survive multiple genetically engineered traits in a pyramided variety. Other research has shown wide failure of traits supposed to protect against the western corn rootworm as well, leaving farmers facing big and potentially costly problems as resistance builds, according to the researchers.

“With widespread use of genetically engineered crops, the targeted insects developing resistance to these protein is a major threat to the sustainability of the Bt technology,” researcher Dilip Venugopal wrote in a summary of the group’s findings. “Increasing damages by corn earworm to Bt field corn are reported already in North Carolina and Georgia, and corn earworm could become a major pest. We predict that corn earworm resistance to the Cry toxins is likely to increase, and spread. Therefore, the risk of damage to corn production across a large portion of U.S. is high.” Venugopal is a science and technology policy fellow working with a division of the EPA.

The research adds to evidence that after 20 years of use of crops engineered to tolerate herbicides and resist certain harmful insects, both technologies are losing effectiveness. The two most widely used types of GMO traits are glyphosate-tolerance, developed in soybeans, corn, cotton, canola and other crops; and the Bt insect-resistant trait. But at least 70 million acres of U.S. farmland have become infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds since the GMO crops were introduced. As well, signs of mounting insect resistance to the Bt technology have been raising concerns across the farm belt for the last several years. Last summer, scientists published research documenting increasing western corn rootworm resistance to the Bt proteins, and widespread corn damage was reported by farmers. Farmers are using more herbicides to try to control resistant weeds, and returning to insecticide use to combat the resistant pests, agricultural experts say.

Fred Gould, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, said the Dively work is a “very important study,” that does not bode well for future crop health. And University of Minnesota Extension Entomologist William Hutchinson said the study demonstrates a need for better monitoring of resistance in traits that still work. As the study showed, there is still very good effectiveness with varieties that contain both Vip3A+Cry1Ab, he pointed out.

One key misstep has been reliance on the “refuge-in-a-bag” (RIB) system that allowed farmers to avoid setting aside part of their fields as areas free of the Bt trait, a practice proven to discourage resistance. With the RIB system, however, researchers have found that farmers actually encouraged resistance by spreading uneven low doses of the Bt toxin to feeding insects throughout their fields, which helped build up resistance in the insects over time. The companies behind the Bt traits have encouraged refuge-in-a-bag. Seed giant Monsanto Co., which made $5.8 billion in sales of corn seeds and traits last year, has touted refuge-in-a-bag as fast and convenient for farmers, allowing them to plant the specialized seed “fence row to fence row.

The EPA shoulders a good deal of the blame for the problem, according to the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which criticized the agency last year for its handling of the resistance issues. Among other missteps, the agency has been too reliant on the seed and chemical industry to self-report the resistance issues, and has not provided farmers or researchers with a direct means to report resistance incidents to the regulators, according to the OIG.

The EPA also is too secretive with the information it does get from the seed companies, keeping compliance reports and monitoring data from the public. “Transparency is an EPA core value,” the OIG wrote. “The EPA has both information and the means to enhance transparency regarding its regulatory oversight of genetically engineered crops such as Bt corn.”

Trusting the industry to self-report is a particular problem because there is evidence the industry would rather not do so. An Iowa case of insect resistance found in 2009 was not reported as it should have been, for instance, the OIG said. The EPA has been working to correct the deficiencies laid out by the OIG by mid-2017.

The EPA said it is “conducting an analysis of this study and other information related to corn earworm resistance and will determine if improvements to the current resistance management strategies are warranted.” The EPA said as part of that process, it will hold a public meeting with a panel of scientific advisers later this year.

But it may well be too little too late. Time-tested agricultural practices such as crop rotation and a mix of other strategies are essential to combating resistance issues. Relying on one type of genetically engineered technology season after season is bound to fail eventually, according to agricultural experts.

“There’s nothing they can do about it,” said Dively. “There is pretty strong evidence it’s going to get worse,” said Dively.

Serious scrutiny needed as EPA seeks input on cancer ties to Monsanto herbicide

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By Carey Gillam

The glyphosate geeks are gathering in Washington this week. After a two-month delay, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding four days of meetings aimed at examining the evidence that does or does not tie the world’s most widely used herbicide — glyphosate — to cancer.

Scientists, activists and agricultural industry leaders are all expected to show up to either defend or attack the chemical that is currently at the center of international controversy. More than 250,000 public comments have been filed with the EPA ahead of the Dec. 13-16 meetings, and the agency is girding for more than 10 hours of personally delivered public comments before a specially appointed scientific advisory panel gets down to work.

The panel assignment: To offer advice on how the EPA should evaluate and interpret relevant data and how it all should translate into a EPA “carcinogen risk” classification for glyphosate.

The exercise is academic by design, but powerful economic forces are hard at work hoping to influence the outcome. Glyphosate is the billion-dollar-baby, the chief ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicide as well as in hundreds of other herbicides sold around the world. It’s also the lynchpin to Monsanto’s top-selling, glyphosate-tolerant, genetically engineered crops.

An official regulatory nod to cancer concerns could be devastating to Monsanto’s bottom line, not to mention it’s planned $66 billion merger with Bayer AG, as well as to other agrichemical companies that sell glyphosate products. Monsanto is also facing more than three dozen lawsuits over glyphosate cancer concerns and needs EPA backing to defend against the court actions.

The questions about glyphosate and health issues are not new. Numerous scientific studies over multiple decades have raised concerns about harmful glyphosate impacts. Monsanto has always countered with its own studies and league of supportive scientists who say glyphosate is not carcinogenic and is one of the safest pesticides ever brought to market.

Last year the argument got more heated after a team of international cancer scientists working with the World Health Organization (WHO) said that there was sufficient evidence in the body of research to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. That news was particularly worrisome to consumers because glyphosate use is so pervasive that government researchers have documented the chemical as “widespread in the environment,”  found even in common foods like honey and oatmeal. It’s even found in urine samples of farmers and city dwellers alike.

The controversy has delayed re-authorization decisions not only in the United States, but also in Europe. Several European countries, including Italy and France, have called for an outright ban on glyphosate after glyphosate residues have been found in numerous foods there. Residues found in bread products prompted a “Not in Our Bread” campaign in Britain.

Numerous scientific studies over multiple decades have raised concerns about harmful glyphosate impacts.

But despite the consumer angst on both sides of the Atlantic, the EPA has already made it clear it largely agrees with Monsanto’s message that the international cancer scientists are wrong. The agency issued a report in September laying out the reasons it proposes to classify glyphosate as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

To get to that finding, the agency had to inappropriately discount the results of numerous human and animal studies showing evidence of ties to cancer, according to many scientists who are asking the EPA to reconsider its position.

“There are strong arguments for a classification of “Likely to be carcinogenic to humans” because there are multiple positive results in animals…  and positive epidemiologic studies strengthened by other lines of evidence (DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells and possibly exposed humans),” Maarten Bosland, professor of pathology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote in comments submitted to the agency.

Bosland is one of more than 90 scientists who issued a detailed report identifying the research that ties glyphosate to cancer. They say available human evidence shows an association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma; while significant carcinogenic effects are seen in laboratory animals for rare kidney and other types of tumors.

History has given us numerous examples of chemicals that are declared safe for decades only to be proven dangerous after extended arguments like the one we’re now seeing over glyphosate. It’s been common practice for the corporate players who profit off chemical agents to fight tooth and nail for their continued use even as study after study builds a case of sometimes devastating environmental and human health costs. And it’s been equally common for weak-kneed regulators to do as industry bids.

That appears to be the path EPA has followed with glyphosate. Ever since the agency announced last July that it would hold these meetings, the agrichemical industry’s trade group CropLife America has been working to make sure that the EPA repudiates the cancer concerns. CropLife first suggested the EPA scrap the meetings altogether, arguing there was no “scientific justification” for a review. The association then outlined criteria for the EPA to use in selecting scientists who might serve on the panel. And then after the panel was in place, CropLife told the EPA it should remove epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante. CropLife considered him biased against the industry. The EPA responded by removing Infante as CropLife asked, and then refusing to explain its decision to the public, issuing a ‘no comment” to those who inquired about Infante’s removal.

Infante, who has served as an expert consultant in epidemiology for the EPA and several world bodies, says allegations of bias are invalid, and he still plans to attend but in a different capacity. After the EPA kicked him off the advisory panel, the agency agreed to grant him a few minutes to address the panel during the public comment part of the agenda. He is slated to speak Thursday morning.

In another hint at industry favoritism, earlier this year, the EPA “inadvertently” publicly posted an internal glyphosate assessment on its website that made a case for the safety of glyphosate. The document was up long enough for Monsanto to issue a press release gleefully tout the documents’ findings and providing a link to a copy of the document before the agency pulled it down, explaining it wasn’t final.

The agency’s actions have left environmental and consumer activists disheartened and doubtful the EPA will listen to any serious independent scrutiny of glyphosate’s safety.

“Their track record is awful,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch. “We don’t want to throw in the towel entirely. We want to try to hold them to their mission. But there is clearly evidence of industry influence. They aren’t doing anything to inspire confidence that they’re taking a serious look at this.”

Consumers rely on the EPA to prioritize their interests over corporate interests, and the EPA should not forget that, according to the public comment filed by Pamela Koch, executive director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“We urge the EPA to apply the precautionary principle in this review…” Koch wrote. “We believe that caring for the public health is of the upmost importance and need regulations that protect farm workers, workers who apply glyphosate in non-agricultural settings, as well as the general public.”

This article originally appeared in The Hill

Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, formerly with Reuters, who directs research for U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer education group focused on food safety and policy matters. Follow @CareyGillam on Twitter 

FDA Suspends Testing for Glyphosate Residues in Food

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By Carey Gillam

Government testing for residues of an herbicide that has been linked to cancer has been put on hold, slowing the Food and Drug Administration’s first-ever endeavor to get a handle on just how much of the controversial chemical is making its way into U.S. foods.

The FDA, the nation’s chief food safety regulator, launched what it calls a “special assignment” earlier this year to analyze certain foods for residues of the weed killer called glyphosate after the agency was criticized  by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for failing to include glyphosate in annual testing programs that look for many less-used pesticides. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicide line.

Glyphosate is under particular scrutiny now after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts last year declared the chemical a probable human carcinogen. Several private groups and nonprofits have been doing their own testing, and have been finding glyphosate residues in varying levels in a range of foods, raising consumer concerns about the pesticide’s presence in the American diet.

The FDA’s residue testing for glyphosate was combined with a broader herbicides analysis program the FDA set in motion in February of this year. But the glyphosate testing has been particularly challenging for the FDA. The agency was finally forced to put the glyphosate residue testing part of the work plan on hold amid confusion, disagreement and difficulties with establishing a standard methodology to use across the agency’s multiple U.S. laboratories, according to FDA sources. Equipment issues have also been a problem, with some labs citing a need for more sensitive instruments, sources within FDA said.

FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney confirmed the testing suspension and said the agency is not sure when it will resume.

“As testing for glyphosate will expand to several locations, we are currently working to ensure that the methods are validated for use in these labs. As soon as the validation is completed, testing for glyphosate will resume,” she said. “We cannot speculate on timing at this point.”

Alongside the testing for glyphosate, the FDA laboratories have also been analyzing foods for 2,4-D and other “acid herbicides,” documents obtained from the FDA show. The category of acid herbicides includes five of the top 10 active ingredients used in homes and gardens. Usage of 2,4-D is expected to triple in the coming year, according to the FDA.

The FDA work detail calls for the examination of roughly 1,340 food samples, 82 percent of which are to be domestic and 18 percent imported. The foods are to be collected from warehouse and retail stores only, and are to include a variety of cereal grains, vegetables and non-flavored, whole milk and eggs. Documents obtained from the agency through Freedom of Information requests show the agency has been testing corn and soybeanswheat, barley, sugar beets, rice, and even samples of yellow popcorn and “organic white popcorn.” 

McSeveney said glyphosate residues were only being analyzed in soy, corn, milk and eggs and the popcorn samples, while the other foods are being tested for residues of other herbicides.

Earlier this year, one of the agency’s senior chemists also analyzed glyphosate residues in honey and oatmeal and reported his results to the agency. Some honey samples contained residue levels well over the limit allowed in the European Union. The United States has no legal tolerance for glyphosate in honey, though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said recently it may set one because of the FDA findings. The results for honey and oatmeal are not considered to be part of the official assignment, however, according to McSeveney.

With the testing on hold, it is not clear when the agency might have final results on the glyphosate residue analysis. McSeveney said preliminary results showed no violations of legal tolerance levels allowed for glyphosate in the foods tested. She did not provide details on what, if any, levels of residue were found. Tolerance levels are set by the EPA for a variety of pesticides expected to be found in foods. When residue levels are detected above the tolerance levels, enforcement action can be taken against the food producer.

Monsanto said earlier this year that no data has ever indicated residue levels of more than a fraction of allowable levels, and it is confident FDA testing will reaffirm the safety of its herbicide.

Though FDA annually tests domestic and imported foods for residues of other pesticides, it never tested for glyphosate before. It has not routinely tested for 2,4-D either, a fact also criticized by the GAO. The FDA testing for 2,4-D residues comes as the use of 2,4-D with food crops is expected to start rising due to the commercialization of new formulated herbicide products that combine glyphosate and 2,4-D. Safety questions have been raised about the combination. But the EPA gave a green light on Nov. 1 to a Dow AgroSciences’ herbicide combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D. The new products are intended to counter widespread weed resistance to glyphosate, and be used with new types of genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops.

The agrichemical industry asserts that residues of glyphosate, 2,4-D and the array of other chemicals used in modern-day agriculture do not pose a danger to human health, but the lack of testing to determine actual residue levels of some of the most-used chemicals, like glyphosate and 2,4-D, has been troubling to many consumer groups.

Getting solid data on glyphosate’s presence in the American food supply is more important than ever now as the EPA finalizes a risk assessment for glyphosate and tries to determine if any limits should be put on future use of the herbicide. The FDA work covers only a few foods, but is a long-needed, good first step. Consumers can only hope the testing resumes soon.

The article was first published in the Huffington Post

CDC SPIDER: Scientists complain of corporate influence at health agency

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By Carey Gillam

Concerns about the inner workings of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been mounting in recent months amid disclosures of cozy corporate alliances. Now a group of more than a dozen senior scientists have reportedly lodged an ethics complaint alleging the federal agency is being influenced by corporate and political interests in ways that short-change taxpayers.

A group calling itself CDC Scientists Preserving Integrity, Diligence and Ethics in Research, or CDC SPIDER, put a list of complaints in writing in a letter to the CDC Chief of Staff and provided a copy of the letter to the public watchdog organization U.S. Right to Know (USRTK). The members of the group have elected to file the complaint anonymously for fear of retribution.

“It appears that our mission is being influenced and shaped by outside parties and rogue interests… and Congressional intent for our agency is being circumvented by some of our leaders. What concerns us most, is that it is becoming the norm and not the rare exception,” the letter states. “These questionable and unethical practices threaten to undermine our credibility and reputation as a trusted leader in public health.”

The complaint cites among other things a “cover up” of the poor performance of a women’s health program called the Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Woman Across the Nation, or WISEWOMAN. The program provides standard preventive services to help 40- to 64-year-old women reduce their risks for heart disease, and promote healthy lifestyles. CDC currently funds 21 WISEWOMAN programs through states and tribal organizations. The complaint alleges there was a coordinated effort within the CDC to misrepresent data given to Congress so that it appeared the program was involving more women than it actually was.

“Definitions were changed and data ‘cooked’ to make the results look better than they were,” the complaint states. “An ‘internal review’ that involved staff across CDC occurred and its findings were essentially suppressed so media and/or Congressional staff would not become aware of the problems.”
The letter mentions that Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, who has been a proponent of the program, has made inquiries to CDC regarding the data. A spokesman for her office, confirmed as much.

The complaint also alleges that staff resources that are supposed to be dedicated to domestic programs for Americans are instead being directed to work on global health and research issues.

And the complaint cites as “troubling” the ties between soft drink giant Coca-Cola Co., an advocacy group backed by Coca-Cola, and two high-ranking CDC officials – Dr. Barbara Bowman who directed the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention until retiring in June, and Dr. Michael Pratt, senior Advisor for Global Health in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) at the CDC.

Bowman, retired after revelations of what the complaint called an “irregular” relationship with Coca-Cola and the nonprofit corporate interest group set up by Coca-Cola called the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Email communications obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by USRTK revealed that in her CDC role, Bowman had been communicating regularly with – and offering guidance to – a leading Coca-Cola advocate seeking to influence world health authorities on sugar and beverage policy matters.

Emails also suggested that Pratt has a history of promoting and helping lead research funded by Coca-Cola while being employed by the CDC. Pratt also has been working closely with ILSI, which advocates for the agenda of beverage and food industries, emails obtained through FOIA showed. Several research papers co-written by Pratt were at least partly funded by Coca-Cola, and Pratt has received industry funding to attend industry-sponsored events and conferences.

Last month, Pratt took a position as Director of the University of California San Diego Institute for Public Health. Next month, ILSI is partnering with the UCSD to hold a forum related to “energy balance behavior,” planned for November 30 to December 1 of this year. One of the moderators is another CDC scientist, Janet Fulton, Chief of the CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch. Pratt is on annual leave from the CDC during his stint in San Diego, according to the CDC.

The forum fits into the messaging of “energy balance” that Coca-Cola has been pushing. Consumption of sugar-laden foods and beverages is not to blame for obesity or other health problems; a lack of exercise is the primary culprit, the theory goes.

Experts in the nutrition arena have said that the relationships are troubling because the mission of the CDC is protecting public health, and yet certain CDC officials appear to be close with an industry that, studies say, is linked to about 180,000 deaths per year worldwide, including 25,000 in the United States. The CDC is supposed to be addressing rising obesity rates among children, not advancing beverage industry interests.

CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben would not address what the agency might be doing, if anything, in response to the SPIDER complaint, but she said the agency makes use of a “full range of federal ethics statutes, regulations, and policies” that apply to all federal employees.”

“CDC takes seriously its responsibility to comply with the ethics rules, inform employees about them, and take steps to make it right any time we learn that employees aren’t in compliance,” Harben said. “We provide regular training to and communicate with staff on how to comply with ethics requirements and avoid violations.”

The SPIDER group complaint ends with a plea for CDC management to address the allegations; to “do the right thing.”

Let’s hope someone is listening.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post

EPA Bows to Chemical Industry in Delay of Glyphosate Cancer Review

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By Carey Gillam

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This might have been a tough week for Monsanto Co. The Environmental Protection Agency was slated to hold four days of public meetings focused on essentially one question: Is glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide and the lynchpin to Monsanto’s fortunes, as safe as Monsanto has spent 40 years telling us it is?

But oddly, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) meetings, called to look at potential glyphosate ties to cancer, were “postponed“ just four days before they were to begin Oct. 18, after intense lobbying by the agrichemical industry. The industry first fought to keep the meetings from being held at all, and argued that if they were held, several leading international experts should be excluded from participating, including “any person who has publicly expressed an opinion regarding the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.”

As the meetings drew near, CropLife America, which represents the interests of Monsanto and other agribusinesses, specifically took issue with at least two scientists chosen for the panel, alleging the experts might be unfavorably biased against industry interests. On Oct. 12, the group sent a letter to the EPA calling for Dr. Kenneth Portier of the American Cancer Society to be more deeply scrutinized for any “pre-formed conclusions” about glyphosate.

More notably, CropLife called for leading epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante to be completely disqualified from panel participation: “EPA should replace Dr. Infante with an epidemiologist without such patent bias,” CropLife told EPA. The chemical industry group said Infante was unlikely to give industry-sponsored research studies the credibility the industry believes they deserve. CropLife said Infante has testified in the past for plaintiffs in chemical exposure cases against Monsanto. Croplife also argued that because Infante was the “only epidemiologist on the glyphosate SAP” he would have enhanced influence in the evaluation of epidemiological data about glyphosate and cancer.

The CropLife letter was dated last Wednesday, and by Friday the EPA announced it was looking for additional epidemiology expertise to ensure “robust representation from that discipline.” EPA also said one panelist had voluntarily departed, though the agency refused to say who that panelist was.

Challenging Infante’s role is a gutsy move. After all, Infante spent 24 years working for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration helping determine cancer risks to workers during the development of standards toxic substances, including asbestos, arsenic, and formaldehyde. His resume includes a stint at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health where he conducted epidemiological studies related to carcinogens, and he has served as an expert consultant in epidemiology for several world bodies, including the EPA and the World Trade Organization.

According to sources close to the situation, Infante remains a panelist as of this week, but there is no certainty when the meetings might be rescheduled, and what the panel membership might look like when they are rescheduled. The EPA has refused to discuss who remains on the panel and who does not at this point, and some onlookers said the EPA was clearly bowing to agrichemical industry interests.

“This is outrageous. The industry wants to say that our own government scientists, the top ones in their fields, aren’t good enough for these panels.”

“This is outrageous. The industry wants to say that our own government scientists, the top ones in their fields, aren’t good enough for these panels,” said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at the Consumers Union. “If the EPA wants to add extra epidemiologists that is great but why didn’t they do it before? They are doing this because of pressure from industry.”

The industry clearly has much at stake, as does the public. Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Monsanto’s branded Roundup herbicides as well as herbicides marketed by numerous agrichemical companies around the world. It is also the key to what has been 20 years of sales of genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto. The future sales of both the chemical and the crops are being jeopardized by the mounting concerns that glyphosate can cause cancer and other illnesses or disease. Scientists around the world have been raising red flags for years over worrisome research findings, and last year the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. More than three dozen lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto by people claiming Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and both European and U.S. regulators are evaluating the chemical for continued use.

Since the IARC classification, Monsanto has asked the EPA to back industry assurances that glyphosate is safe, and so far, the EPA has done exactly that, issuing a series of reports and memos that dovetail with Monsanto’s position. Monsanto also has sought to bolster arguments for glyphosate’s safety by pointing to supportive research papers published in late September in Critical Reviews in Toxicology. Monsanto hired the group that arranged for the panel, and most of the 16 scientists involved are former Monsanto employees or Monsanto consultants. At least one, Gary Williams, has also consulted for Monsanto on litigation matters involving glyphosate. Despite all those affiliations, the research is touted as “independent.”

It seems more than a little hypocritical that those scientists are presented as credible by the industry, but scientists like Infante and Portier are said to be unfit to advise EPA because of suspected bias. Like Infante, Portier has a long track record as an independent scientist. He is vice president of the Statistics & Evaluation Center at the American Cancer Society. He has participated in over 60 other SAP meetings and has served on expert and advisory panels for the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Toxicology Program, and the World Health Organization Food and Agriculture Organization.

Portier also would not comment about the industry concerns about him, the postponement or changes to the makeup of the SAP, other than to say that as of today, he remains on the panel.

EPA said it is “working to reschedule as soon as possible.” But the delay and the maneuvering by industry to influence panel participation does little bolster consumer confidence in an objective outcome.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

GMO 2.0 Foods Coming Your Way: Will They Be Labeled?

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By Stacy Malkan

Silenced genes, edited genes, algae engineered to produce compounds that taste like food: new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) made with these experimental techniques are making their way to your dinner plate. It’s the next wave of genetic engineering, or GMOs 2.0.

Will we know if they’re in our food?

Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist, Consumers Union

Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist, Consumers Union

The new GMO labeling law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama has been widely panned by consumer groups because it allows companies to use QR codes or 800 numbers in place of plain English on labels.

But even worse news for our right to know what’s in our food: vague wording in the new law opens the door for industry pressure on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to exempt many – possibly even most – GMOs from labeling at all.

To learn more about GMOs 2.0 and whether these foods will be labeled, I spoke with Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

Q: GMOs have been in our food for over 20 years but they have recently been changing. Can you describe what’s new?

MH: What’s new is they are using different methods to cut and change specific gene sequences. There are two basic types: gene silencing techniques such as RNA interference (RNAi) that can turn particular genes off; and gene editing techniques such as CRISPR, TALEN or zinc fingered nucleuses used to cut DNA in order to make small genetic changes or insert genetic material.

These methods are more precise than the old methods, but there can still be off-target and unintended effects. When you alter the genetics of living things they don’t always behave as you expect. This is why it’s crucial to thoroughly study health and environmental impacts, but these studies aren’t required.

Also, just because the techniques are different doesn’t mean the traits will be. The old method of genetic engineering was used mostly to make plants resist herbicides, and increase sales of herbicides. The new gene editing techniques will probably be used in much the same way, but there are some new twists.

Q: What GMO 2.0 foods are on the market now? 

Non-browning GMO apples are growing in fields now and may be in stores next year. A GMO potato is in stores now but we don’t know where. The potato was engineered with RNAi to not turn brown on exposure to air and to produce lower levels of acrylamide (a carcinogen) when fried or baked.

Canola genetically engineered with CRISPR to tolerate herbicides may already be in canola oils. Synthetic biology vanilla flavor and stevia are also in products – these were produced using genetically engineered yeast – and they may even be marketed as “natural.”

Companies are not telling consumers these products are GMO; instead they are using terms like “fermentation derived” to describe ingredients made with synthetic biology. When you see that term on products, or a “non-browning” apple or potato, assume that means genetically engineered.

Congress just passed a GMO labeling law, but the language is written in a way that could be interpreted to exempt many GMO foods from labeling. Can you explain the problem? 

The first problem is that the law says genetically engineered DNA must be present. That means the law exempts highly processed foods such as high fructose corn syrup, GMO beet sugar, purified oils and some engineered artificial flavors and spices because the identifiable engineered DNA is degraded or removed. Whole classes of soft drinks won’t be labeled even if they contain high levels of genetically engineered corn syrup. Nothing can be done about that now.

The second problem we can do something about. The law exempts foods if the genetic modification could otherwise be achieved via conventional breeding or found in nature. It all comes down to how the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “modification.” It could be defined in a way that includes nothing, though hopefully that won’t happen because there would be such an uproar.

Modification should be defined as specific genetic sequences that are altered. If USDA defines it that way, these new GMO 2.0 techniques should be covered. But that is going to be a huge fight and it could end up that a lot of GMO foods fall through the cracks and don’t have to be labeled.

On the plus side, USDA has decided that meat, poultry and eggs can be labeled as non-GMO if they come from animals that are not fed with genetically engineered foods, and they leave it up to an independent third-party standard. We need to make sure that standard is created in an open transparent manner and consistent with international standards.

The next step is that consumer groups need to flood the USDA with comments. USDA is accepting public comments until Oct. 23 and Consumers Union will be posting our comments soon to help inform others of the issues at stake.

Is genetic engineering the future of our food? 

No I don’t think so. When you look at the millennial generation, there is a sea change in how people view food. Previously people asked if it was cheap. Now there is a huge interest in how food is produced and where it comes from. People are trying to get food as fresh and natural as possible. They want food grown more sustainably, more locally and in less industrialized conditions.

This is why we see so many companies announcing they are getting rid of antibioticsartificial colors and ingredientsGMOs and other foods produced in industrialized conditions. That’s why these new GMO technologies may not have a great future; most of them are designed for industrial food systems.

There is global agreement in the World Agriculture Report that industrial agriculture and genetic engineering are not the answer for the future of food. The answer is ecologically rational farming systems.

Biotechnology by its very nature is focusing on one or a few genes or specific traits whereas truly ecological agriculture is focused on whole systems. That’s the direction consumers want and where we need to go for health and sustainability.

But ecological agriculture is not something that corporations can easily monetize, and not something they can patent and own. Companies are pushing GMOs because of the profit margin.

What, in your view, is the responsible path forward for genetic engineering?

Along with hundreds of other scientists and academics, I signed the statement “No scientific consensus on GMO safety,” which describes the problems with current regulatory and scientific methods. Our view is that decisions about whether to continue or expand genetically engineered crops and foods should be supported by strong scientific evidence of the long-term safety for human and animal health and the environment, which is obtained in a manner that is honest, ethical, rigorous, independent and transparent.

Given the uncertain state of labeling, what can people do to avoid genetically engineered foods? 

Choose organic food or products certified by the Non GMO Project, which has verified tens of thousands of foods that don’t contain GMOs or synthetic biology ingredients.

Gary Ruskin, Co-Founder and Co-Director

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Gary first started working on food issues in 1998.  In 2000, he helped to build the first national coalition against the marketing and sale of soda and junk food in schools.  In 2003, he organized a Childhood Obesity Prevention Agenda for states and schools, endorsed by organizations across the political spectrum.  In 2004, he organized a global effort to ban the marketing of junk food to children. For fourteen years, he directed the Congressional Accountability Project, which opposed corruption in the U.S. Congress. For nine years, he was executive director and co-founder (with Ralph Nader) of Commercial Alert, which opposed the commercialization of every nook and cranny of our lives and culture.  In 2012, Gary was campaign manager for California Right to Know (Proposition 37), a statewide ballot initiative for labeling of genetically engineered food in California.  He was also director of the Center for Corporate Policy. Over the years, he has tangled with many corporate lobbyists, including the infamous Jack Abramoff.  He has often been quoted in major newspapers across the country and has appeared scores of times on national TV news programs. His articles have been published in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Progressive, Mothering, Multinational Monitor, the Journal of Public Health Policy, Journal of Epidemiology and Community HealthCritical Public Health, Environmental Health News and many others. He received his undergraduate degree in religion from Carleton College, and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  He is also the father of a 12 year-old daughter and 1 year-old son.

Contact Gary: gary@usrtk.org
Follow Gary on Twitter: @GaryRuskin

Read Gary Ruskin’s work: 

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health Science organisations and Coca-Cola’s ‘war’ with the public health community: insights from an internal industry document, by Pepita Barlow, Paulo Serôdio, Gary Ruskin, Martin McKee, David Stuckler (3.14.2018)

Journal of Public Health Policy Complexity and conflicts of interest statements: a case-study of emails exchanged between Coca-Cola and the principal investigators of the International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and the Environment (ISCOLE), by David Stuckler, Martin McKee and Gary Ruskin (11.27.17)

Critical Public Health How food companies influence evidence and opinion – straight from the horse’s mouth, by Gary Sacks, Boyd Swinburn, Adrian Cameron, and Gary Ruskin (5.18.17)

Environmental Health News Coca Cola’s war with the public health community: An Inside look at Coca Cola’s manipulation masquerading as science (4.3.2018)

Carey Gillam, Research Director

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Carey Gillam is author of the award-winning book, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science” (Island Press, 2017) and a veteran journalist, researcher and writer with more than 20 years of experience in the news industry. Gillam’s book received the prestigious Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists for unveiling decades of corporate secrets and deceptive tactics by powerful pesticide companies, and how the corporate pursuit of profits has taken priority over protection of the public. “This timely and well-organized examination of one of the world’s most compelling controversies over science and agriculture is well-researched and beautifully written and is accessible to readers who don’t have extensive science backgrounds,” the judges wrote.

Prior to joining U.S. Right to Know, Gillam spent 17 years as a senior correspondent for Reuters, an international news service. In that role, she specialized in coverage of food and agriculture with a particular focus on the rise of biotech crop technology, associated pesticide product development, and the environmental impacts of both, and she developed an in-depth knowledge of leading agrichemical companies that include Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, BASF, Bayer and Syngenta.

Gillam has been recognized as one of the top journalists in the country covering these issues and is frequently asked to speak on radio and television and to appear at conferences to share her knowledge of hotly debated issues involving food and agriculture. She resides in Overland Park, Kansas, with her husband and three children.

Contact Carey: carey@usrtk.org
Follow Carey on Twitter: @CareyGillam

Read Carey Gillam’s articles here.

Monsanto Fingerprints Found All Over Attack On Organic Food

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This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

By Stacy Malkan

When a reputable-sounding nonprofit organization released a report attacking the organic food industry in April 2014, the group went to great lengths to tout its independence.

The 30-page report by Academics Review, described as “a non-profit led by independent academic experts in agriculture and food sciences,” found that consumers were being duped into spending more money for organic food because of deceptive marketing practices by the organic industry.

Trade press headlines blared: “Organics exposed!” (Brownfield News) and “Organic Industry Booming by Deceiving Consumers” (Food Safety Tech News), touting the findings by supposedly independent experts.

The findings were “endorsed by an international panel of independent agricultural science, food science, economic and legal experts from respected international institutions,” according to the group’s press release.

In case the point about independence wasn’t clear, the press release ends on this note: “Academics Review has no conflicts-of-interest associated with this publication, and all associated costs for which were paid for using our general funds without any specific donor’ influence or direction.”

What was not mentioned in the report, the news release or on the website: Executives for Monsanto Co., the world’s leading purveyor of agrichemicals and genetically engineered seeds, along with key Monsanto allies, engaged in fund raising for Academics Review, collaborated on strategy and even discussed plans to hide industry funding, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Monsanto’s motives in attacking the organic industry are obvious: Monsanto’s seeds and chemicals are banned from use in organic farming, and a large part of Monsanto’s messaging is that its products are superior to organics as tools to boost global food production.

Academics Carry Monsanto’s Message 

Academics Review was co-founded by “two independent professors … on opposite ends of the planet,” Bruce Chassy, Ph.D., professor emeritus at University of Illinois, and David Tribe, Ph.D., senior lecturer at University of Melbourne. They claim the group “only accepts unrestricted donations from non-corporate sources.”

Yet two email exchanges in 2010 reveal plans to find corporate funding for Academics Review while keeping corporate fingerprints hidden.

In a March 11, 2010 email exchange with Chassy, Jay Byrne, former head of communications at Monsanto who now runs a PR and market research firm, offered to act as a “commercial vehicle” to help find corporate funding for Academics Review.

Chassy discussed his interest in attacking the organic industry in the emails. “I would love to have a prime name in the middle of the organic aura from which to launch ballistic missiles…” he wrote, “I sure don’t have the money.”

Byrne replied,

“Well, I suggest we work on the money (for all of us) first and quickly! I’ve proposed to Val [Giddings, former vice president of BIO, the biotech industry trade association] that he and I meet while I’m in DC next week so we can (not via e-mail) get a clear picture of options for taking the Academic Review project and other opportunities forward. The “Center for Consumer Freedom” (ActivistCash.com) has cashed in on this to the extreme.”

The Center for Consumer Freedom is directed by Rick Berman, a lobbyist who has been called “Dr. Evil“ and the “king of corporate front groups and propaganda“ for his work to promote the tobacco industry and other corporate interests under the cover of neutral-sounding groups.

“I think we have a much better concept,” Byrne told Chassy.

Byrne shared an “opportunities” list of targets comprised of people, groups and content critical of GMOs and Monsanto: Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Ronnie Cummins, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food,” the movies “Food, Inc” and “The World According to Monsanto,” and “topic cross-over on all the risk areas of ag-biotech (out crossing/ contamination, bees, butterflies, human safety, etc…).”

“All of these individuals, organizations, content items and topic areas mean money for a range of well heeled corporations, Byrne wrote, adding:

All of these individuals, organizations, content items and topic areas mean money for a range of well heeled corporations.

“I believe Val and I can identify and serve as the appropriate (non-academic) commercial vehicles by which we can connect these entities with the project in a manner which helps to ensure the credibility and independence (and thus value) of the primary contributors/owners… I believe our kitchen cabinet here can serve as gatekeepers (in some cases toll takers) for effective, credible responses, inoculation and proactive activities using this project platform…”

“Sounds good to me,” Chassy replied. “I’m sure that you will let me know what you discuss.”

In an email exchange with Chassy dated November 30, 2010, Eric Sachs, a senior public relations operative for Monsanto, discussed finding corporate support for Academics Review while “keeping Monsanto in the background.”

Sachs wrote to Chassy:

“You and I need to talk more about the “academics review” site and concept. I believe that there is a path to a process that would better respond to scientific concerns and allegations. I shared with Val yesterday. From my perspective the problem is one of expert engagement and that could be solved by paying experts to provide responses. You and I have discussed this in the past. Val explained that step one is establishing 501(c)3 not-for-profit status to facilitate fund raising. That makes sense but there is more. I discussed with Jerry Steiner today (Monsanto Executive Team) and can help motivate CLI/BIO/CBI and other organizations to support. The key will be keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information.”

The key will be keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information.

CLI/BIO/CBI refers to three industry trade groups — Crop Life International, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization and the Council for Biotechnology Information — that represent agrichemical corporations.

Chassy responded to Sachs, “Yes we should talk about Academics Review. I think we are on the same page.”

When asked directly about funding, Chassy replied via email: “Academics Review does not solicit or accept funds from any source for specific research or any other activities associated with any products, services or industry. Academics Review only accepts unrestricted donations from non-corporate sources to support our work.”

He said that Academics Review incorporated and reported no income in 2012 and he provided the IRS form 990s for 2013 and 2014 (now also posted on the website). Those documents report $419,830 in revenues but include no information about contributors. Chassy did not respond to requests to provide that information.

Press Covers “Independent” Attack on Organic

Academics Review released its organic marketing study in April 2014 to a robust round of trade press coverage describing the findings of “independent researchers”:

• “The Organic Food Industry Has Been Engaged in ‘Multi-Decade Public Disinformation Campaign’ claims report” (Food Navigator)

• “Report: Organic Industry Achieved 25 Years of Fast Growth Through Fear and Deception” (Food Safety News)

• “A Scathing Indictment of Organic Food Marketing” (Hoard’s Dairyman)

• “Using Fear as a Sales Tactic” (Food Business News)

In the New York Post, Naomi Schaffer Riley built a case against “tyranny of the organic mommy mafia” who are duped by disingenuous marketing tactics of the organic industry. Her sources included the Academics Review report and Julie Gunlock, author of a book about the “culture of alarmism.”

Riley didn’t mention that Gunlock, and also Riley herself, are both senior fellows at the Independent Women’s Forum, a group heavily funded by Donors Trust, which has bankrolled corporate attacks on unions, public schools and climate scientists.

In the Des Moines Register, John R. Block, a former U.S. secretary of agriculture who now works for a law firm that lobbies for agribusiness interests, reported on the “blockbuster report” by Academics Review and its findings that the organic industry’s secret to success is “black marketing.”

The corporate front group American Council on Science and Health, which receives funding from the agrichemical industry and where Chassy serves as a scientific advisor, pushed the “black marketing” theme in articles by ACSH president Hank Campbell and Henry I. Miller, MD, a Hoover Institute fellow who served as the spokesmodel in commercials for the effort to kill GMO labeling in California, for which Monsanto was the lead funder.

Miller, who has a long history of making inaccurate scientific claims in support of corporate interests, also used the Academics Review report as a source for organic attacks in Newsweek and the National Review, and claimed in the Wall Street Journal that organic farming is not sustainable.

Similar anti-organic themes run through other agrichemical industry PR channels.

GMO Answers, a marketing website funded by the Big Six agrichemical companies (and where Chassy and Tribe serve as “independent experts”), promotes the ideas that organics are no healthierno better for the environment and just a marketing program — although, ironically, the PR firm that runs GMO Answers has launched a specialty group in San Francisco to try to cash in on the organic market.

Monsanto’s top spokesperson, Robb Fraleyalso repeatedly trashes the organic industry on his Twitter feed.

Money Flow Goes Public; Academics Review Goes Silent 

In March 2016, Monica Eng reported for WBEZ on documents showing that Monsanto paid Professor Bruce Chassy more than $57,000 over a 23-month period to travel, write and speak about GMOs — money that was not disclosed to the public.

According to Eng’s investigation, the money was part of at least $5.1 million in undisclosed money Monsanto sent through the University of Illinois Foundation to university employees and programs between 2005 and 2015.

“Chassy did not disclose his financial relationship with Monsanto on state or university forms aimed at detecting potential conflicts of interest,” Eng reported.

“Documents further show that Chassy and the university directed Monsanto to deposit the payments through the University of Illinois Foundation, a body whose records are shielded from public scrutiny. The foundation also has the ability to take in private money and disburse it to an individual as a ‘university payment’ — exempt from disclosure.”

In January 2016, Carey Gillam, research director of U.S. Right to Know, reported on emails showing that hundreds of thousands of dollars had flowed from Monsanto to the University of Illinois “as Chassy collaborated on multiple projects with Monsanto to counter public concerns about genetically modified crops (GMOs) – all while representing himself as an independent academic for a public institution.”

“What you find when reading through the email chains is an arrangement that allowed industry players to cloak pro-GMO messaging within a veil of independent expertise, and little, if any, public disclosure of the behind-the-scenes connections,” Gillam wrote.

The last post on the Academics Review site, dated Sept. 2, 2015, is a blog by Chassy explaining that some of his emails would be made public due to the FOIA requests of U.S. Right to Know, which he characterized as an assault on his 40 years of public science, research and teaching.

Financial support from the private sector for public sector research and outreach is “appropriate, commonplace and needed to further the public interest,” Chassy wrote. “Such support should be, and in all my experiences has been, transparent and done under the strict ethical guidelines of the public institutions that are benefiting from private sector or individual financial contributions.”

Three days later, some of Chassy’s emails were first made public in a front-page New York Times article by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eric Lipton. Lipton reported that Monsanto gave Chassy a grant for an undisclosed sum in 2011 for “biotechnology outreach and education activities.”

Chassy told Lipton that the money he received from Monsanto “helped to elevate his voice through travel, a website he created and other means.”

Still Getting Press as an Independent Source 

Despite the revelations in the emails and the disclosure of Chassy’s financial ties to Monsanto, the Academics Review website and its report attacking the organic industry are still posted online with all the descriptions claiming independence.

And Chassy still enjoys press coverage as an “independent” expert on GMOs. In May 2016, two separate Associated Press stories quoted Chassy on that topic. Neither story mentioned Chassy’s now-public financial ties to Monsanto.

Stacy Malkan is co-director of the consumer group U.S. Right to Know. She is author of the award-winning book, “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry” (New Society 2007).