Amid global debate over the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup, numerous claims have been made to defend the product’s safety. In the wake of two recent landmark jury rulings that found Roundup to be a substantial factor in causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, we examined some of these claims and fact-checked them for accuracy.
If you have more examples of glyphosate spin you’d like us to fact check, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to us @USRighttoKnow.
Mark Lynas, Cornell Alliance for Science
Cornell Alliance for Science website (Nov. 2017)
This article by Mark Lynas contains several inaccurate and misleading statements. Like many promoting glyphosate products, the claims here focus on trying to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.
CLAIM: IARC is a “little known and rather flaky offshoot of the World Health Organization” that “finds almost everything carcinogenic”
FACT: IARC is the specialized cancer research agency of WHO with expert panels comprised of independent scientists from various disciplines of cancer research. In its 50-year history, IARC has assessed 1,013 substances and found 49% of those were “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”; 20% were classified as known or probably carcinogenic to humans.
CLAIM: “early drafts of the IARC assessment were extensively altered at a late stage to point towards a carcinogenicity finding – even when the science they were assessing pointed away from this”
FACT: This claim is sourced with a flawed Reuters report by Kate Kelland that left out crucial facts, including the fact that most of the information IARC didn’t adopt from “early drafts” was from a review article co-authored by a Monsanto scientist. The review article “did not provide adequate information for independent evaluation of the conclusions reached by the Monsanto scientist and other authors,” IARC said. Kelland has written a number of stories critical of IARC; documents released in 2019 establish that Monsanto secretly had a hand in some of her reporting.
Lynas used one other source to buttress his claims about wrongdoing at IARC: David Zaruk, a former chemical industry lobbyist who once worked for the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.
CLAIM: Glyphosate is the “most benign chemical in world farming”
FACT: This statement is not science-based. Studies link glyphosate to a range of health concerns including cancer, endocrine disruption, liver disease, shortened pregnancies, birth defects and damage to beneficial gut bacteria. Environmental concerns include negative impacts on soil, bees and butterflies.
SOURCE: Mark Lynas is a former journalist turned promotional advocate for agrichemical products. He works for the Cornell Alliance for Science, a PR campaign housed at Cornell University that is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote and defend GMOs and pesticides.
American Council on Science and Health
ACSH website (October 2017)
CLAIM: The IARC carcinogenicity report on glyphosate was a case of “scientific fraud”
FACT: ACSH based its “fraud” claims on the same two sources Mark Lynas of the Cornell Alliance for Science used one month later to attack IARC on the Cornell website: the former chemical industry lobbyist David Zaruk and the inaccurate article in Reuters that followed talking points that Monsanto gave the reporter.
SOURCE: The American Council on Science and Health is a front group that receives funding from chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, and pitches its services to industry groups for product defense campaigns, according to leaked internal documents. Emails from 2015 establish that Monsanto was funding ACSH and asked the group to write about the IARC glyphosate report. An ACSH staffer responded that they were already involved in a “full-court press re: IARC” regarding agrichemicals, phthalates and diesel exhaust.
Yvette d’Entremont, a.k.a. the “Sci Babe”
Self Magazine article (October 2018)
FACT: Several major credible studies link Roundup or its key component glyphosate to cancer, including a study submitted to the EPA in the 1980s that EPA scientists at the time said was evidence of cancer concerns. There are too many studies to list, but citations can be found in the 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph on Glyphosate.
Additionally, a broad scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides published in February 2019 found that people with high exposures had an increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
SOURCE: Yvette d’Entremont is a “contributing editor” to Self Magazine with a column called “SciBabe Explains.” Self Magazine does not disclose to its readers that SciBabe partners with companies whose products she defends. In 2017, the artificial sweetener company Splenda partnered with SciBabe to help “empower fans of the SPLENDA® Brand to take an active role in busting myths about sucralose.” Chemical companies have sponsored some of her speaking engagements at farming conferences.
Geoffrey Kabat, epidemiologist
Genetic Literacy Project website (October 2018)
CLAIM: Glyphosate “has been so thoroughly studied for toxicity and the concentrations found in humans are so low that there is no need for further study … there is really nothing left to justify further research!”
FACT: In sworn testimony admitted into evidence in ongoing litigation against Monsanto and its owner Bayer AG, former Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant acknowledged the company never did any epidemiology study of glyphosate-based herbicide formulations the company sells. The company also sought to block a toxicity evaluation of glyphosate formulations by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Moreover, these comments, which Dr. Kabat attributed to an anonymous source, ignore two key facts: independent studies link glyphosate to a wide range of health problems and environmental concerns, and evidence from court filings suggests that Monsanto interfered with scientific and regulatory assessments of glyphosate (see examples and sources here, here, here, and here).
According to Judge Vince Chhabria, who presided over a recent federal trial that resulted in $80 million in damages against Monsanto, “the plaintiffs have presented a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product.” The judge also wrote:
Regarding pesticide residues in people, recent science is raising concerns that current regulations do not provide adequate health protections. See reporting by Carey Gillam, “Chemicals on our food: When ‘safe’ may not really be safe,” and commentaries by scientists here, here and here.
SOURCE: Dr. Geoffrey Kabat has longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and has published papers favorable to the tobacco industry that were funded by the tobacco industry. He serves on the board of directors of the parent organization of Genetic Literacy Project, which works with Monsanto on PR projects. Kabat is also on the advisory board of the front group American Council on Science and Health.
Patrick Moore, PR consultant
Video interview with Canal+ (March 2015)
CLAIM: “You can drink a whole quart of [glyphosate] and it won’t hurt you.”
FACT: Even Monsanto says you should not drink glyphosate. According to the company’s website, “glyphosate isn’t a beverage and should not be ingested – just like you wouldn’t drink shampoo or dish detergent. It is always important to use products for their intended purpose and as directed on the label.” (The post also clarifies that Moore “isn’t a Monsanto lobbyist or employee.”)
SOURCE: Moore has been portrayed as a co-founder of Greenpeace who “calls out his former group” as he argues for deregulation of toxic products or polluting industries. According to Greenpeace, “Once upon a time, Dr. Patrick Moore was an early Greenpeace member. Now he is a public relations consultant for the polluting companies that Greenpeace works to change.” In 2014, Moore testified to a U.S. Senate committee that there is no scientific evidence that human activity is causing global warming.
Kevin Folta, PhD, professor at the University of Florida
CLAIM: “I’ve drank [glyphosate] before to demonstrate harmlessness” … “I’ve done it live and will do it again. Must be mixed w/coke or c-berry juice. Tastes soapy. No buzz”
FACT: While Dr. Folta may indeed have consumed glyphosate, this is bad advice coming from an unreliable source. As described above, even Monsanto says you should not drink glyphosate.
SOURCE: Professor Folta has misled the public on many occasions about his agrichemial industry ties. In 2017, Dr. Folta sued the New York Times and Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Eric Lipton for reporting on Folta’s undisclosed collaborations with Monsanto to help defeat GMO labeling. The lawsuit was dismissed.
Alison van Eenennaam, PhD, animal geneticist, UC Davis
video interview on the Real News Network (May 2015)
CLAIM: “I think there’s several very comprehensive meta-analyses that have been done recently that show there are no unique toxicological or carcinogenicity effects associated with the use of Roundup. There was the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment that just reviewed hundreds of toxicological studies and nearly a thousand published reports, and concluded that the data showed neither carcinogenic or mutagentic properties of glyphosate, nor that glyphosate is toxic to fertility, reproduction, and or embryonic fetal development in lab animals … And I wouldn’t call Germany necessarily a country where you would expect them to be doing a risk assessment that wasn’t really looking at what the data’s saying.”
FACT: A 2019 report commissioned by Members of Parliament in the European Union found that Germany’s risk assessment agency “copy-and-pasted tracts from Monsanto studies.” See reporting in the Guardian by Arthur Neslen, “EU glyphosate approval was based on plagiarised Monsanto text, report finds.”
SOURCE: Dr. van Eenennaam is a leading promoter of genetically engineered animals and crops, and a fervent advocate for deregulation. Documents show she has coordinated with agrichemical companies and their public relations firms on PR and messaging.
Food Evolution documentary film
This 2017 feature-length documentary promotes genetically engineered foods as the solution to world hunger but glosses over a key controversy at the center of the GMO debate: whether Roundup, the herbicide that most GM crops are engineered to resist, causes cancer. The film does not even mention the IARC report that found glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, and it relies on just two sources to claim that glyphosate is not a worry.
CLAIM: The film shows footage of Monsanto’s Robb Fraley giving a speech; when an audience member asked him about studies linking glyphosate to cancer or birth defects, Fraley waved his hand dismissively and said all those studies are “pseudoscience.”
FACT: Evidence from animal studies and epidemiological data published in reputable journals link glyphosate to several adverse impacts including cancer and birth defects.
CLAIM: A farmer claims that glyphosate has “very, very low toxicity; lower than coffee, lower than salt.”
FACT: Comparing the toxicity of short-term exposure of glyphosate to things like coffee or salt is irrelevant and misleading; concerns about links to cancer are based on chronic, long-term exposures to glyphosate.
SOURCE: Food Evolution was produced by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson and funded by the Institute for Food Technologists, an industry trade group. Dozens of academics have called it a propaganda film, and several people interviewed for the film described a sneaky and deceptive filming process. NYU Professor Marion Nestle asked to be taken out of the film, but the director refused.
Independent Women’s Forum
IWF website (August 2018)
CLAIM: “The truth is, glyphosate is not carcinogenic.”
FACT: This article by Julie Gunlock provides no scientific backing for its claims; the only links lead to previous IWF blogs accusing environmental groups of lying and “unnecessarily scaring moms.”
SOURCE: The Independent Women’s Forum promotes tobacco products, denies climate science and partners with Monsanto on events to defend pesticides. IWF is funded largely by right-wing foundations that promote deregulation for polluting industries.
The International Food Information Council
IFIC website (January 2016)
CLAIM: “IARC’s determination [that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen] was found by numerous experts to have excluded dozens of studies that found no evidence of glyphosate being carcinogenic. Experts also found IARC’s review to be based on flawed and discredited science, some even going so far as to say the conclusion was ‘totally wrong.'”
FACT: IFIC relied on industry sources for these claims, linking to articles by Val Giddings, PhD, former trade group executive turned PR consultant for the agrichemical industry; and Keith Solomon, a toxicologist who was hired by Monsanto to assess the IARC report.
SOURCE: The International Food Information Council, funded by large food and chemical companies, promotes and defends sugar, artificial sweeteners, food additives, pesticides, processed foods and GMOs. A Monsanto PR plan identified IFIC as one of the “industry partners” that could help defend glyphosate from cancer concerns.
See our post about why journalism and public interest groups are opposing AB700.
Legislation is pending in the California Assembly (AB700) to weaken the California Public Records Act by exempting from disclosure much of the work product of the state’s publicly funded universities. This bill, authored by Laura Friedman, sets a dangerous precedent and would unnecessarily weaken a vital journalistic and good government research tool; see our post about journalism groups and other public interest groups that are opposing AB700.
At California’s public universities, the California Public Records Act is central to efforts to unearthing research misconduct and fraud, sexual harassment, financial improprieties and misallocation of funds, government waste, corporate influence in research process, the commercialization of the university, the influence of wealthy donors, and administrative cover-ups of all of the above. If enacted, AB700 will shield such scandals from exposure and accountability, and invite more.
#MeToo scandals, corporate corruption: examples of how open records laws shine light on information the public has a right to know
Important news stories about sexual misconduct and corporate-influence scandals may not have come to light if legislation to exempt publicly-funded academics from state open records laws passed in California or elsewhere. In one recent case, 30 UCLA employees were found to have violated UC sexual violence and harassment policy based on documents obtained by CPRA, according to reporting in the Daily Cal. See:
- ‘It’s everywhere’: UC Berkeley community reacts to documents revealing sexual misconduct by UCLA employees, by Ronit Sholkoff and Andreana Chou, Daily Cal, 10/24/18
- California Public Records Act request reveals Title IX investigations over 2-year span, by Anjali Shrivastava and Rachel Barber, Daily Cal, 10/23/18
In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times opposing AB700, NYU Journalism Professor Charles Seife described several more examples of sexual harassment cases involving academics, and wrote, “It’s worth noting that many of the universities and other scientific organizations where high-profile cases were exposed are public, taxpayer-funded institutions. That’s not to suggest that private university scientists are less predatory, but at public institutions, researchers are held to account by freedom-of-information laws that allow journalists to compel scientists and their institutions to turn over emails and other records.” See:
- Scientists have #MeToo issues too. Don’t exempt them from accountability laws, by Charles Seife, Los Angeles Times 4/1/19
Other examples of notable reporting arising from documents obtained via state public records requests involving publicly-funded academics include an investigation into the corporate ties of a scientist who claims pollution is a health benefit, an exposé about N.F.L.’s flawed research on concussions, and the groundbreaking reporting that exposed Coca-Cola’s efforts to spin the story of obesity. See:
- Scientist says some pollution is good for you – a disputed claim Trump’s EPA has embraced, by Suzanne Rust, Los Angeles Times, 2/19/2019
- N.F.L.’s Flawed Concussion Research and Ties to Tobacco Industry, by Alan Schwarz, Walt Bogdanich and Jacqueline Williams, New York Times, 3/24/2016
- Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets, by Anahad O’Connor, New York Times, 8/9/15
- Emails reveal Coke’s role in anti-obesity group, Candice Choi, Associated Press, 11/24/15
Since 2015, an investigation by U.S. Right to Know has uncovered many more examples of how the food and chemical industries rely on publicly-funded academics and universities for their lobby operations and PR campaigns. Documents we obtained from publicly funded academics, using state public records laws, provided the basis for, or the trail to, all of the following stories:
- Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O Lobbying War, Emails Show, by Eric Lipton, New York Times, 9/5/15
- Public Meets Private: Conversations Between Coca-Cola and the CDC, by Nason Maani Hessari, Gary Ruskin, Martin McKee and David Stuckler, Milbank Quarterly, 1/29/19
- Coca-Cola emails reveal how soda industry tries to influence health officials, by Paige Winfield Cunningham, Washington Post, 1/29/19
- Coke and CDC, Atlanta icons, share cozy relationship, emails show, by Alan Judd, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/6/19
- Coca-Cola and obesity: study shows efforts to influence US Centers for Disease Control, by Gareth Iacobucci, BMJ, 1/30/19
- Reports: Limit food industry sway on public health matters, by Candace Choi, Associated Press, 1/29/19
- Old emails hold new clues to Coca-Cola and CDC’s controversial relationship, by Jacqueline Howard, CNN, 1/29/19
- Two congresswomen want an investigation into CDC’s crooked relationship with Coca-Cola, by Nicole Karlis, Salon, 2/5/19
- New emails reveal CDC employees were doing the bidding of Coca-Cola, by Nicole Karlis, Salon, 2/1/19
- Coca-Cola tried to influence CDC on research and policy, new report states,by Jesse Chase-Lubitz, Politico, 1/29/19
- 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 and David Stuckler, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 3/14/2018
- Case-study of emails exchanged between Coca-Cola and the principal investigators of the ISCOLE, by David Stuckler, Gary Ruskin and Martin McKee, Journal of Public Health Policy, 2/18
- Coca-Cola’s Influence on Medical and Science Journalists, by Paul Thacker, BMJ, 4/5/17
- Flacking for GMOs: How the Biotech Industry Cultivates Positive Media—and Discourages Criticism, by Paul Thacker, The Progressive, 7/21/17
- UN/WHO panel in conflict of interest row over glyphosate cancer risk, by Arthur Neslen, The Guardian, 5/17/16
- How food companies influence evidence and opinion – straight from the horse’s mouth, by Gary Sacks, Boyd Swinburn, Adrian Cameron, and Gary Ruskin, Critical Public Health, 5/18/17
- Emails Show How Food Industry Uses ‘Science’ to Push Soda, by Deena Shanker, Bloomberg, 9/13/17
- Leaked Email Exchange Reveals Food Industry Tactics, by Lexi Metherell, ABC PM with Linda Mottram, 9/19/17
- Harvard Professor Failed to Disclose Monsanto Connection in Paper Touting GMOs, by Laura Krantz, Boston Globe, 10.1.2015
- University of Saskatchewan Prof Under Fire for Monsanto Ties, by Jason Warick, CBC, 5/7/17
- U of S Defends Prof’s Monsanto Ties, But Some Faculty Disagree, by Jason Warick, CBC, 5/10/17
- Before you read another health study, check who’s funding the research, by Alison Moodie, The Guardian, 12/12/2016
- Why Didn’t an Illinois Professor Have to Disclose GMO Funding? by Monica Eng, WBEZ, 3/15/16
- How Monsanto Mobilized Academics to Pen Articles Supporting GMOs, by Jack Kaskey, Bloomberg, 10/2/15
Investigations based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state open records laws are ongoing, and many of these documents are now posted in the University of California, San Francisco Chemical Industry Documents and Food Industry Documents archives.
The public deserves the right to know what our public universities and their researchers are doing with our tax dollars, and that right properly extends to inspecting the work of our taxpayer-paid employees, including those who work at public universities.
For more information about AB700, see our post, Don’t Weaken the California Public Records Act.
U.S Right to Know is a nonprofit, public interest, consumer and public health research group working for transparency and accountability in our nation’s food system.
Update: The ATSDR published their draft toxicological profile for glyphosate in April 2019. See coverage: ATSDR Report Confirms Glyphosate Cancer Risks, NRDC (4.11.2019); Some Links to Cancer Shown in Draft Review of Common Pesticide, Bloomberg (4.8.2019); Emails Show Monsanto Cozy with Feds, Courthouse News (4.15.2019).
This article by Carey Gillam was originally published in Huffington Post in August 2017:
Records Show EPA Efforts To Slow Herbicide Review Came In Coordination With Monsanto
Newly released government email communications show a persistent effort by multiple officials within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to slow a separate federal agency’s safety review of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide. Notably, the records demonstrate that the EPA efforts came at the behest of Monsanto, and that EPA officials were helpful enough to keep the chemical giant updated on their progress.
The communications, most of which were obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, show that it was early 2015 when the EPA and Monsanto began working in concert to stall a toxicology review that a unit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was conducting on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s branded Roundup herbicide products. The details revealed in the documents come as Monsanto is defending itself against lawsuits alleging that it has tried to cover up evidence of harm with its herbicides.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency that along with the CDC is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is charged with evaluating the potential adverse human health effects from exposures to hazardous substances in the environment. So it made sense for the ATSDR to take a look at glyphosate, which is widely used on U.S. farms, residential lawns and gardens, school playgrounds and golf courses. Glyphosate is widely used in food production and glyphosate residues have been found in testing of human urine.
The ATSDR announced in February 2015 that it planned to publish a toxicological profile of glyphosate by October of that year. But by October, that review was on hold, and to this date no such review has yet been published. (Update: the draft review was finally published in April 2019.) The documents reveal this was no accident, no bureaucratic delay, but rather was the result of a collaborative effort between Monsanto and a group of high-ranking EPA officials.
For Monsanto, the timing of the ATSDR review was worrisome. In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, and Monsanto feared ATSDR might have similar concerns about the chemical. Previous reports have described how one EPA official, Jess Rowland, communicated to Monsanto in April 2015 his willingness to try to kill the ATSDR review. Rowland, who retired in 2016, was the deputy division director within the health effects division of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP). Allegations of collusion between Rowland and Monsanto have prompted a probe by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General.
But the trove of documents newly obtained from within EPA and HHS demonstrate that the assistance to Monsanto came not only from Rowland but also from even higher-level EPA officials. Rather than encourage and assist the toxicology review of glyphosate, Monsanto and EPA officials repeatedly complained to ATSDR and HHS that such a review was unnecessarily “duplicative” and should take a back seat to an EPA review also underway.
The following timeline shows how the events unfolded:
May 19, 2015 – Michael Dykes, who at that time was Monsanto’s long-time vice president of government affairs, wrote directly to the EPA’s Jim Jones, the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention. Jones had oversight of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) and was a presidential appointee who carried significant clout. The afternoon was waning when the email came in at 3:28 p.m. Dykes reminded Jones that they had recently discussed the HHS’ ATSDR glyphosate review at a meeting.
“You were not aware of their review. Did you learn anything more about their efforts?” Dykes asked.
Jones did not waste time. Roughly an hour later he forwarded the message to OPP Director Jack Housenger, writing “Monsanto thinks atsdr is doing a glyphosate Assessment. Could you guys run that down?” Housenger responds quickly: “Yes. Jess checked with them…. It has been difficult to get information.”
Within an hour Jones instructed a member of his staff to get him contact information for the head person responsible for ATSDR. She replied the next morning that Dr. Patrick Breysse was the point person. Breysse joined the CDC in 2014 as director of its National Center for Environmental Health, overseeing the NCEH’s ATSDR.
May 20, 2015 It was only a little after 8:30 a.m. but Jones told the staff member to instruct Housenger to get in touch with Breysse, and within two hours Housenger had penned an email to Breysse explaining that an EPA’s own re-evaluation/risk assessment of glyphosate was nearing completion, and asking Breysse if “you would still feel the need to do your assessment.” Housenger told Breysse that he already had reached the individual assigned to the ATSDR assessment and she had indicated she would “coordinate” with EPA, but that was not sufficient. Housenger did not mention Monsanto’s outreach to EPA on the issue, but instead questioned “whether this is a good use of government resources” for ATSDR to continue with its review. Breysse responded that he would “look into this” and Housenger thanked him for his quick response. Breysse then reached out to an ATSDR division director named James Stephens to arrange a discussion about the EPA request.
May 21, 2015 James Stephens wrote back to Patrick Breysse that the ATSDR team thought the EPA work “overlaps but isn’t totally duplicative…” and stated that the ASTDR team has not been able to see draft copies of the EPA’s work. “I think we would all welcome further discussion with EPA but would hope to use it to help us find out more about what they are doing, ” he told Breysse. After hearing from Stephens, Breysse wrote back to Housenger saying ATSDR staff would be in touch to discuss. Housenger replied with his reiteration that the ATSDR review would be a “duplicative government effort” and that the EPA draft would be out in July of 2015. (As of this writing, that EPA preliminary risk assessment still has not been released, though in 2016 the EPA did release a cancer assessment report that declared glyphosate was not likely to cause cancer.)
June 4, 2015 Pressing the issue, EPA’s Housenger wrote again to Breysee to say he had not heard from anyone yet. The ATSDR’s Stephens wrote back promising to make sure “someone gives you a ring.” Internal Monsanto emails show that at the same time, Monsanto was also pushing the “duplicative” narrative with HHS, meeting on June 4 with HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Health Mitchel Wolfe to ask him to help repudiate the IARC classification and to recognize that a review of glyphosate was “not the primary role” for his agency. “Dr. Wolfe said he would follow up on what was going on with ATSDR and he was encouraged to have discussions with EPA staff, as well,” a Monsanto memo detailing the meeting states.
June 9, 2015 Henry Abadin, an ATSDR supervisory scientist, reported to Stephens that he had talked with Housenger and explained that the agency did not believe it was “duplicating efforts.” Nevertheless, he said he told EPA, “we did not have a problem with putting the glyphosate profile on hold, pending the OPP final report.”
June 19, 2015 To further ensure the ATSDR review didn’t move forward, Monsanto’s Dykes talked again with HHS’s Wolfe, asking for an update on ATSDR. “I explained… our question was about the purpose and scope of such a duplicative review by ATSDR. I also told him that we were concerned that ATSDR may come out any day with a report. I again stressed that we were concerned that they were even reviewing glyphosate as were the people we talked with at EPA,” Dykes wrote to colleagues.
June 21, 2015 It was a Sunday, but Monsanto’s Dykes was still concerned enough about the ATSDR review to copy multiple colleagues on a late night email to report that he had continued to press the “duplicative” point with ATSDR but was concerned about a “glyphosate review coming any day.” In a text message sent that same day, Monsanto scientist Eric Sachs reached out to a former EPA toxicologist named Mary Manibusan asking for contacts at ATSDR. “We’re trying to do everything we can to keep from having a domestic IARC occur w this group. may need your help,” Sachs wrote. The text messages were among certain internal Monsanto records obtained by cancer victims who are suing Monsanto alleging Roundup caused their diseases.
June 23, 2015 By Tuesday, Monsanto’s Jenkins had good news: He had heard from Housenger that the EPA official had been successful in garnering a promise from ATSDR to put its report “on hold.” The review was not dead, however, he wrote: ATSDR argues “that their process is distinguishable and not duplicative. They look at different endpoints and told EPA they don’t “make a call on cancer”, but I think we should continue to be cautious.”
On June 24, 2015 Monsanto’s chief scientist William Heydens responded: “’Distinguishable and not duplicative’? Seriously? And I will believe the not ‘making a call on cancer’ part when I see it. Anyway, at least they know they are being watched, and hopefully that keeps them from doing anything too stupid…” Jenkins wrote back, acknowledging that Monsanto had much more to fear from ATSDR than EPA as the two agencies had arrived at “different conclusions” on other issues. He reported he had been told ATSDR was “VERY conservative and IARC like…”
By October 23, 2015 EPA and Monsanto had the ATSDR review fully on hold. EPA’s Housenger wrote to update Monsanto’s Jenkins: “They are waiting for our glyphosate RA. And they agreed to share what they do.”
That same month, the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), which was chaired by Rowland, issued an internal report stating that contrary to IARC, the EPA’s review of glyphosate found it “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The EPA still has yet to issue the overall new risk assessment it said would be out in 2015. The agency has offered ever-changing timelines for the assessment, but now says its intends to release a draft risk assessment sometime this year. That will be followed by a 60-day public comment period. After the public comment period the EPA will determine whether any risk management is needed. In the meantime, Monsanto has cited the EPA’s backing of glyphosate safety as repudiation of the IARC finding both in court and with regulators in Europe who are also looking at glyphosate safety issues.
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment about its efforts to delay the ATSDR report or communications with Monsanto regarding that effort.
But Brent Wisner, a lawyer representing many of the cancer victims who are suing Monsanto, said the documents offer damning evidence of improperly close ties between the EPA and the chemical company. “I think it’s very clear… that EPA officials and Monsanto employees worked together to accomplish a goal of stopping that analysis at ATSDR. That is collusion. I don’t know what else you’d call that,” said Wisner.
For its part, the ATSDR said this week that the review it started in 2015 “is not complete” but that it anticipates a draft glyphosate toxicological profile to be issued for public comment by the end of this year. A spokesperson for the agency declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding the delay in the review.
And Jones, whose EPA job ended when the Trump administration took over, defended his responsiveness to Monsanto’s concern about the ATSDR review, saying it had only to do with the “efficient use of government resources.”
“Had any party contacted me and informed me that another agency within the Administration was simultaneously assessing a chemical as my organization, I would have intervened,” Jones said. “There is no value to the same government investing limited resources to work on the same issue. As you know resources at the federal level were and are scarce which made duplication even more problematic.” Jones said additionally that “when two organizations assess the same chemical, it is very likely there will be differences in their assessments. Even when these differences don’t matter from a public health perspective, an enormous amount of energy is spent attempting to resolve these differences” and that is not ultimately in the “public interest.”
Related: Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists, by Stacy Malkan
This fact sheet describes the contents of Monsanto’s confidential public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research unit, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in order to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, the international group of experts on the IARC panel judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.
The Monsanto plan names more than a dozen “industry partner” groups that company executives planned to “inform / inoculate / engage” in their efforts to protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent the “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies.” Partners included academics as well as chemical and food industry front groups, trade groups and lobby groups — follow the links below to fact sheets that provide more information about the partner groups.
Together these fact sheets provide a sense of the depth and breadth of the corporate attack on the IARC cancer experts in defense of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide.
A key document released in 2017 in legal proceedings against Monsanto describes the corporation’s “preparedness and engagement plan” for the IARC cancer classification for glyphosate, the world’s most widely used agrichemical. The internal Monsanto document — dated Feb. 23, 2015 — assigns more than 20 Monsanto staffers to objectives including “neutralize impact of decision,” “regulator outreach,” “ensure MON POV” and “lead voice in ‘who is IARC’ plus 2B outrage.” On March 20, 2015, IARC announced its decision to classify glyphosate as Group 2A carcinogen, “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
For more background, see: “How Monsanto Manufactured Outrage at Chemical Cancer Classification it Expected,” by Carey Gillam, Huffington Post (9/19/2017)
Monsanto’s Tier 1-4 “Industry Partners”
Page 5 of the Monsanto document identifies four tiers of “industry partners” that Monsanto executives planned to engage in its IARC preparedness plan. These groups together have a broad reach and influence in pushing a narrative about cancer risk that protects corporate profits.
Tier 1 industry partners are agrichemical industry-funded lobby and PR groups.
- CropLife International / European Crop Protection Association are pesticide industry trade groups
- GMO Answers is a crisis management marketing website funded by Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta and run by Ketchum public relations firm
- Biotechnology Innovation Organization is a biotech industry trade group
Tier 2 industry partners are front groups that are often cited as independent sources, but work with the chemical industry behind the scenes on public relations and lobbying campaigns.
Tier 3 industry partners are food-industry funded nonprofit and trade groups. These groups were tapped to, “Alert food companies via Stakeholder Engagement team (IFIC, GMA, CFI) for ‘inoculation strategy’ to provide early education on glyphosate residue levels, describe science-based studies versus agenda-driven hypotheses” of the independent cancer panel.
- International Food Information Council (IFIC) is a food industry-funded spin group that leads a coalition of 130 groups that coordinate messaging about GMOs and pesticides.
- Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is the leading trade group for junk food companies.
- The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) is a food industry-funded spin group.
Tier 4 industry partners are “key grower’s associations.” These are the various trade groups representing corn, soy and other industrial growers and food manufacturers.
Orchestrating outcry against the cancer report on glyphosate
Monsanto’s PR document described their plans to conduct robust media and social media outreach to “orchestrate outcry with the IARC decision.”
How that played out can be seen in the writings of the industry partner groups that used common messaging and sources to accuse the cancer research agency of wrongdoing and attempt to discredit the scientists who worked on the glyphosate report.
Examples of the attack messaging can be seen on the Genetic Literacy Project website. This group claims to be an independent source on science, however, documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that Genetic Literacy Project works with Monsanto on PR projects without disclosing those collaborations. Jon Entine launched the group in 2011 when Monsanto was a client of his PR firm. This is a classic front group tactic; moving a company’s messaging through a group that claims to be independent but isn’t.
Plan suggests Sense About Science to “lead industry response”
Monsanto’s PR document discusses plans to conduct robust media and social media outreach to “orchestrate outcry with the IARC decision.” The plan suggests the group Sense About Science (in brackets with a question mark) for “leads industry response and provides platform for IARC observers and industry spokesperson.”
Sense About Science is a public charity based in London that claims to promote public understanding of science, but the group is “known to take positions that buck scientific consensus or dismiss emerging evidence of harm,” reported Liza Gross in The Intercept. In 2014, Sense About Science launched a US version under the direction of Trevor Butterworth, a writer with a long history of disagreeing with science that raises health concerns about toxic chemicals.
Sense About Science is related to the Science Media Centre, a science PR agency in London that receives corporate funding and is known for pushing corporate views of science. A reporter with close ties to the Science Media Centre, Kate Kelland, has published several articles in Reuters critical of the IARC cancer agency that were based on false narratives and inaccurate incomplete reporting. The Reuters articles have been heavily promoted by Monsanto’s “industry partner” groups and were used as the basis for political attacks against IARC.
For more information:
- “IARC rejects false claims in Reuters article,” IARC statement (3/1/18)
- Reuters’ Aaron Blair IARC story promotes false narrative, USRTK (7/24/2017)
- Reuters’ claim that IARC “edited out” findings is also false, USRTK (10/20/2017)
- “Are corporate ties influencing science coverage?” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (7/24/2017)
“Engage Henry Miller”
Page 2 of the Monsanto PR document identifies the first external deliverable for planning and preparation: “Engage Henry Miller” to “inoculate / establish public perspective on IARC and reviews.”
“I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.”
Henry I. Miller, MD, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, has a long documented history of working with corporations to defend hazardous products. The Monsanto plan identifies the “MON owner” of the task as Eric Sachs, Monsanto’s science, technology and outreach lead.
Documents later reported by The New York Times reveal that Sachs emailed Miller a week before the IARC glyphosate report to ask if Miller was interested in writing about the “controversial decision.” Miller responded, “I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.” On March 23, Miller posted an article on Forbes that “largely mirrored” the draft provided by Monsanto, according to the Times. Forbes severed its relationship with Miller in the wake of the ghostwriting scandal and deleted his articles from the site.
American Council on Science and Health
Although the Monsanto PR document did not name the corporate-funded American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) among its “industry partners,” emails released via litigation show that Monsanto funded the American Council on Science and Health and asked the group to write about the IARC glyphosate report. The emails indicate that Monsanto executives were uncomfortable about working with ACSH but did so anyway because, “we don’t have a lot of supporters and can’t afford to lose the few we have.”
Monsanto’s senior science lead Daniel Goldstein wrote his colleagues, “I can assure you I am not all starry eyed about ACSH- they have PLENTY of warts- but: You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH” (emphasis his). Goldstein sent links to dozens of ACSH materials promoting and defending GMOs and pesticides that he described as “EXTREMELY USEFUL.”
Follow the findings of U.S. Right to Know and media coverage about collaborations between food industry groups and academics on our investigations page. USRTK documents are also available in the Chemical Industry Documents Library hosted by UCSF.
Newsweek failed to disclose the chemical industry connections of two opinion writers who argued today in an op-ed that glyphosate can’t be regulated. The commentary by Henry I. Miller and Stuart Smyth, both of whom have ties to Monsanto that were not disclosed in the piece, appeared soon after a federal jury handed cancer victim Edwin Hardeman an $80 million verdict against Monsanto (now Bayer), and said the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide was a “substantial factor” in causing Hardeman’s cancer.
Last year, we complained to Newsweek’s opinion editor about an op-ed Dr. Miller wrote attacking the organic industry that was based on pesticide industry sources and didn’t disclose Miller’s Monsanto ties. See our bizarre email exchange with the editor, Nicholas Wapshott, in which he declined to inform readers about the conflicts of interest. Wapshott is no longer at Newsweek, but Miller’s organic food attack still appears there, and today it was surrounded by Bayer advertisements promoting glyphosate.
Today’s op-ed in Newsweek, in which Miller and Smyth defended Monsanto and Roundup, provided these bios: Stuart J. Smyth is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and holds the Industry Funded Research Chair in Agri-Food Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
Here’s what Newsweek did not disclose to its readers about the authors:
Henry Miller’s Monsanto ties:
- In 2017, the New York Times reported that Dr. Miller published an article in Forbes defending glyphosate that had been ghostwritten by Monsanto. Forbes severed ties with Miller and deleted all his articles.
- A 2015 Monsanto PR plan identified Dr. Miller as a key ally. The company’s plan to discredit a scientific panel that raised cancer concerns about glyphosate listed as its first action item: “Engage Henry Miller.”
- Miller has a long history of partnering with – and pitching his PR services to – corporations that need help convincing the public their products aren’t dangerous and don’t need to be regulated.
Stuart Smyth’s Monsanto ties:
- Dr. Smyth also collaborates with the agrichemical industry on PR projects, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know and published in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Archive.
- Emails from 2016 indicate that Dr. Smyth receives “program support” from Monsanto. The email from Monsanto Canada’s Public and Industry Affairs Director asks Dr. Smyth to send the “invoice for this year’s contribution.”
Newsweek has a duty to inform its readers about the chemical industry connections of writers and sources who argue in Newsweek for the safety and necessity of pesticides linked to cancer.
For more information:
- Monsanto’s Fingerprints All Over Newsweek Attack on Organic Food, by Stacy Malkan (1.23.2018)
- Newsweek’s Bizarre Standard for Opinion Writers, by Stacy Malkan (1.31.2018)
- Henry Miller Dropped by Forbes After Monsanto Ghostwriting Scandal, USRTK fact sheet
- Tracking the Agrichemical Industry Propaganda Network, USRTK fact sheet
Lawyers for Edwin Hardeman have substantially cut down the number of witnesses and evidence to present to jurors who must decide if Monsanto and its new owner Bayer are liable for Hardeman’s development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma after years of use of Monsanto’s Roundup. They have but a few hours left allotted to them by the judge, who has said he expects closing arguments by Tuesday.
The six-member jury team decided last week that Roundup was in fact a substantial factor in causing Hardeman’s cancer. The trial is now focused on whether or not Monsanto should be blamed, and if so, how much – if anything – the company should pay Hardeman in damages.
But making that case may be difficult given the short amount of time the plaintiff’s attorneys have left in the total “time clock” that Judge Vince Chhabria set. He gave each side 30 hours to make their case.
Hardeman’s attorneys used most of their time in the first half of the trial and now have but a few remaining hours. As a result, they have informed the judge that they will not be calling planned testimony from Monsanto executives Daniel Goldstein, Steven Gould, David Heering, or Daniel Jenkins. They also will not be presenting planned testimony from Roger McClellan, editor of the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology (CRT), and at least four other witnesses.
McClellan was overseeing CRT when the journal published a series of papers in September 2016 that rebuked the finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) finding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. The papers purported to be written by independent scientists who found that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people. But internal Monsanto documents show that the papers were conceptualized from the outset as a strategy by Monsanto to discredit IARC. One of Monsanto’s top scientists not only reviewed the manuscripts but had a hand in drafting and editing them, though that was not disclosed by CRT.
Hardeman’s attorneys plan about three more hours of testimony from various witnesses, including former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant, who received an exit payment of about $32 million when Bayer AG bought Monsanto last summer.
Discussion of Damages
Both sides have already agreed that Hardeman has suffered a loss of approximately $200,000 in economic damages, but Hardeman’s attorneys are expected to ask for many tens of millions of dollars, and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars for total damages, including punitive.
Lawyers for Monsanto have objected to any discussion of Monsanto’s wealth and the $63 billion Bayer paid for Monsanto, but the judge has allowed some financial information to be shared with jurors.
Jurors may not ever be told exactly how much money Monsanto has made over the years in sales of its glyphosate herbicides, but a look at just one year of financials – 2012, the year Hardeman stopped using Roundup – shows the company made roughly $2 billion in total profits that year.
Judge Chhabria noted in discussions with attorneys out of the presence of the jury that Hardeman’s attorneys might want to argue that Monsanto spent a lot of money on advertising and payouts to executives rather than conducting long-term safety studies on its products. The money issues might be relevant to jurors’ deliberation over potential punitive damages, Chhabria said.
“It may be relevant to Monsanto’s ability to pay, but it seems even more relevant to the issue of what was knowable — both liability and punitive damages, whether Monsanto’s conduct was extreme and outrageous,” Judge Chhabria said. “Why can’t they argue, look at all the money Monsanto has been willing to spend on advertising and it’s not willing to, you know, conduct any sort of objective inquiry into the safety of its product.”
“It is not as much about the company’s ability to pay as it is about the company’s conduct with respect to the safety of its product,” Chhabria said. “Look at all these things that the company is spending extreme amounts of money on, and it’s not willing to lift a finger to conduct any sort of objective inquiry about the safety of its product. That, I assume, is their argument.”
Chhabria said the evidence of Monsanto’s finance could be “probative” of the “outrageousness of the company’s conduct.”
Pilliod Trial Beginning
A third Roundup cancer trial gets underway this week in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California. Alva and Alberta Pilliod, husband and wife, take on Monsanto and Bayer with claims they both are suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup products. Voir dire for jury selection begins today in Oakland and opening statements are expected to begin Thursday. See documents related to that case at this link.
The judge in the Pilliod case rejected Monsanto’s request to bifurcate the trial. The legal team presenting the Pilliod case includes Los Angeles attorney Brent Wisner, who gained notoriety for the win by plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson over Monsanto in the first-ever Roundup cancer trial last summer.
Geoffrey Kabat, PhD, is a cancer epidemiologist and author of two books arguing that that health hazards of pesticides, electromagnetic fields, secondhand tobacco smoke and other environmental exposures are “greatly overblown.” He is often quoted in the press as an independent expert on cancer risk. Reporters who use Dr. Kabat as a source should be aware of (and disclose) his longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and involvement with groups that partner with the chemical industry on PR and lobbying campaigns.
Front group leader and advisor
Dr. Kabat is a member of the board of directors of the Science Literacy Project, the parent group of Genetic Literacy Project, which works behind the scenes with Monsanto to promote and defend agrichemical products. Dr. Kabat is also a member of the board of scientific advisors of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a group that receives funding from chemical, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.
Both Genetic Literacy Project and ACSH partnered with Monsanto on a public relations campaign to attempt to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for its report that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is a probable human carcinogen. According to documents released via litigation:
- A Monsanto PR plan (February 2015) named Genetic Literacy Project among the “industry partners” Monsanto planned to engage in its efforts to “neutralize [the] impact” of the IARC report. The goals of Monsanto’s plan were to “protect the reputation and FTO of Roundup” and “provide cover for regulatory agencies…” GLP has since posted more than 200 articles critical of the cancer agency.
- Emails from February 2015 show that Monsanto funded ACSH on an ongoing basis and reached out to give ACSH the “full array” of Monsanto information about the IARC report on glyphosate. In the emails, Monsanto staffers discussed the usefulness of ACSH’s materials on pesticides, and one wrote, “You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH.” (emphasis in original)
- ACSH staffers told Monsanto the IARC glyphosate report was on their radar, and noted, “We are involved in a full-court press re: IARC, regarding ag-chemicals, DINP [phthalate] and diesel exhaust.”
These groups used similar messaging to attack the IARC cancer researchers as “scientific frauds” and “anti-chemical enviros” who “lied” and “conspired to misrepresent” the science on glyphosate. They cited Dr. Kabat as a key source for claims that IARC is “discredited” and “only enviro-fanatics” pay attention to reports on cancer hazard. Dr. Kabat has written that “there are literally no more studies we can do to show glyphosate is safe,” based on an interview with an anonymous expert.
Attacking scientists who raise cancer concerns
Another example of how Dr. Kabat aids the Monsanto-connected groups can be found in his efforts to discredit a different group of scientists who raised cancer concerns about glyphosate in a February 2019 meta-analysis. The meta-analysis, co-authored by three scientists who were tapped by EPA to serve on an expert scientific advisory committee on glyphosate, reported “compelling links” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Dr. Kabat skewered the analysis in an article that was first published on Forbes but was later removed after Forbes editors received complaints about Kabat’s lack of disclosure about his ties to ACSH. When questioned about the issue, Forbes said the article was pulled because it violated Forbes standards and Kabat would no longer be a contributor to Forbes.
Dr. Kabat’s deleted Forbes article can still be read on Science 2.0, a website run by the former director of ACSH, and a version appears on Genetic Literacy Project. GLP Executive Director Jon Entine promoted Dr. Kabat’s article along with suggestions that the scientists may have committed “deliberate fraud.”
For more information about industry-orchestrated attacks on IARC, see:
- Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists, by Stacy Malkan, TruthOut (7.16.18)
- Monsanto Relied on These ‘Partners’ to Attack Top Cancer Scientists, USRTK fact sheet
Dr. Kabat’s longstanding tobacco ties
Dr. Kabat has published several papers favorable to the tobacco industry that were funded by the tobacco industry. He and his co-author on some of those papers, James Enstrom (a trustee of the American Council on Science and Health), have longstanding ties to the tobacco industry, according to a 2005 paper in BMJ Tobacco Control.
In a widely cited 2003 paper in BMJ, Kabat and Enstrom concluded that secondhand smoke does not increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. The study was sponsored in part by the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR), a tobacco industry group. Although that funding was disclosed, a follow-up analysis in BMJ Tobacco Control found that the disclosures provided by Kabat and Enstrom, although they met the journal’s standards, “did not provide the reader with a full picture of the tobacco industry’s involvement with the study authors. The tobacco industry documents reveal that the authors had long standing financial and other working relationships with the tobacco industry.” (emphasis added)
This table in the BMJ Tobacco Control paper reports the early ties:
In 2019, a search for Geoffrey Kabat in the UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents brings up over 800 documents, including a 2007 invoice to Phillip Morris for over $20,000 for “consulting on the health effects of low-yield cigarettes” billed at $350 an hour.
In 2008, Kabat and Enstrom published a paper partly funded by Phillip Morris reporting that previous assessments appeared to have overestimated the strength of the association between environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease.
In 2012, Dr. Kabat co-authored a paper finding that mentholated cigarettes were not an important contributor to esophageal cancer. For that paper, Dr. Kabat declared he had “served as a consultant to a law firm and to a consulting firm on the health effects of menthol cigarettes.”
For more information from U.S. Right to Know about front groups and academics with undisclosed ties to food and chemical companies, see our Agrichemical Industry Propaganda Tracker.
Monsanto’s former Director of Corporate Communications Jay Byrne, president of the public relations firm v-Fluence, is a key player in the covert propaganda and lobbying campaigns of the world’s largest agrichemical companies. Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know, posted in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Archive, reveal a range of deceptive tactics Byrne and other industry allies are using to promote and defend GMO foods and pesticides.
The examples here showcase some of the ways companies are moving their messaging into the public arena from behind the cover of neutral-sounding front groups, government helpers and academics who appear to be independent as they work with corporations or their PR consultants.
Clients are top agrichemical, agribusiness and drug companies and tradegroups
Byrne’s client list has included a range of the largest agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies and business groups, including the American Chemistry Council, Syngenta, AstraZeneca, Monsanto, Pfizer, the International Rice Research Institute, the American Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Rohm & Haas and the pesticide industry trade group CropLife.
Cooked up academic front group to attack Monsanto critics
A key strategy of the agrichemical industry, as the New York Times reported, is to deploy “white hat” professors to fight the industry’s PR and lobbying battles from behind the cover of the “gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree.”
In March 2010, Byrne and University of Illinois Professor Bruce Chassy discussed setting up a front group called “Academics Review” that could attract donations from corporations while appearing to be independent. Byrne compared the idea to the Center for Consumer Freedom (a front group run by infamous corporate propaganda front-man Rick Berman), which “has cashed in on this to the extreme; and I think we have a much better concept.” Byrne described an “‘opportunities’ list with targets” they could go after. Byrne wrote to Dr. Chassy:
All those groups, people and topic areas “mean money for a range of well heeled corporations,” Byrne wrote. He said he and Val Giddings, PhD, a former vice president for the biotech trade group BIO, could serve as “commercial vehicles” for the academics.
In November 2010, Byrne wrote to Chassy again, “It will be good to get the next phase of work on Academics Review going – we’ve got a relative slow first quarter coming up in 2011 if business remains the same.” Byrne offered to “schedule some pro bono search engine optimization time” for his team to counter a GMO critic’s online influence. Byrne concluded the email, “As always, would love to find the next topic (and sponsor) to broaden this while we are able.”
In 2014, Academics Review released a report attacking the organic industry as a marketing scam; in its own marketing materials for the report, Academics Review claimed to be independent and did not disclose its agrichemical industry funding.
For more information:
- Monsanto Fingerprints Found All Over Attack on Organic Food, by Stacy Malkan, Huffington Post (6.30.2016)
- Academics Review: The Making of a Monsanto Front Group, USRTK fact sheet
“US government-GLP-Byrne projects” to sway journalists
Byrne’s lobbying and PR operations for the GMO and pesticide industry intersect at many points with the work of Jon Entine, another key figure in agrichemical industry defense campaigns. Entine directs the Genetic Literacy Project, which he launched in 2011 when Monsanto was a client of his PR firm. (Entine’s PR firm ESG MediaMetrics listed Monsanto as a client on its website in 2010, 2011, 2012 and up to January 2013, according to internet archives still available online.)
In December 2013, Entine wrote to Max T. Holtzman, who was then acting deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to propose collaborating on a series of what he described as “US government-GLP-Byrne projects” to promote GMOs. Entine wrote to Holtzman:
Entine’s proposed “US government-GLP-Byrne” projects included a “Boot Camp and Response Swat Team” to prepare third-party academics for “potential legislative engagement on [GMO] labeling and related issues,” a “journalism conclave” to bolster media coverage about food security challenges and “provide coaching to younger journalists,” a global media outreach campaign to promote acceptance of biotechnology, and “multi-media content and placements from credible sources” reinforcing key themes “with segments and footage made available on U.S. government websites, GLP and other platforms.”
Holtzman responded, “Thanks Jon. It was great meeting you as well. I think your outline below provides natural intersection points where usda/USG messaging and your efforts intersect well. I’d like to engage further and loop other folks here at usda not only from the technical/trade areas but from our communications shop as well.”
Taxpayer-funded, Monsanto-aligned videos to promote GMOs
A series of taxpayer-funded videos produced in 2012 to promote genetically engineered foods provide another example of how academics and universities push corporate-aligned messaging. Byrne’s PR firm v-Fluence helped create the videos that were “designed to appear a little low budget and amateurish,” according to an email from University of Illinois Professor Bruce Chassy.
Dr. Chassy wrote to Monsanto employees on April 27, 2012:
Monsanto’s Eric Sachs responded:
Sachs offered to assist with messaging of future videos by sharing the results of focus group tests Monsanto was conducting. Dr. Chassy invited Sachs to offer suggestions for future video topics and asked him to send along the Monsanto focus group results.
Training scientists and journalists to frame the debate about GMOs and pesticides
In 2014 and 2015, Byrne helped Jon Entine organize the Biotech Literacy Project boot camps funded by agrichemical companies and co-hosted by two industry front groups, Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project and Bruce Chassy’s Academics Review. Organizers misleadingly described the funding for the events as coming from a mix of academic, government and industry sources, but the only traceable source of funding was the agrichemical industry, according to reporting by Paul Thacker in The Progressive. The purpose of the boot camps, Thacker reported, was “to train scientists and journalists to frame the debate over GMOs and the toxicity of glyphosate.”
Byrne was on the organizing team, along with Cami Ryan (who now works for Monsanto) and Bruce Chassy (who was receiving funds from Monsanto that weren’t publicly disclosed), according to emails from Entine and Ryan.
For more information:
- Flacking for GMOs: How the Biotech Industry Cultivates Positive Media—and Discourages Criticism, by Paul Thacker, The Progressive (7.21.17)
- Industry-funded Biotech Literacy Project Boot Camps, USRTK fact sheet
Bonus Eventus: the agrichemical industry’s social media echo chamber
A key service Byrne provides to agrichemical promotional efforts is his “Bonus Eventus community” that supplies academics and other industry allies with talking points and promotional opportunities. Internal documents (page 9) describe Bonus Eventus as “a private social networking portal that serves as a communication cooperative for agriculture-minded scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders.” Members receive Byrne’s newsletter, plus access to his reference library of agribusiness topics, “stakeholder database” of influential people in the GMO debate, and trainings and support for social media engagement.
Examples of the newsletter can be found in this cache of emails from Byrne to Peter Phillips, a University of Saskatchewan professor who has been criticized by colleagues for his close ties to Monsanto. In the Nov. 7, 2016 newsletter, Byrne urged Phillips and other recipients to share content about the “flaws and omissions” in a New York Times story that reported on the failure of GMO crops to increase yields and reduce pesticides, and the “mounting questions” facing an international group of cancer scientists who reported glyphosate is a probably human carcinogen (see our reporting about documents describing how Monsanto coordinated attacks on the cancer panel via their “industry partners”).
Byrne urged the Bonus Eventus community to share content on these themes from industry-connected writers, such as Julie Kelly, Dr. Henry Miller, Kavin Senapathy, The Sci Babe and Hank Campbell of the American Council on Science and Health, a group Monsanto was paying to help discredit the cancer scientists. In 2017, Forbes deleted dozens of articles by Dr. Miller – including several he co-authored with Kelly, Senapathy and Byrne – after the New York Times reported that Dr. Miller had published an article in Forbes under his own name that had been ghostwritten by Monsanto.
Gatekeeper for attack on Greenpeace
When a group of Nobel laureates called on Greenpeace to stop opposing genetically engineered rice, it looked like an independent effort. But behind the curtain of impressive credentials were the helping hands of two key players in the agrichemical industry’s PR lobby: Jay Byrne and a board member of the Genetic Literacy Project. Byrne was posted at the door at a National Press Club event promoting a group called Support Precision Agriculture. The .com version of that website redirected for years to the Genetic Literacy Project, a front group that works with Monsanto on PR projects without disclosing those ties.
So who paid for the anti-Greenpeace press event? Sir Richard Roberts, a biochemist who said he organized the Nobel laureate letter, explained the backstory in an FAQ on the website: the “campaign has been pretty inexpensive so far,” he wrote, consisting mostly of his salary paid by his employer New England Biolabs and “out-of-pocket expenses” paid by Matt Winkler. Winkler, founder and chairman of the biotech company Asuragen, is also a funder and board member of Genetic Literacy Project, according to the group’s website. Roberts explained that Winkler “enlisted a friend, Val Giddings,” (the former biotech trade group VP) who “suggested Jay Byrne” (Monsanto’s former communications director) who offered pro bono logistical support for the press event.
Byrne and Giddings also helped orchestrate the industry-funded Academics Review, a front group they set up to appear independent while serving as a vehicle to attract corporate cash in exchange for attacking critics of ag-biotech products, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know. In the emails, Byrne named Greenpeace on the “targets” list he was compiling for Monsanto. Another of Byrne’s clients is the International Rice Research Institute, the main industry group trying to commercialize GMO Golden Rice, which was the focus of the Greenpeace critique. Research by Glenn Davis Stone of Washington University in St. Louis has found that low yields and technical difficulties have held up Golden Rice, not opposition from environmental groups.
In his FAQ, Dr. Roberts dismissed Dr. Stone’s independent research as “not an accurate representation of the state of affairs,” and instead pointed to industry-connected PR sources who will be familiar to readers of Byrne’s Bonus Eventus newsletter: Julie Kelly, Henry Miller and Academics Review. The press event took place at a critical political moment, and generated a helpful story in the Washington Post, a week before Congress voted to prohibit states from labeling GMOs.
For more information:
- 107 Nobel Laureate attack on Greenpeace traced back to biotech PR operators, by Jonathan Latham, PhD, Independent Science News (7.1.16)
- I was barred from a Nobel Laureate press conference by a PR consultant with Monsanto ties, by Tim Schwab, Food & Water Watch (7.6.16)
- Greenpeace to Nobel laureates: it’s not our fault Golden Rice has ‘failed as a solution,’ by Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch (6.30.2016)
Weaponizing the web with fake people and websites
Reporting for The Guardian in 2002, George Monbiot described a covert tactic that agrichemical corporations and their PR operatives have been using for decades to promote and defend their products: creating fake personalities and fake websites to silence critics and influence online search results.
Monbiot reported that “fake citizens” (people who did not actually exist) “had been bombarding internet listservers with messages denouncing the scientists and environmentalists who were critical of GM crops” – and the fake citizens had been traced back to Monsanto’s PR firm Bivings.
Monbiot described Jay Byrne’s connection to Bivings:
“think of the internet as a weapon on the table … somebody is going to get killed.”
“At the end of last year, Jay Byrne, formerly [Monsanto’s] director of internet outreach, explained to a number of other firms the tactics he had used at Monsanto. He showed how, before he got to work, the top GM sites listed by an internet search engine were all critical of the technology. Following his intervention, the top sites were all supportive ones (four of them established by Monsanto’s PR firm Bivings). He told them to ‘think of the internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does, but somebody is going to get killed.’ While he was working for Monsanto, Byrne told the internet newsletter Wow that he ‘spends his time and effort participating’ in web discussions about biotech. He singled out the site AgBioWorld, where he ‘ensures his company gets proper play’. AgBioWorld is the site on which [fake citizen] Smetacek launched her campaign.”
For more information:
- Corporate phantoms, by George Monbiot, The Guardian (5.29.02)
- The covert biotech war, by George Monbiot, The Guardian (11.18.02)·
More from Jay Byrne
A 2013 Power Point presentation showcases the role Byrne plays for his clients in the agrichemical industry. Here he explains his theories about eco-advocates, ranks their influence online and urges companies to pool their resources to confront them, in order to avoid “regulatory and market constraints.”
The 2006 book “Let Them Eat Precaution,” published by the American Enterprise Institute and edited by agrichemical industry PR operative Jon Entine, contains a chapter by Byrne titled, “Deconstructing the Agricultural Biotechnology Protest Industry.”
Byrne is a member of “AgBioChatter,” a private email listserve that agrichemical industry senior staffers, consultants and academics used to coordinate messaging and lobbying activities. Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know show Byrne encouraging members of AgBioChatter to try to discredit people and groups that were critical of GMOs and pesticides. A 2015 Monsanto PR plan named AgBioChatter as one of the “industry partners” Monsanto planned to engage to help discredit cancer concerns about glyphosate.
For more information:
- Secret documents expose Monsanto’s war on cancer scientists, by Stacy Malkan, TruthOut (7.16.18)
- Tracking the agrichemical industry PR network, USRTK fact sheet
Glyphosate, a synthetic herbicide patented in 1974 by the Monsanto Company and now manufactured and sold by many companies in hundreds of products, has been associated with cancer and other health concerns. Glyphosate is best known as the active ingredient in Roundup-branded herbicides, and the herbicide used with “Roundup Ready” genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Herbicide tolerance is the most prevalent GMO trait engineered into food crops, with some 90% of corn and 94% of soybeans in the U.S. engineered to tolerate herbicides, according to USDA data. A 2017 study found that Americans’ exposure to glyphosate increased approximately 500 percent since Roundup Ready GMO crops were introduced in the U.S in 1996. Here are some key facts about glyphosate:
Most Widely Used Pesticide
- Americans have applied 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in 1974.
- Worldwide 9.4 million tons of the chemical has been sprayed on fields – enough to spray nearly half a pound of Roundup on every cultivated acre of land in the world.
- Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since Roundup Ready GMO crops were introduced.
The scientific literature and regulatory conclusions regarding glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides show a mix of findings, making the safety of the herbicide a hotly debated subject:
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” after reviewing years of published and peer-reviewed scientific studies. The team of international scientists found there was a particular association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
At the time of the IARC classification, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was conducting a registration review. The EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) issued a report in September 2016 concluding that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” at doses relevant to human health. In publishing the CARC report, the EPA said that it was beginning work with the National Toxicology Program to investigate the mechanisms and toxic effects of glyphosate formulations. The agency then convened a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) in December 2016 to review the CARC report conclusion that glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic. The scientific advisory panel members were divided in their assessment of EPA’s work, with some finding the EPA erred in how it evaluated certain research. Additionally, the EPA’s Office of Research and Development determined that the agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs had not followed proper protocols in its evaluation of glyphosate. An ORD memo stated that the government scientists agreed in part with IARC and believed EPA was not properly following guidelines in coming to the conclusion that glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic. ORD said the evidence could be deemed to support a “likely” carcinogenic or “suggestive” evidence of carcinogenicity classification. Nevertheless the EPA issued a draft report on glyphosate in December 2017 continuing to hold that the chemical is not likely to be carcinogenic.
EFSA, ECA, WHO/FAO JMPR: The European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency have said glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. But a March 2017 report by environmental and consumer groups argued that regulators relied improperly on research that was directed and manipulated by the chemical industry.
The WHO/FAO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues determined that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet, though the finding was tarnished by conflict of interest concerns after it was revealed that certain members of the group, including its chair, worked for the International Life Sciences Institute, a group funded in part by Monsanto and one of its lobbying organizations.
California OEHHA: On March 28, 2017, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment confirmed that it would add glyphosate to California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. Monsanto sued to block the action but the case was dismissed. In a separate case, the court found that California could not require cancer warnings for products containing glyphosate. On June 12, 2018, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California denied the California Attorney General’s request for the court to reconsider the decision. The court found that California could only require commercial speech that disclosed “purely factual and uncontroversial information,” and the science surrounding glyphosate carcinogenicity was not proven.
Agricultural Health Study: A long-running U.S. government-backed prospective cohort study of farm families in Iowa and North Carolina has not found any connections between glyphosate use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but the researchers reported that “among applicators in the highest exposure quartile, there was an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) compared with never users…” The most recent published update to the study was made public in late 2017.
New studies in 2019 report cancer links and concerns about the validity of the EPA classification:
- April 2019: the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued its draft toxicological profile for glyphosate. The report confirms increased cancer risk from glyphosate exposures. (Emails released via court proceedings show officials at EPA and Monsanto trying to stop the ATSDR report; read the emails here.)
- March 2019 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology analyzed data from more than 30,000 farmers and agricultural workers from studies done in France, Norway and the U.S., and reported links between glyphosate and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
- February 2019: A new meta-analysis published in Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research reported a “compelling link” between glyphosate-based herbicides and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Three of the study authors were members of the EPA’s scientific advisory panel on glyphosate who have stated publicly that the EPA failed to follow proper scientific practices in its glyphosate assessment.
- January 2019: An analysis published in Environmental Sciences Europe argues that the U.S. EPA’s classification of glyphosate disregarded substantial scientific evidence of genotoxicity (the negative impact on a cell’s genetic material) associated with weed killing products such as Roundup.
More than 11,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto Company (now Bayer) alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks. As part of the discovery process, Monsanto has had to turn over millions of pages of its internal records. We are posting these Monsanto Papers as they become available here. For news and tips about the ongoing legislation, see Carey Gillam’s Roundup Trial Tracker. The first two trials ended with juries ruling that Monsanto’s weed killer was a substantial contributing factor in causing the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and giving large awards for liability and damages.
Monsanto influence in research: In March 2017, the federal court judge unsealed some internal Monsanto documents that raised new questions about Monsanto’s influence on the EPA process and about the research regulators rely on. The documents suggest that Monsanto’s long-standing claims about the safety of glyphosate and Roundup do not necessarily rely on sound science as the company asserts, but on efforts to manipulate the science.
A study for the European Parliament published January 2019 asserts that the EU approval of glyphosate was based on plagiarized text from Monsanto. The study found plagiarism in 50.1 percent of chapters dealing with the assessment of published studies on health risks related to glyphosate in Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, including whole paragraphs and entire pages of plagiarized text.
More information about scientific interference:
- “The Monsanto Papers: Poisoning the Scientific Well,” by Leemon McHenry (2018)
- “Roundup litigation discovery documents: implications for public health and journal ethics,” by Sheldon Krimsky and Carey Gillam (June 2018)
- Letter to Nature by Stéphane Horel and Stéphane Foucart (March 2018)
Endocrine Disruption and Other Health Concerns
Some research suggests that glyphosate may be an endocrine disruptor. It has also been linked to liver disease, birth defects and reproductive problems in laboratory animals; and may kill beneficial gut bacteria and damage the DNA in human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells. A 2019 study in a Nature journal reported increases in obesity, reproductive and kidney diseases, and other problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. See the study and Washington State University press release.
Recent studies have shown adverse biological effects from low-dose exposures to glyphosate at levels to which people are routinely exposed.
- A birth cohort study in Indiana published in 2017 – the first study of glyphosate exposure in US pregnant women using urine specimens as a direct measure of exposure – found detectable levels of glyphosate in more than 90% of the pregnant women tested and found the levels were significantly correlated with shortened pregnancy lengths.
- A 2018 ecological and population study conducted in Argentina found high concentrations of glyphosate in the soil and dust in agricultural areas that also reported higher rates of spontaneous abortion and congenital abnormalities in children, suggesting a link between environmental exposure to glyphosate and reproductive problems. No other relevant sources of pollution were identified.
- A 2017 study associated chronic, very low-level glyphosate exposures to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats. According to the researchers, the results “imply that chronic consumption of extremely low levels of a GBH formulation (Roundup), at admissible glyphosate-equivalent concentrations, are associated with marked alterations of the liver proteome and metabolome,” the biomarkers for NAFLD.
- A 2018 rat study conducted by the Ramazzini Institute reported that low-dose exposures to Roundup at levels considered safe significantly altered the gut microbiota in some of the rat pups. Another 2018 study reported that higher levels of glyphosate administered to mice disrupted the gut microbiota and caused anxiety and depression-like behaviors.
- A 2018 rat study by Argentinian researchers linked low-level perinatal glyphosate exposures to impaired female reproductive performance and congenital anomalies in the next generation of offspring.
Glyphosate has also been linked by recent studies to harmful impacts on bees and monarch butterflies.
- A 2018 study reported that glyphosate damaged the beneficial gut bacteria in honeybees and made them more prone to deadly infections. This followed research from China showing that honeybee larvae grew more slowly and died more often when exposed to glyphosate, and a 2015 study that found field-levels of exposure impaired the cognitive capacities of honeybees.
- Research from 2017 correlated glyphosate use with reduced populations of monarch butterflies, possibly due to reductions in milkweed, the main food source for monarch butterflies.
Some farmers use glyphosate on non-GMO crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and lentils to dry down the crop ahead of harvest in order to accelerate the harvest. This practice, known as desiccation, may be a significant source of dietary exposure to glyphosate.
Glyphosate in Food: U.S. Drags Its Feet on Testing
The USDA quietly dropped a plan to start testing food for residues of glyphosate in 2017. Internal agency documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show the agency had planned to start testing over 300 samples of corn syrup for glyphosate in April 2017. But the agency killed the project before it started. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began a limited testing program in 2016, but the effort was fraught with controversy and internal difficulties and the program was suspended in September 2016. Both agencies have programs that annually test foods for pesticide residues but both have routinely skipped testing for glyphosate.
Before the suspension, one FDA chemist found alarming levels of glyphosate in many samples of U.S. honey, levels that were technically illegal because there have been no allowable levels established for honey by the EPA. Here is a recap of news about glyphosate found in food:
- October 2018: FDA issued its first-ever report showing the results of its glyphosate residue in food testing. The FDA said no residues of glyphosate were found in milk or eggs, but residues were found in 63.1 percent of corn samples and 67 percent of soybean samples, according to FDA data. The agency did not disclose in that report the findings of glyphosate in oatmeal or honey products.
- April 2018: internal FDA emails indicated the agency had trouble finding food sample without traces of glyphosate.
- Sept. 2016: FDA found glyphosate in US honey at double the levels allowed in the EU, and FDA tests confirm oatmeal and baby foods contain glyphosate.
- Nov. 2016: FDA chemist found glyphosate in honey in Iowa at 10X higher levels than allowed in EU. Also in November, independent testing by consumer group Food Democracy Now found glyphosate in Cheerios, oatmeal cookies, Ritz crackers and other popular brands at high levels.
Pesticides in Our Food: Where’s the Safety Data?
USDA data from 2016 shows detectable pesticide levels in 85% of more than 10,000 foods sampled, everything from mushrooms to grapes to green beans. The government says there are little to no health risks, but some scientists say there is little to no data to back up that claim. See “Chemicals on our food: When “safe” may not really be safe: Scientific scrutiny of pesticide residue in food grows; regulatory protections questioned,” by Carey Gillam (11/2018).
Statements From Scientists and Health Care Providers
- July 31, 2019 statement by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) Reproductive and Environmental Health Committee: “We recommend that glyphosate exposure to populations should end with a full global phase out.”
- June 2017 essay by 14 scientists: “current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides are are outdated and may fail to protect public health and the environment” – Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
- February 2016 consensus statement from scientists on concerns and risks associated with exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides – Environmental Health Journal