Paraquat Papers – Updates to U.S. litigation

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Multiple lawsuits are pending in the United States against Syngenta alleging the weedkilling chemical paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease.

A notice of settlement was filed June 18, 2021 for several paraquat cases. See this document.

But more than 100 lawsuits remain pending.

The lawsuits name Syngenta as well as Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Growmark Inc. as defendants. Chevron distributed and sold Gramoxone paraquat product in the United States in an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which introduced paraquat-based Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to to manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

Lawyers around the United States are advertising for plaintiffs, seeking to draw in thousands of people who’ve been exposed to paraquat and now suffer from Parkinson’s.

Here is a list of actions pending through Judicial Council Coordination Proceedings (JCCP) as of Aug. 2, 2021

  • Harker v. Syngenta, et al. Case No. CGC-21-589755 (San Francisco Superior Court) (coordinated June 11, 2021)
  • De La Vega v. Syngenta, et al. Case No. C21-01057. (Contra Costa Superior Court) (coordinated July 19, 2021)
  • Louis Lombardo v. Syngenta et al., Alameda County Superior Court; Case No. RG21100757, filed on May 26, 2021 (coordinated July 19, 2021)
  • Lonnie Owens et al. v. Syngenta et al., Contra Costa Superior Court; Case No. C21-01187, filed on June 4, 2021 (coordinated July 19, 2021)
  • Borrelli v. Syngenta AG, et al. (Case No. MSC21-01217), filed June 24, 2021 in Contra Costa County Superior Court (coordinated July 23, 2021)
  • Isaak v. Syngenta AG, et al., San Francisco Superior Court; Case No. CGC-21591254 (coordinated August 2, 2021)
  • Rubino v. Syngenta, et al., Contra Costa County Superior Court Case No. C2101422 (coordinated August 2, 2021)
  • Aguiar v. Syngenta, et al. Case No. C21-01373. (Contra Costa Superior Court) (coordinated August 2, 2021)

Multidistrict litigation

On April 7, 2021, the Fears Nachawati Texas-based law firm filed a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Washington, D.C., asking that pending paraquat lawsuits be consolidated for pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California, the same federal court where Roundup litigation was consolidated. The case with the judicial panel is MDL No. 3004. The panel hearing on the matter was May 27 and on June 7, the panel approved the formation of the paraquat multidistrict litigation, assigning it to Judge  Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois.

Additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Iowa on May 3. The suit seeks “equitable relief in the form of medical monitoring, including, but not limited to, the costs of diagnostic testing” for farmers and others exposed to paraquat who are allegedly at “increased risk” for Parkinson’s, according to the legal filing.

At least 86 lawsuits were pending within the MDL as of September 10, 2021.

Science

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.  Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

A more recent paper from AHS researchers stated that “Extensive literature suggests an association between general pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, with few exceptions, little is known about associations between specific pesticides and PD.”

Parkinson’s is an incurable progressive nervous system disorder that limits a person’s ability to control movement, causing tremors, loss of balance and eventually often leaving victims bedridden and/or bound to a wheelchair. The disease is not necessarily fatal but typically becomes severely debilitating.

Dutch neurologist Bastiaan Bloem, who recently authored a book about Parkinson’s, blames widespread exposure to herbicides such as paraquat, along with other toxic chemicals used in agriculture and manufacturing, for the spread of the disease.

Acutely Toxic 

Along with fears about links between paraquat and Parkinson’s, paraquat is also known to be an extremely acutely toxic chemical that can quickly kill people who ingest very small amounts. In Europe, the sale of paraquat has been banned since 2007, but in the United States the pesticide is sold as a “Restricted Use Pesticide” due to “acute toxicity.”

As part of discovery in the Parkinson’s litigation, lawyers have obtained internal records from Syngenta and its predecessor corporate entities dating back to the 1960s. Many of these documents are sealed, but some have started to come to light.

Those unsealed discovery documents, which include copies of letters, minutes of meetings, study summaries, and emails, are being made available on this page.

Most of the documents unsealed to date deal with corporate discussions about how to keep paraquat herbicides on the market despite its deadliness, through measures designed to reduce accidental poisonings. Specifically, many of the documents detail an internal corporate struggle over the addition of an emetic, a vomit-inducing agent, to paraquat products.  Today, all Syngenta paraquat-containing products include an emetic called “PP796.”  Liquid paraquat-containing formulations from Syngenta also include a stenching agent to produce a foul odor, and a blue dye to differentiate the dark-colored herbicide from tea or cola or other beverages.

EPA Review 

Paraquat recently underwent the EPA’s registration review process,  and on August 2, 2021 the agency said paraquat would remain on the market with new safety measures aimed at reducing farmworker exposures. That followed the Oct. 23, 2020 release of a proposed interim decision (PID) for paraquat.  The interim decision proposed mitigation measures to reduce human health and ecological risks identified in the agency’s 2019 draft human health and ecological risk assessments.

The EPA had indicated it would likely ban most aerial spraying of paraquat, but after industry lobbying efforts, the agency said it would allow such use with restrictions around residential areas.

The EPA said that through collaboration with the National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the agency completed a “thorough review” of the scientific information on paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease and concluded that the weight of evidence was insufficient to link paraquat to Parkinson’s disease. The agency published this “Systematic Review of the Literature to Evaluate the Relationship between Paraquat Dichloride Exposure and Parkinson’s Disease.”

USRTK will add documents to this page as they become available.

The Dicamba Papers: Key Documents and Analysis

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Dozens of farmers around the United States are suing the former Monsanto Co., purchased in 2018 by Bayer AG, and conglomerate BASF in an effort to hold the companies accountable for millions of acres of crop damage the farmers claim is due to widespread illegal use of the weed killing chemical dicamba, use  promoted by the companies.

The first case to go to trial pitted Missouri’s Bader Farms against the companies and resulted in a $265 million verdict against the companies. The jury awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division, Civil Docket #1:16-cv-00299-SNLJ. The owners of Bader Farms alleged the companies conspired to create an “ecological disaster” that would induce farmers to buy dicamba-tolerant seeds. Key documents from that case can be found below.

The EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) plans to investigate the agency’s approvals of new dicamba herbicides to determine whether the EPA adhered to federal requirements and “scientifically sound principles” when it registered the new dicamba herbicides.

Federal Action

Separately, on June 3, 2020. the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency had violated the law in approving dicamba herbicides make by Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agrisciences and overturned the agency’s approval of the popular dicamba-based herbicides made by the three chemical giants. The ruling made it illegal for farmers to continue to use the product.

But the EPA flouted the court ruling, issuing a notice on June 8 that said growers could continue to use the companies’ dicamba herbicides until July 31, despite the fact that the court specifically said in its order that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

On June 11, 2020, the petitioners in the case filed an emergency motion seeking to enforce the court order and to hold the EPA in contempt. Several farm associations have joined with Corteva, Bayer and BASF in asking the court not to immediately enforce the ban. Documents are found below.

Background

Dicamba has been used by farmers since the 1960s but with limits that took into account the chemical’s propensity to drift and volatilize- moving far from where it was sprayed. When Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weed killing products, such as Roundup, started losing effectiveness due to widespread weed resistance, Monsanto decided to launch a dicamba cropping system similar to its popular Roundup Ready system, which paired glyphosate-tolerant seeds with glyphosate herbicides. Farmers buying the new genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds could more easily treat stubborn weeds by spraying  entire fields with dicamba, even during warm growing months, without harming their crops. Monsanto announced a collaboration with BASF in 2011. The companies said their new dicamba herbicides would be less volatile and less prone to drift than old formulations of dicamba.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide “XtendiMax” in 2016. BASF developed its own dicamba herbicide that it calls Engenia. Both XtendiMax and Engenia were first sold in the United States in 2017.

Monsanto started selling its dicamba-tolerant seeds in 2016, and a key claim by the plaintiffs is that selling the seeds before regulatory approval of the new dicamba herbicides encouraged farmers to spray fields with old, highly volatile dicamba formulations. The Bader lawsuit claims: “The cause of such destruction to Plaintiff Bader Farms’ crops is Defendant Monsanto’s willful and negligent release of a defective crop system – namely its genetically modified Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans and Bollgard II Xtend cotton seeds (“Xtend crops”) – without an accompanying, EPA-approved dicamba herbicide.”

Farmers claim that the companies knew and expected that the new seeds would spur such widespread use of dicamba that drift would damage the fields of farmers who did not buy the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds. The farmers allege this was part of a scheme to expand sales of the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds. Many allege the new dicamba formulations sold by the companies also drift and cause crop damage just as the old versions have done.

For more information about dicamba, please see our dicamba fact sheet.

The Food Industry Is Shaping the Principles of Scientific Integrity, Study Says

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News Release

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, April 20th, 2021 at 9am EDT
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin +1 415 944 7350 or Mélissa Mialon +33 671756537

The food industry has been trying to revise the standards and principles by which science is conducted, in ways that benefit industry, such as by promoting the acceptance of public-private partnerships and permissiveness about conflicts of interest, according to a study published today in the journal Globalization and Health.

The food industry’s work in this area has been led by the International Life Sciences Institute, a nonprofit organization founded by a Coca-Cola executive and funded by the food industry.

The new study found that ILSI’s “work on scientific integrity ignores the risks of accepting corporate funding and fails to provide guidelines to protect from these risks.”

The study is based on documents obtained from public records requests by U.S. Right to Know, an investigative public health group, as well as others from the public domain and from the UCSF Food Industry Documents Archive.

“What is worrying is that the food industry built a niche literature on scientific integrity through a third party that wasn’t known until recently as acting for large food companies,” said Mélissa Mialon, the lead author of the study, and research fellow at the Trinity Business School of Trinity College Dublin. “Researchers and institutions concerned about conflicts of interest may fail to recognize that influence from corporations in the literature they cite and use to advance scientific integrity principles.”

“Big Food wants to manipulate the standards of research and science to defend processed foods that promote obesity, diabetes and other ills,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know, one of the co-authors of the study. “It is eroding the integrity of science, which crucially must be independent of and impartial to powerful corporations and their drive for profits.”

The study notes that “the food industry, like the alcohol and tobacco industries, tries to influence science’s very principles, such as scientific integrity and the good conduct of research.”

The study concludes that “ILSI’s work on scientific integrity, conflicts of interest and public-private partnerships waters down independent work in that space, puts profits before science, and undermines efforts to address undue influence of industry actors on public policy, research, and practice.”

In recent years, ILSI has been the subject of critical reporting, including three articles from The New York Times:

Most of ILSI’s work in the area of scientific integrity was conducted by ILSI-North America, which changed its name in February to the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences.

As a measure of its success, ILSI-North America has stated that its work on scientific integrity and public-private partnerships “has been published in peer-reviewed journals, endorsed by Federal agencies and professional nutrition and food science societies, and cited broadly throughout the scientific community.”

The study argues that it is important to “counter these practices as they risk shaping scientific standards to suit the industry’s interests rather than public health ones.”

The study “found that ILSI is a leading actor, not only in the food industry but more broadly in the scientific community, on the development of scientific integrity standards and principles.” It notes that, “In the very process of developing scientific integrity principles, food companies may use their connections with these reputable individuals and organizations to further their influence on science and policy.”

The food industry efforts to refashion the principles of science seem to repeat the actions of the tobacco industry. In a 2001 article in the American Journal of Public Health, Elisa Ong and Stanton Glantz wrote of tobacco industry’s “sophisticated public relations campaigns controlled by industry executives and lawyers whose aim is to manipulate the standards of scientific proof to serve the corporate interests of their clients.”

The study in Globalization and Health is titled, “Beyond nutrition and physical activity: Food industry shaping of the very principles of scientific integrity.” It was co-authored by Mélissa Mialon, research fellow at the Trinity Business School of Trinity College Dublin; Matthew Ho, a student at the University of Nevada; Angela Carriedo, communications secretary of the World Public Health and Nutrition Association; Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know; and Eric Crosbie, assistant professor at the University of Nevada.

USRTK’s fact sheet about ILSI is available at https://usrtk.org/our-investigations/ilsi-wields-stealthy-influence-for-the-food-and-agrichemical-industries/

Gary Ruskin of U.S. Right to Know has co-authored three previous studies on ILSI.  They are:

U.S. Right to Know is an investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health.  For more information about our work, see our academic studies at https://usrtk.org/academic-work/. For general information, see usrtk.org.

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Coca-Cola Funded Public Health Conferences in Effort to Shift Blame for Obesity, Study Says

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News Release

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, December 2 at 7pm EST
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin +1 415 944 7350 or Gary Sacks +61 403 491 205

The Coca-Cola Company used its sponsorship of international public health conferences to deflect blame for the obesity epidemic away from its products, according to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The study is based on documents about the 2012 and 2014 International Congresses of Physical Activity and Public Health (ICPAPH), obtained via state public records requests by U.S. Right to Know, an investigative public health group.

The study found that “Coke deliberated with its sponsored researchers on topics to present at ICPAPH, despite publicly claiming otherwise, in an effort to shift blame for the rising incidence of obesity and diet-related diseases away from its products onto physical activity and individual choice.”

“Coke used ICPAPH to promote its front groups and sponsored research networks and to foster relationships with public health leaders in order to use their authority to deliver Coke’s messaging,” the study’s authors wrote.

“This unseemly conscription of public health conferences to serve up Coca-Cola’s messaging erodes trust in the cause of public health,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know. “It’s long past time for the public health community to transform itself into something that can’t be bought or rented.”

The documents show that Rhona Applebaum, Coca-Cola’s chief science and health officer at the time, wanted to focus attention on “individual behaviour and motivation,” which is far removed from government or collective action such as soda or sugar taxes, crackdowns on soda advertising and marketing, and litigation against soda companies, and other policies.

“The process of generating and disseminating public health-related research needs to be better protected from the influence of firms with interests that are clearly in conflict with those of public health,” said Benjamin Wood, one of the co-authors of the study. “One step to achieving that is to eliminate all forms of sponsorship from firms active in health-harming industries.”

The study is titled “How Coca-Cola Shaped the International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health: An Analysis of Email Exchanges between 2012 and 2014.”  It was co-authored by Benjamin Wood, a medical doctor and PhD candidate at Deakin University; Gary Ruskin; and Associate Professor Gary Sacks, also from Deakin University.

The paper argues that the “dissemination of scientific knowledge through scientific conferences should be better protected from hidden and less visible forms of corporate influence. The model of eliminating tobacco industry sponsorship, as stipulated in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, could be applied to the food industry as well.”

U.S. Right to Know is an investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health.  For more information about our work, see our academic papers at https://usrtk.org/academic-work/. For general information, see usrtk.org.

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U.S. Right to Know Sues State Department for Documents about Origins of SARS-CoV-2

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News Release

For Immediate Release: Monday, November 30, 2020
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350 or Sainath Suryanarayanan

U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative public health group, filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Department of State for violating provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

This is the second FOIA lawsuit filed by USRTK as part of its efforts to uncover what is known about the origins of novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2; the risks of biosafety labs; and gain-of-function research, which seeks to augment the infectivity or lethality of potential pandemic pathogens.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeks State Department documents and correspondence with or about China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the EcoHealth Alliance, which partnered with and funded the Wuhan Institute of Virology, among other subjects.

The new lawsuit follows one filed by USRTK on November 5 against the National Institutes of Health over its failure to provide records about the origins of SARS-CoV-2.  Since July, USRTK has filed 43 state, federal, and international public records requests seeking information about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, and the risks of biosafety labs and gain-of-function research.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the disease Covid-19.

For more information about USRTK’s investigation, see “Why we are researching the origins of SARS-CoV-2, biosafety labs and GOF research” and the reading list on “What are the origins of SARS-CoV-2? What are the risks of gain-of-function research?” Other articles from the USRTK investigation include “EcoHealth Alliance orchestrated key scientists’ statement on “natural origin” of SARS-CoV-2,” “Validity of key studies on origin of coronavirus in doubt; science journals investigating,” “Nature and PLoS Pathogens probe scientific veracity of key studies linking pangolin coronaviruses to origin of SARS-CoV-2,” and “Scientist with conflict of interest leading Lancet COVID-19 Commission task force on virus origins.”

USRTK is represented in the State Department case by Daniel C. Snyder of the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, PC, and Laura Beaton of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP.

U.S. Right to Know is an investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health. For more information, see usrtk.org.

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U.S. Right to Know Sues NIH for Documents about Origins of SARS-CoV-2

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News Release

For Immediate Release: Thursday, November 5, 2020
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350 or Sainath Suryanarayanan

U.S. Right to Know, an investigative public health nonprofit group, filed a lawsuit today against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for violating provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks correspondence with or about organizations such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the EcoHealth Alliance, which partnered with and funded the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Today’s litigation against the NIH is one part of our efforts to try to uncover what is known about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, and the risks of biosafety labs and gain-of-function research, which seeks to augment the infectivity or lethality of potential pandemic pathogens. Since July, we have filed 36 state, federal and international public records requests about these subjects.

“Preventing the next pandemic may depend crucially on understanding the origins of the present one,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know. “We want to know whether the US or Chinese governments, or scientists affiliated with them, are concealing data about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, or the risks of biosafety labs and gain-of-function research.”

NIH denied our FOIA request and determined to “withhold those records pursuant to Exemption 7(A), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and section 5.31 (g)(l) of the HHS FOIA Regulations, 45 CFR Part 5. Exemption 7(A) permits the withholding of investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes when disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”

For more information about our investigation, see our post on “Why we are researching the origins of SARS-CoV-2, biosafety labs and GOF research” and our reading list on “What are the origins of SARS-CoV-2? What are the risks of gain-of-function research?

U.S. Right to Know is an investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health. For more information, see our website at usrtk.org.

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Genetic Literacy Project: PR Front for Monsanto, Bayer and the Chemical Industry

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Jon Entine is the founder and executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, a key partner in Monsanto’s public relations efforts to protect and defend agrichemical products. Entine is a former journalist who portrays himself as an objective authority on science, but the evidence described in this fact sheet shows that he is a longtime PR operative with deep ties to the chemical industry and undisclosed industry funding.

Origins as Monsanto PR firm

Entine is founder and principal of ESG MediaMetrics, a public relations firm that had Monsanto as a client in 2011 when the firm registered the GeneticLiteracyProject.org domain.

Entine was employed at that time by Statistical Assessment Services (STATS), a nonprofit group that journalists have described as a “disinformation campaign” that aligns with industry positions of downplaying health harms. Genetic Literacy Project was developed as a “cross disciplinary program with STATS,” according to web archives. In 2015, Genetic Literacy Project moved under the umbrella of a new group, the Science Literacy Project, which inherited the STATS tax ID number.

STATS was a “major player in the public relations campaign to discredit concerns about bisphenol A,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Its parent organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), was paid by tobacco giant Phillip Morris in the 1990s “to pick apart stories critical of smoking.” Entine was a director of the CMPA in 2014/2015, according to tax forms.

Monsanto was a client of Entine’s PR firm when it registered the domain for Genetic Literacy Project.

Monsanto’s attack dog 

The Genetic Literacy Project frequently attacks scientists, science, journalists and others who criticize Monsanto or its products. Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and via litigation establish that Monsanto partners with Entine and GLP on PR projects to promote and defend GMOs and pesticides. These collaborations were not disclosed.

A 2015 Monsanto PR plan names Genetic Literacy Project among the “industry partners” Monsanto planned to engage in its efforts to “orchestrate outcry” about a cancer report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monsanto’s goal, according to the PR plan: “protect the reputation” of Roundup. GLP has since posted over 200 articles about IARC, several of them attacking the scientists as frauds and liars who are driven by profit and vanity.

An award-winning Le Monde investigation about the “Monsanto Papers” described Genetic Literacy Project as a “well-known propaganda website” that is “fed by PR people linked to the pesticides and biotechnology industries.” Genetic Literacy Project played a key role in Monsanto’s efforts “to destroy the United Nations cancer agency by any means possible,” Le Monde reported.

In a 2017 court filing, plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns described Genetic Literacy Project and the American Council on Science and Health as “organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.”

Pro GMO papers by professors

In 2014 and 2015, Genetic Literacy Project worked with Monsanto and their PR firm to publish and promote a series of pro-GMO papers written by professors. Monsanto assigned and edited the papers, and set Genetic Literacy Project up to publish them. The corporation’s role was not disclosed.

According to a Sept. 2014 email, Monsanto executives chose Genetic Literacy Project as the “the primary outlet” to publish the professors’ papers, and to build a “merchandising plan” with the PR firm CMA to promote the papers. The PR firm CMA, now renamed Look East, is directed by Charlie Arnot. He also runs the Center for Food Integrity, a nonprofit that receives funding from Monsanto, and also donates to Genetic Literacy Project.

Ties to Syngenta and industry front group

Syngenta was funding ACSH when it published Entine’s book defending Syngenta’s pesticide.

Jon Entine is closely tied in with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a corporate front group that receives funding from Monsanto and other chemical companies. ACSH published Entine’s 2011 book, which defends atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta. Reporting by Tom Philpott in Mother Jones and the Center for Media and Democracy establish that Syngenta was funding ACSH at the time, and that ACSH asked Syngenta to provide extra funding for a project that included a book that sounds like Entine’ book. Syngenta was seeking third-party allies to help the company defend atrazine.

In 2009, ACSH staff asked Syngenta for a $100,000 grant, “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years,” to produce a paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” about atrazine. In 2011, ACSH announced Entine’s new book along with a “companion friendly, abbreviated position paper,” both defending atrazine. Entine told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.

Key theme: attacks on scientists and journalists

A key theme in Entine’s work is attacking scientists and journalists who report critically about the chemical industry, the oil industry or health problems associated with them. Some examples:

  • Attacked New Yorker reporter Rachel Aviv in attempt to discredit her reporting about internal Syngenta documents that reveal how the chemical company tried to destroy the reputation of UC Berkeley Professor Tyrone Hayes due to his research connecting the herbicide atrazine to birth defects in frogs. Entine’s chief source was Bruce Chassy,  a professor who was quietly receiving money from Monsanto and helped start a Monsanto front group to attack industry critics.
  • Attacked Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes, co-author of Merchants of Doubt, as “a populist Luddite, the intellectual Rottweiler of in-your-face, environmentalism, unduly wary of modern technology.”
  • Accused Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll and journalist Susanne Rust of “smearing Exxon” for reporting that Exxon knew for years that climate change was real but hid the science to keep revenues flowing.
  • In a follow-up attack (since removed from the Huffington Post website), Entine accused Rust of ethics violations for her reporting in an award-winning series on BPA that was short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize; Entine did not disclose that her reporting identified his former employer STATS as a major player in industry’s PR efforts.

Murky Funding Trail to Entine and GLP

Entine’s funding history is complex and opaque, but tax documents and his own disclosures reveal a pattern of funding from anonymous sources and right-wing foundations that push deregulation and climate science denial, as well as undisclosed funding from the biotechnology industry.

Inaccurate, ever-changing “transparency” note

The “financial transparency” note on the Genetic Literacy Project website is inaccurate, changes often and at times contradicts itself. For 2017 and 2018, the Genetic Literacy Project claimed it received funding from a handful of foundations including the Templeton and Searle foundations, which are leading funders of climate science denial efforts. GLP also notes funding from the Center for Food Integrity, a food-industry front group that receives money from Monsanto and also partners with Monsanto and Genetic Literacy Project to promote agrichemical industry PR.

In September 2016, the “disclosure” note said GLP received no funding from corporations, but disclosed a $27,500 “pass through” from “Academics Review Charitable Association,” which appears not to exist. That group is apparently AcademicsReview.org, a front group that received most of its funding from the pesticide industry trade group, but claimed to be independent of industry.

In March 2016, GLP made no financial disclosures and Entine tried to distance GLP from his former employer STATS, claiming that STATS provided accounting services only and that the groups weren’t involved with each other’s activities. But in 2012, GLP said it was “developed as a cross disciplinary program with STATS.”

Center for Media and Public Affairs/George Mason University

For the fiscal year 2014/2015, according to tax records, Entine received $173,100 for his work as “director” at Center for Media and Public Affairs, a group based at George Mason University and founded by GMU Professor Robert Lichter. CMPA was paid by Phillip Morris in the 1990s to deflect concerns about tobacco, according to documents in the UCSF Tobacco Industry Library.

CMPA does not disclose its funders but has received funding from George Mason University Foundation, the leading recipient of donations affiliated with Charles Koch and Koch Industries. GMUF also received $5.3 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund between 2011-13, according to the Guardian. These funds channel money from anonymous donors including corporations to campaigns and academics who push industry interests, as Greenpeace demonstrated in an undercover investigation.

STATS Payments and Loans

CMPA’s sister group, also founded by Lichter and based at GMU, was Statistical Assessment Services (STATS), a nonprofit group that played a key role in chemical industry PR efforts to defend toxic products, according to reporting in The Intercept, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Atlantic and Consumer Reports.

According to IRS forms:

  • STATS paid Entine $140,600 in 2012/2013 and $152,500 in 2013/2014 as a “research consultant”
  • STATS and Center for Media and Public Affairs both listed Entine as Director in 2014/2015 with compensation of $173,100. Tax records for both groups also listed President Trevor Butterworth for $95,512 and Director Tracey Brown with no compensation. Tracey Brown is director of Sense About Science, a group that also spins science to defend chemical industry interests; Butterworth founded Sense About Science USA in 2014 and merged STATS into that group.
  • Science Literacy Project took over the tax ID of STATS in 2015 and listed Entine as Executive Director with compensation of $188,800.
  • In 2018, ESG MediaMetrics, Entine’s PR firm, reported $176,420 in income.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs has also loaned money to STATS, which “due to inadequate funding” has “not been reimbursed.” George Mason University Foundation, which does not disclose its funding, gave CMPA grants in those years. Tax records show:

Biotechnology industry funding to train scientists and journalists

In 2014 and 2015, the top pesticide firms spent over $300,000 on two events organized by Genetic Literacy Project and the front group Academics Review to “train scientists and journalists to frame the debate over GMOs and the toxicity of glyphosate,” according to tax records and reporting in The Progressive. The events, called the Biotech Literacy Project boot camps, were held at the University of Florida in 2014 and UC Davis in 2015.

The agendas describe the events as “communication skills training” for scientists and journalists to help reframe the food safety and GMO debate, and promised to provide scientists with the “tools and support resources necessary to effectively engage the media and appear as experts in legislative and local government hearings, and other policy making and related outreach opportunities.”

Faculty at the first first boot camp included representatives from the agrichemical industry, food industry front groups and trade groups, and pro-GMO academics including University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta, and University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Bruce Chassy, both of whom have accepted undisclosed funding from Monsanto and promote the GMOs and pesticides that Monsanto sales rely upon. Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel, who also accepts money from agribusiness interests, was the journalist on faculty.

Climate science denier funders

Major financial supporters of Entine’s former employer STATS and his current group Genetic Literacy Project include right-wing foundations – primarily Scaife Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust and Templeton Foundation – that are leading funders of climate science denial, according to a 2013 Drexel University study. See USRTK investigation: Climate Science Denial Network Funds Toxic Chemical Propaganda.

Chemical industry defense guy

For many years, Entine has been a prominent defender of chemical industry interests, following the industry playbook: he defends the chemicals as safe; argues against regulation; and attacks science, scientists journalists and others raising concerns.

Defending neonicotinoids

Growing scientific evidence suggests that neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of pesticides, are a key factor in bee die-offs. The European Union has restricted neonics due to concerns about impact on bees. A February 2020 article in The Intercept by Lee Fang reported on the “sophisticated information war” pesticide companies are waging to keep the chemicals on the market in the U.S. Entine has been a key pro-industry messenger; he has argued that neonics are not key driver of bee deaths (American Enterprise Institute), that “The bee apocalypse was never real,” (American Council on Science and Health) and claimed neonics may actually help bee health (American Enterprise Institute and Forbes). Entine also attacked a Harvard professor’s study on bee Colony Collapse Disorder (American Enterprise Institute) and accused European politicians of trying to kill bees by restricting neonics (Forbes).

Defending phthalates

Phthalates are a class of chemicals long linked to hormone disruption, reproductive harm, fertility problems and links to childhood obesity, asthma, neurological problems and cardiovascular issues. The U.S. government began restricting the chemicals in children’s toys in 2013 due to health concerns. Entine has defended children’s products containing the chemicals. “Few chemicals on the market today have undergone as much scientific scrutiny as phthalate esters,” Entine wrote (Forbes) — but he did not mention the significant body of scientific evidence compiled over two decades that links phthalate exposures to abnormal reproductive development in baby boys. The messaging included attacks on reporters; Entine accused an NBC reporter who raised questions about safety of “shoddy journalism.” (Forbes). Entine’s communications firm, ESG MediaMetrics, did PR for the Vinyl Institute; vinyl plastic is a key source of exposure to phthalates. Entine did not disclose the industry connection in his Forbes articles.

Defending fracking

Entine defends hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the pumping of high-pressure chemical-laced water into the ground to crack shale and extract natural gas. As in his many other messaging campaigns, Entine blasts science and scientists who raise concerns, framing them as “activists,” while making sweeping and indefensible statements about “scrupulous” science conducted over many years that defend its safety. For example, Entine claimed: “From a scientific perspective, no reason exists to even suspect unknown health or environmental issues will turn up” from fracking (New York Post).

Again, attacks were a key part of the messaging. Entine accused New York Times reporters of misleading children about the potential environmental dangers of fracking (Forbes), attacked two Cornell University scientists for their study suggesting that fracking operations leak methane (Forbes), and attacked the Park Foundation, claiming that it has “almost single-handedly derailed shale-gas development in methane-rich New York State, and put its imprint on public opinion and policy decisions around the country.” (Philanthropy Roundtable)

Defending BPA

Entine writes in defense of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), despite a large body of scientific evidence raising concerns about its endocrine disrupting potential and other health problems associated with it. Canada declared the chemical to be toxic in 2010, and the EU banned BPA in baby bottles in 2011.

Entine attacked university researchers, NGOs and journalists raising concerns about BPA (Forbes), suggested that women who can’t get pregnant should not to blame it on plastics (Forbes), and challenged scientists who linked BPA to heart disease (Forbes).

Defending Nuclear Power

Entine also defends the nuclear power industry; he has claimed that nuclear power plants are environmentally benign and that “nothing as bad as Chernobyl is likely to occur in the West.” He accused Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes of science “denialism,” for, among other things, pointing out the economic and environmental risks of nuclear power.

Fellowships

Entine was an unpaid fellow at the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University (GMU) from 2011-2014.Entine is also a former senior fellow at the UC Davis World Food Center’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy, which does not disclose its donors, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a DC think tank funded in part by corporate and dark money contributions.

See also, Greenpeace Polluter Watch page on Jon Entine and “the hidden story of the Genetic Literacy Project.”

Related groups and people

American Council on Science and Health
Geoffrey Kabat
Jay Byrne
Academics Review
Pamela Ronald and UC Davis
Biotech Literacy Projects 

Vermont Supreme Court to Hear FOI Case about Professor’s Food Industry Group Documents

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Media Advisory

For Immediate Release: Thursday, September 10, 2020
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350

What: The Vermont Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in U.S. Right to Know v. University of Vermont.  The case involves a request under the Vermont Public Records Act for email communications involving Dr. Naomi Fukagawa, an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Vermont. USRTK is interested in learning more about Fukagawa’s work as the editor-in-chief of Nutrition Reviews. The journal is published by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a group funded by the food and agrichemical industries.

When: Tuesday, September 15 at 2pm EDT. Video of the oral arguments will be livestreamed at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCx5naSorUsDA-rgrF1_SGkw

Why: U.S. Right to Know is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into the food and agrichemical industries, their business practices and front groups. As a result of that investigation, U.S. Right to Know Executive Director Gary Ruskin has co-authored three academic studies about ILSI in the journals Public Health Nutrition, Globalization and Health and Critical Public Health.  The studies show that while ILSI claims to “improve the well-being of the general public,” in fact it acts on behalf of the food industry.

Background: USRTK has prepared a fact sheet about ILSI. Briefs in the case U.S. Right to Know v. University of Vermont are available here.

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