Meet the Merchants of Poison: Front groups Bayer uses to defend glyphosate

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

Eric Sachs, Monsanto

The following is an excerpt from the Merchants of Poison report examining what the documents reveal about the many “industry partners” — front groups, trade groups, PR and spin groups — Monsanto and Bayer used to defend glyphosate from cancer concerns.

Cultivating Third Party Allies

As pressure mounted in the European Union to ban glyphosate in the wake of the cancer report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a new group called “Freedom to Farm” appeared at agricultural events across Europe. Marketing itself as a grassroots effort led by farmers, the group warned of a “threat to farming” posed by restrictions of cancer-linked glyphosate.

But Freedom to Farm was not the grassroots uprising it purported to be. Although Monsanto’s name did not appear anywhere on Freedom to Farm materials, the effort was fully staffed and supported by PR firms working for the company. An intelligence report prepared for Monsanto by FleishmanHillard reveals the scope of the operation: 39.5 full-time equivalent staff from four PR firms were promoting “Freedom to Farm” in seven countries. And that was not all: “In addition to the campaign team,” the report noted, “56 trained operatives are supporting the on-site recruiting process for grassroots.”

FleishmanHillard, one of the world’s largest PR firms, was also developing websites from supposedly grassroots farmer groups and working with researchers to develop papers that would portray glyphosate as an economic necessity and pitch the chemical as a climate solution.

Astroturfing and other tricks of the PR trade

Freedom to Farm was a classic “astroturf” operation — one that appears to be led by grassroots groups when it is actually an industry PR construct. The Monsanto-funded PR operation was run by Red Flag Consulting, a Dublin-based political firm, with help from the U.S. political consulting agency Lincoln Strategy Group, according to a 2019 investigation by Unearthed, the investigative wing of Greenpeace. Red Flag counts among its clients the tobacco giant British American Tobacco. Lincoln Strategy Group has been exposed for numerous stealth PR campaigns, including Protect America’s Consumers, a secretive group tied to the Koch brothers that spent more than $130,000 on TV and radio ads attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to Politico. Founders of the Lincoln Strategy Group have also been linked to suspected voter fraud and political bribery.

Ultimately, the EU did not ban glyphosate; it extended authorization of the chemical to the end of 2022, then delayed the decision again to 2023. Red Flag’s promotional materials, Unearthed noted, boast that the firm “won the single-biggest regulatory and public affairs campaign in the European Union,” using “non-traditional allies.” While Red Flag did not name Freedom to Farm, that’s the implication: “Red Flag leveraged these efforts on identified targets through media and direct engagement to ultimately change votes in a key committee in Brussels to bring about a win for our client.”


“Put your words in somebody else’s mouth,”
PR executive describes the third-party strategy


The PR machine behind Freedom to Farm is just one example of how companies use third-party allies to push messaging that seems like it’s coming from independent sources. Internal Monsanto documents make clear that the company relied on a wide range of such third-party allies to disseminate its messaging on glyphosate. While many of these industry allies present themselves to the public as independent authorities on pesticides and GMOs, the documents tie their messaging — and in many cases their funding — back to Monsanto.

The tactic of using third-party allies dates back to the dawn of the public relations industry at the turn of the last century and Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud. Long considered the father of modern-day public relations, Bernays worked for various political and corporate interests to shift public opinion in ways that often left the public unaware they were being influenced, or nudged, at all. In one of his earliest campaigns, Bernays hired a team of doctors in 1913 to promote the benefits of bacon for breakfast. Bernays did not disclose that the doctors he hired were paid by the pork industry. As historian Alan Brandt noted about Bernays’ work, “the best public relations work left no fingerprints.”

“Put your words in somebody else’s mouth,” is how Merryl Rose, of the PR firm Porter Novelli, sums up this third-party strategy. Monsanto’s internal documents provide a rare window into how the company moved its product-defense messaging through many mouths — and name many of the third party allies the company relied on. The reach and influence of these industry allies — and the powerful false impression of independence they create — cannot be overstated. They are an industry unto themselves; an entire sector of the economy devoted to efforts to convince the public and policy makers to accept Monsanto’s spin, and the pesticide industry more broadly.

PR firms behind the scenes

The years 2013 and 2014 brought a noticeable uptick in pesticide industry defense efforts, as new writers, speakers, and front groups emerged, and existing allies accelerated their output. The timing was no coincidence, and no mystery: In spring 2013, a few months after California voters narrowly defeated a ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods, pesticide companies announced a new PR offensive to rehabilitate the image of its embattled GMO and pesticide products. Monsanto selected PR firm FleishmanHillard to “reshape” its reputation amid “fierce opposition” to GMO foods, according to the Holmes Report. FleishmanHillard also became the PR agency of record for Bayer.

A trade group for the largest pesticide companies, called the Council for Biotechnology Information, hired Ketchum public relations company to lead the GMO Answers campaign, a marketing and PR effort to promote GMOs and pesticides using the voices of academics. FTI Consulting, along with Red Flag and Lincoln Strategy Group, are also identified in Monsanto documents and news reports as key players in Bayer and Monsanto’s efforts to defend glyphosate from cancer concerns.

All these PR firms have histories of using covert tactics to defend polluting industries, including working for tobacco and oil companies. In the 1980s, for example, FleishmanHillard helped convert a tiny air ventilation company into the Healthy Buildings Institute, a promotional group that received hundreds of thousands of dollars from tobacco industry lobbyists “to spread the message that secondhand smoke was a symptom, not a cause, of indoor air pollution,” Washington Post reported. FleishmanHillard also used espionage tactics against public health and tobacco control advocates, sending industry spies to conferences and secretly tape recording sessions despite explicit instructions from conference organizers not to do so, according to a study by Ruth Malone in the American Journal of Public Health.

Ketchum — owned by the same parent company, Omnicom, as FleishmanHillard — also did work for the tobacco industry and has a history of subterfuge. The firm was once involved in an espionage operation conducted against environmental groups that opposed hazardous chemicals and GMOs, according to leaked documents reported in 2008 by James Ridgeway in Mother Jones The documents establish that Beckett Brown International (BBI), a private security firm that worked extensively with Ketchum, “spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from the late 1990s through at least 2000, pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings,” Mother Jones reported. That Ketchum was using BBI’s services to craft PR campaigns for its client Dow Chemical is established by an August 1999 “intelligence analysis” from BBI that Ketchum shared with its “Dow Global Trends Tracking Team.” The document details the internal plans and budgets for environmental and health groups that were trying to clean up polluted areas and reduce toxic chemical exposures from Dow products — information that, according to the memo, was “supplied by confidential sources and should be used with great discretion.”

FTI Consulting, another firm that worked with Monsanto and Bayer to spin the glyphosate story, is a key player in oil and gas industry efforts to discredit climate change science. The firm “drove influence campaigns nationwide for Big Oil,” the New York Times reported in 2020. FTI’s work for Monsanto, according to internal company documents, included trying to discredit Carey Gillam’s book about Monsanto’s herbicide business. And in May 2019, an employee of FTI Consulting was caught posing as a freelance journalist at a federal Roundup cancer trial in San Francisco. The employee, Sylvie Barak, claimed to work for the BBC as she chatted with reporters and suggested story angles. It was not the first time FTI staff were caught pretending to be journalists. As the Climate Docket reported, in January 2019, two FTI Consulting employees “posed as journalists in an attempt to interview an attorney representing Colorado communities that are suing Exxon for climate change-related damages.” FTI Consulting also has a long history of working with the tobacco industry.

Monsanto’s many product-defense partners

To give a sense of the scope of these third-party efforts, we analyzed the publicly available financial records of seven of the groups named as key allies in Monsanto documents detailing company efforts to defend glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides:

  1. Academics Review
  2. American Council for Science and Health (ACSH)
  3. Center for Food Integrity (CFI) and the Foundation for Food Integrity
  4. GMO Answers /Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI)
  5. International Food Information Council (IFIC) and Foundation
  6. Science Literacy Project/Genetic Literacy Project
  7. Sense About Science

(In addition to these seven non-profit organizations, other groups named in the documents we reviewed include Biofortified, Inc., Global Farmer Network and the Science Media Centre; these groups are not included in our financial analysis due to the lack of publicly available IRS 990 financial disclosures.)

Based on the available data, these third-party, non-profit organizations Monsanto tapped for glyphosate defense spent more than $76.1 million during the five-year period, starting the year of the IARC ruling, 2015, through 2019. (See Appendix I).

Well-resourced industry trade associations are also named in key Monsanto internal documents to be tapped for glyphosate defense. These include:

  1. Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO)
  2. CropLife America (CLA)
  3. Consumer Brands Association (CBA), formerly Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)
  4. National Corn Growers Association (NCGA)
  5. American Soybean Association (ASA)
  6. American Chemistry Council and its Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research (CAPHR)

Together, these trade associations spent a total of $1.37 billion over this same five-year period, advancing their sector’s agenda, including the defense of pesticides like glyphosate. (Along with these five trade associations, the documents also named CropLife International (CLI) and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), whose budgets are not included in these totals).

While some of these expenses may be duplicative because, as we discuss, some of these trade groups have funded some of these non-profit initiatives, it is still worth remarking on the scale of these expenses. Combined, from 2015 to 2019, seven of the non-profit groups and six of the trade groups named in Monsanto PR documents pertaining to glyphosate defense spent over $1.45 billion on total operations, including on marketing, advertising, lobbying, and advocacy — work that has helped shape the narratives informing regulations of the pesticides and biotech seeds, most of which as of this writing are genetically modified with the trait for glyphosate resistance.

While glyphosate defense is only part of the budgets of these organizations — in some cases a small part — the size of their budgets, taken together, convey what a huge industry this sector and these trade associations are. These budgets reflect the resources available to be marshaled for promoting and lobbying to deregulate the chemical-intensive farming practices and ultra-processed food products at the heart of our industrial food chain.

Deploying ‘industry partners’ to protect Roundup

To explore how these third-party allies engaged in the spin around glyphosate-based herbicides, we reviewed documents that lay out the network of organizations the company tapped, particularly in response to IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. In a confidential memo from February 23, 2015, a month before IARC issued its report, Monsanto described its preparedness and engagement plan. The company’s goal? “Protect the reputation and FTO [freedom to operate] of Roundup” and “provide cover for regulatory agencies.” To push back against the IARC cancer report, the plan assigned more than 20 Monsanto staffers to a range of jobs including: “neutralize impact of decision,” “ensure MON POV [Monsanto Point of View]” and “lead voice” on “outrage” over the IARC decision.

The memo named four tiers of “industry partners” that could disseminate the company’s messaging:

  1. trade groups like CropLife with ties to powerful Washington DC lobby groups with success in blocking policy and regulation;
  2. “science” groups that claim to be independent from corporate interests, though the documents clearly tie their strategies and messaging to Monsanto;
  3. “consumer trust” groups funded by food and pesticide companies that work to convince consumers to accept processed foods and pesticides;
  4. groups representing industrial corn and soy growers

Monsanto’s PR document lists “industry partners” to engage in glyphosate defense

In the following section, we describe some of the strategies and groups named in these internal documents and showcase the range of tactics Monsanto used to spin its messaging about the safety of glyphosate and GMO seeds designed to tolerate the chemical. While these examples relate specifically to glyphosate, they are common pesticide industry defense strategies.

Cooking up an academic front group

“Organics Exposed!” “Organic Industry Booming by Deceiving Consumers,” and “Tyranny of the Organic Mommy Mafia” — these headlines appeared in 2014 among a spate of articles criticizing the organic food industry. Many of them linked back to a report written by Dr. Bruce Chassy of Academics Review. Several years earlier, Bruce Chassy was preparing to retire as a professor at the University of Illinois when he teamed up with Dr. David Tribe of the University of Melbourne to launch Academics Review. Described as a “non-profit led by independent academic experts” the group claimed to accept no corporate funds. That 2014 report attacking the organic industry underscored such independence, noting “no conflicts of interest associated with this publication.”

Internal Monsanto documents tell a different story: They reveal Academics Review was established with backing from Monsanto and other leading pesticide firms. Tax records also show that most of the funding for Academics Review came from the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), a trade group of pesticide firms. Between 2014-2016, CBI donated $650,000 to Academics Review, more than 80 percent of the organization’s spending in those years. ($790,000 in reported expenses).


“Where should we send future gifts ‘in support of biotechnology outreach’ by the university?”

Monsanto’s Eric Sachs to Bruce Chassy


Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know revealed the maneuvering to set up Academics Review as a corporate front group, promoting industry messaging from behind a mask of independence. In emails from March 2010, Chassy discusses the concept for Academics Review with Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s former director of corporate communications. Byrne compared the idea for Academics Review with the Center for Consumer Freedom, a front group that Byrne said “has cashed in on this to the extreme and I think we have a much better concept.” (The Center for Consumer Freedom is directed by Rick Berman, a lobbyist who has been called the “king of corporate front groups” for his work promoting the interests of tobacco and restaurant industries, among many others.)

The emails suggest Academics Review had a clear role to play for the industry’s communication needs: discrediting critics of GMOs and pesticides. In one email, Byrne told Chassy that he was developing an “opportunities list with targets” comprised of people and groups critical of agricultural biotechnology. The targets, Byrne noted, would attract money from “a range of well-heeled corporations.” He offered that he and Val Giddings, the former Vice President of the BIO trade group, could serve as “commercial vehicles to connect these entities [corporations] with the project in a manner which helps to ensure the credibility and independence (and thus value) of the primary contributors/ owners.”

Monsanto’s involvement with Academics Review is documented in these internal emails. In an email later that year, Chassy communicated with Monsanto’s Eric Sachs about setting up a non-profit “to facilitate fundraising.” Sachs told Chassy that his colleagues at Monsanto could “help motivate” the industry trade organization to support the effort. Sachs noted, “The key will be keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information.” Chassy responded, “I think we are on the same page.”

In February 2015, when Monsanto needed help defending glyphosate, the company named Academics Review among the “industry partners” it planned to engage. And Academics Review joined the chorus of messengers trying to downplay cancer concerns, with a March 2015 post that gave the IARC report a failing grade of “F.”

In September 2015, the New York Times published a story about the ties between Chassy, Academics Review, and Monsanto. As of this writing, the Academics Review website last published content three days before that story broke; its website still claims no conflicts of interest.

‘Pro-science’ groups promote industry views

“Each and every day, we work hard to prove our worth to companies such as Monsanto.”

Gil Ross, American Council on Science and Health


“We are funded mostly by readers like you,” claims the homepage of the pro-industry non-profit, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Founded in 1978, ACSH positions itself as a “pro-science consumer advocacy organization,” but internal documents reveal the organization’s significant corporate funding, including from the pesticide industry. A “consumer front organization for its business backers,” is how consumer advocate Ralph Nader has described ACSH. “It has seized the language and style of the existing consumer organizations, but its real purpose… is to glove the hand that feeds it.

A leaked financial document, provided to Mother Jones in 2013, provides a rare window into how this spin works. The document describes ACSH’s plans to pitch its services to corporations for specific product-defense campaigns. For example, the document includes plans to ask food companies to fund a messaging campaign opposing GMO labeling, to court e-cigarette companies, and to pitch a project to the Vinyl Institute, which, the document notes, “previously supported [ACSH’s] chlorine and health report.” Among the group’s funders in 2012: Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, Coca-Cola, Chevron, and several leading tobacco companies.

Monsanto emails reveal that the company also tapped ACSH to help defend glyphosate. In early 2015, Monsanto executive Daniel Goldstein emailed ACSH’s Gil Ross with concerns that IARC would be assessing glyphosate at a time when both the EU and U.S. were reviewing reregistration of the chemical. Ross replied enthusiastically, noting that ACSH was already engaged in a “full-court press” against IARC over the agency’s cancer rulings on pesticides, phthalates, and diesel exhaust.

In an email to his Monsanto colleagues, Goldstein championed ACSH, writing, “While I would love to have more friends and more choices, we don’t have a lot of supporters and we can’t afford to lose the few we have…” To show how ACSH could be effective in shaping the discourse, Goldstein shared links to 53 blogs, two books, and a pesticide review he described as “EXTREMELY USEFUL” (emphasis in original). Goldstein acknowledged problems with ACSH’s reputation, writing, “I am well aware of the challenges with ACSH… 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 in original).

Ross defended Monsanto’s investments in ACSH, at one point confiding to Goldstein that “it does get frustrating at times when we feel as though we can’t count on the unrestricted support of a company like Monsanto — whose products and technologies are constantly vilified by activist groups but heralded by ACSH. Each and every day, we work hard to prove our worth to companies such as Monsanto…” Later that same day, Goldstein informed Ross that Monsanto would send the donation. “Great news. Thanks Dan,” Ross responded. He then asked for information about IARC and glyphosate. In the wake of these email exchanges, ACSH attacked the IARC report as “Glyphosate-Gate: IARC’s Scientific Fraud.” ACSH’s president at the time, Hank Campbell, penned many more attacks on IARC and scientists who wrote critically about glyphosate and published them on his “Science 2.0” website.”

ACSH, like Academics Review, is one of several groups identified in Monsanto documents as a third-party allies the company reached out to for its glyphosate defense needs.These groups, including Sense About Science, the Science Media Centre, and the Genetic Literacy Project, all promoted common messaging about glyphosate and pesticides more generally: downplaying or denying environmental and health concerns and arguing that glyphosate and other pesticide industry products do not need to be regulated. In Tactic 4, we examine how these groups, especially the Genetic Literacy Project, played a key role in attacking the scientists who raised cancer concerns about glyphosate.

Connections Between Third-Party Allies

“Pro-science” spin groups that Monsanto tapped to defend glyphosate also have ties to each other. To give just one example: in 2011, the ACSH published a book by Jon Entine, who went on to found the Genetic Literacy Project. Entine’s book about “chemophobia” (the fear of chemicals) mounts an ardent defense of atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, one of ACSH’s funders at the time. Internal documents show that ACSH asked Syngenta in 2009 for $100,000 — a grant “separate and distinct from the general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years” — to produce a “consumer friendly booklet” about atrazine that sounds a lot like Entine’s book. Entine told Tom Philpott at Mother Jones that he had “no idea” his publisher was funded by Syngenta.

Entine had claimed for years that his own organization, Genetic Literacy Project, had no corporate funding, although its disclosures suggested otherwise. In 2016, GLP disclosed it received “pass-through” funds from Academics Review, though the disclosure was removed from its website after documents surfaced that Academics Review received funding from a pesticide industry trade group GLP now says it does accept corporate funding; tax records show that Bayer gave the group $100,000 in 2020/2021. Another top donor was DonorsTrust, a leading funder of climate science denial efforts.

Academics also helped elevate these front groups. In the photo below, Dr. Nina Fedoroff, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (second from right), appears at a press conference to promote the ACSH’s “Little Black Book of Junk Science.”

Appearing alongside Fedoroff: Dr. Angela Logomasini of the Competitive Enterprises Institute, a group that disputes the man-made causes of climate change; and Dr. Alan Moghissi, who served on the advisory board of a Phillip Morris front group that tried to discredit research about the harms of tobacco. Fedoroff also serves as a board member for the Genetic Literacy Project, and she has played a key role in pesticide industry-led messaging and lobbying campaigns as we describe in this fact sheet.

Rallying the food industry to defend pesticides

Another powerful ally Monsanto engaged to defend glyphosate: the world’s largest processed food companies. Internal documents show Monsanto’s plan to use a “Stakeholder Engagement team” in the wake of the IARC ruling to help disseminate Monsanto’s point of view to the food industry. The team was composed of two spin groups funded by ultra processed food companies: the Center for Food Integrity and the International Food Information Council (IFIC); and the food industry’s largest trade group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association. (GMA has since rebranded to the Consumer Brands Association.) According to internal documents, the Stakeholder Engagement team could share Monsanto’s “inoculation” strategy for food companies, emphasizing the low levels of glyphosate in food and framing the IARC cancer report as an “agenda-driven hypotheses” at odds with the “science-based studies” Monsanto preferred.

IFIC’s message about glyphosate, and pesticides in general, echoed Monsanto’s narrative. In the wake of the IARC ruling, IFIC’s “food insight” website offered blog entries including “Cutting Through the Clutter on Glyphosate,” and “8 Crazy Ways They’re Trying to Scare You About Fruits and Vegetables.” IFIC advised women not to “freak out” about glyphosate, but rather “listen to the experts… the real experts.”

These “experts” promoted in IFIC blogs included Val Giddings, the former vice president of the BIO trade association who helped set up the front group Academics Review; David Zaruk, a former pesticide industry lobbyist; and Keith Solomon, a toxicologist who had received funds from Monsanto for a paper that downplayed concerns about glyphosate’s genotoxicity. (Some of the content and images in IFIC blogs, such as the image above, were removed or edited after U.S. Right to Know published a fact sheet about IFIC describing how the group works with corporations on product defense campaigns.)

IFIC’s work to defend glyphosate is part of a broader effort to support the interests of the processed food, beverage and chemical companies that fund the group. A 2022 study co-authored by U.S. Right to Know found that IFIC is “central to promoting industry-favorable content in defense of products facing potentially negative press.”

In one resource, IFIC pushes the message that low levels of pesticide residues on food do not pose a health threat by pointing consumers to its “safe produce” calculator. Consumers are invited to click on a type of food, for example strawberries, to learn that “a woman could consume 453 servings of strawberries in one day without any effect even if the strawberries have the highest pesticide residue recorded for strawberries by USDA.” The analysis is based on a report funded by the Alliance for Food and Farming, a trade association that represents large conventional grower groups that rely on pesticides. Their messaging leaves out crucial context about how government safety standards fail to account for the long-term health risks of exposure to multiple pesticide residues found on fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S. Scientists have raised concerns especially about the documented health risks of pesticides for children.

Groups like IFIC are well funded to persuade the public that pesticides and chemical additives in food do not pose a health risk. Between 2013 and 2017, IFIC spent over $22 million, according to tax forms filed with the IRS. Public disclosures show that its funders include Bayer CropScience, DowDuPont, Coca-Cola, and many processed food companies.

Internal emails provide an inside look at how IFIC works with these funders. One email obtained by U.S. Right to Know shows the group’s CEO, Dave Schmidt, asking a a long list of corporate board members for $10,000 contributions to update IFIC’s “Understanding Our Food” initiative to improve consumer views of processed foods. The email notes previous financial supporters included Bayer, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo, and DuPont.

Co-opting professional trade groups

Professional organizations for dieticians, beekeepers, food technologists, farmers, and other groups that represent fields with obvious — and sometimes not so obvious — pesticide industry connections have also been tapped to amplify pesticide industry messaging, including for glyphosate defense. These groups sometimes receive funding from pesticide companies or include pesticide industry executives in positions of leadership on their boards or advisory councils.

Some professional groups spend enormous sums on direct marketing efforts to defend pesticides. Commodity groups, such as corn and soy growers’ associations, spend tens of millions each year on programs to defend and expand chemical-intensive corn and soy crops, nearly all of which are genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate in the U.S. Just one of these groups appearing in Monsanto PR materials, the National Corn Growers Association, spent more than $108 million in five years. (See Appendix I.) To give a sense of state level spending, in 2017, groups representing corn growers in five Midwestern states (Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Dakota) spent over $32 million.

That Monsanto counted on these groups for glyphosate messaging support is noted in the company’s response plan for the IARC ruling. In a section describing efforts to engage industry partners, the plan states: “inoculate key grower associations.” These commodity groups responded to the IARC cancer report with press statements defending glyphosate and trying to preempt cancer concerns about other pesticides. A June 2015 joint press release from the National Corn Growers’ Association and the American Soybean Association — both named as third-party allies in the Monsanto documents — accused IARC of creating “confusion and unnecessary fear amongst the public” and using “narrowly-focused data removed from real-world situations to find almost everything that it reviews as potentially carcinogenic.” They also warned that IARC might raise cancer concerns about other widely used herbicides, including dicamba and 2,4-D. (The cancer agency did soon issue a report on 2,4-D, classifying the widely used herbicide as a possible human carcinogen.) For further information about IARC, the press release links to CropLife America, which represents the largest pesticide companies.

Influencing journalism groups

Bayer also exerted influence over journalism groups, according to internal emails from 2018. The emails revealed details of a sponsorship agreement between Bayer and the U.S. arm of the Foreign Press Association (FPA). The group guaranteed Bayer that “selection of the honorary awardees for the Foreign Press Awards should not be contradictory to Bayer’s strategic communications plans and initiatives,” and that Bayer would be made “aware in advance about the honorees of the Foreign Press Awards.” The press association also promised Bayer that forums at an event for media professionals would be on topics “relevant to Bayer’s strategic communications goals and priority (for example agriculture, or any other issue that matter to Bayer)” and that Bayer could help identify “media influencers from the American and international community of journalists” to attend its two main cocktail parties each year. In addition, the press association offered to organize “three background briefings” with Bayer representatives and “selected members of the international and national press and online bloggers” to dive into “topics that fit in Bayer’s communications priorities and strategic goals.”

While the FPA has since replaced the executive who wrote these emails, and current leadership stands by the group’s independence, the emails indicate a culture of support for this kind of industry influence. As the FPA’s executive director shared with his Bayer contacts in 2018: “I informed all Board Members of the FPA and the FPF [Foreign Press Foundation] about the dissatisfaction from Bayer that over the last couple of years the FPA didn’t deliver as much as it was expected given that Bayer was one of the major contributors of our programs. I got everyone from the two boards to agree that this situation won’t happen again and I got the full and exclusive authorization from our boards to work with you from my role on the initiatives I deployed in my previous emails and discussed over the phone with Chris [from Monsanto] for 2018, 2019 and 2020.”

Using a prestigious scientific group to promote industry views

“appearing to be less than transparent is a really bad idea for the scientific community”

— AAAS member scientists complain about the board’s position on GMO labeling


Another key industry strategy is to work with experts connected to groups that have the veneer of scientific impartiality. We see this in the way Monsanto used the branding of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society, to advance its product-defense messaging.

To give one example of this, a 2015 op-ed for the Guardian opposed a public records investigation by U.S. Right to Know seeking information about pesticide industry ties with academic institutions. The authors? Three former AAAS presidents — all of whom touted their affiliation with the prestigious scientific organization, but failed to disclose their industry ties. Nina Fedoroff, Peter Raven, and Phillip Sharp decried the public records investigation as “science denialism” and falsely compared it to “Climate-gate” (which involved illegal hacking of scientists’ emails). This was the same false messaging Monsanto front groups were pushing. Fedoroff was at that time working for OFW Law, a lobbying firm whose clients included Syngenta and a pesticide industry trade group. The Guardian later noted that conflict but failed to disclose those of her co-authors: Peter Raven was identified simply as Director Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden. That group counts Monsanto among its “most generous benefactors” and has a Monsanto Hall and a Monsanto Center with a Peter H. Raven Library. Phillip Sharp, whom MIT Technology Review described as “the man who helped launch biotech,” is the co-founder of two multi-billion dollar biotech companies, Biogen and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

This was not the first time Fedoroff used her position with AAAS to aid Monsanto. In 2012, while she was chair of the AAAS Board of Directors, the Board issued a statement opposing GMO labeling just weeks before California voters went to the polls to decide on the issue. The Board did not solicit input from the scientific society’s 120,000 members, and its statement contained inaccuracies and misleading assertions, according to long-standing AAAS members. In a letter to Science magazine AAAS-member scientists urged the Board to reconsider their anti-labeling statement: “appearing to be less than transparent,” they noted, “is a really bad idea for the scientific community.”

Many more third parties

Monsanto and the pesticide industry worked with many more third-party allies than we can profile here. These include influential nonprofits such as the industry-funded International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which funds studies helpful to industry and lobbies for industry interests around the world. The New York Times has described ILSI as “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of.” An influential nonprofit media outreach group, the Science Media Centre — partly funded by corporations — connects reporters with hand-picked experts that share industry views on breaking science stories involving controversial topics such as glyphosate, GMOs, aspartame, cell phones, and fracking. This model of influencing science reporting is “spreading around the world,” Nature reported in 2013. Professional groups such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, and many others receive funding from pesticide companies, have industry executives on their boards, and also provide helpful channels for industry communications.

The groups discussed in this section all appear in internal Monsanto documents or in the public record as neutral-appearing channels that are disseminating similar messaging: downplaying the risks of pesticides, ultra-processed foods and food additives, and working to create a powerful impression on journalists and the public: if all these groups are saying it, mustn’t it be true?
Read more in the full Merchants of Poison report (PDF).


[1] Monsanto Internal Document. (2016, December). FH Glyphosate Campaign Weekly Intelligence Report. U.S. Right to Know.

[2] Boren, Z., & Neslen, A. (2018, October 31). How lobbyists for Monsanto led a ‘grassroots farmers’ movement against an EU glyphosate ban. Unearthed.

[3] TobaccoTactics. (2020, March 2). Red Flag Consulting. University of Bath.

[4] POLITICO. (2016, January 4). New CFPB attack, with Koch fingerprints?

[5] POLITICO. (2016, May 19). Pi exclusive: Uncovering the ‘Astroturf’ firm behind the CFPB attack ads. See also U.S. House Committee on Financial Services (2016, April 7). House Democrats Call for Investigation into anti-CFPB group. aspx?DocumentID=399743

[6] Saul, S. (2012, October 4). G.O.P. operative long trailed by allegations of voter fraud. The New York Times.

[7] Hansen, R. J. and Sanchez, Y. W.. (2020, July 25). Report: Arizona Political Operative tied to ohio bribery case. The Arizona Republic.

[8] Dahm, J. (2022, May 11). EU agencies push back glyphosate assessment to mid-2023. Euractive.

[9] Boren, Z., & Neslen, A. (2018, October 31). How lobbyists for Monsanto led a ‘grassroots farmers’ movement against an EU glyphosate ban. Unearthed.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Brandt A. M. (2012). Inventing conflicts of interest: a history of tobacco industry tactics. American journal of public health, 102(1), 63–71.

[12] Tobacco Tactics (2021, June 14). Background: What is the third party technique? University of Bath.

[13] Sudhaman, A. (2013, July 24). Monsanto selects Fleishmanhillard to reshape reputation. PRovoke Media.

[14] Dickson, V. (2015, February 24). Bayer brings on Fleishman for Global Issues Account. PR Week Global.

[15] Mintz, M. (1996, March 24). SECOND-HAND MONEY. Washington Post.

[16] Ruth E. Malone. (2002). Tobacco Industry Surveillance of Public Health Groups: The Case of STAT and INFACT. American Journal of Public Health. 92, 955_960.

[17] Ruskin, G. (2015, January). Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs. U.S. Right to Know.

[18] Ridgeway, J. (2008, April 11). Black Ops, Green Groups. Mother Jones.

[19] Beckett Brown International, Inc. (1999, August 25). Intelligence Analysis for Dow Global Trends Tracking TeamL Activists, Issues and Trends. Mother Jones.

[20] Tabuchi, H. (2020, November 11). How One firm drove influence campaigns nationwide for Big Oil. The New York Times.

[21] Monsanto Internal Document. (2017, September 11). Project Spruce: Carey Gillam Book. U.S. Right to Know.

[22] France 24. (2019, May 18). Consultant poses as journalist in Monsanto trial.

[23] DeSmog Guest. (2021, August 3). Understanding Overlapping Corporate Disinformation Campaigns is Critical to Telling the Full Story About Science Denial.

[24] Thacker, P. D. (2019, October 29). Monsanto’s Spies. HuffPost.

[25] Savage, K. (2019, January 21). Exxon reps pose as reporters to query opposing lawyer in climate lawsuit. The Climate Docket.

[26] Tobacco Tactics. (2021, July 21). FTI Consulting. University of Bath.

[27] We based our third-party analysis on four primary sources:

1) Monsanto Internal Document. (2017, September 11). Project Spruce: Carey Gillam Book. U.S. Right to Know.

2) Monsanto Internal Document. (2015, February 23). Glyphosate: IARC. U.S. Right to Know.

3) Ross, G. (2015, March 16). Re: Request for Monsanto Report for ACSH, 2015, with “impacts”. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know. CSH-does-for-Monsanto-and-glyphosate.pdf

4) Goldstein, D. (2015, February 2). ACSH [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[28] International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2015, March 20). IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides. World Health Organization.

[29] Monsanto Internal Document. (2015, February 23). Glyphosate: IARC. U.S. Right to Know.

[30] Chassy, B. (2014, April 8). Academics Review Report: Why consumers pay more for organic foods? Fear sells and marketers know it. PRWeb.

[31] About. Academics Review RSS. (Online).

[32] Chassy, B. (2014, April 8). Academics Review Report: Why consumers pay more for organic foods? Fear sells and marketers know it. PRWeb.

[33] IRS 990, Council for Biotechnology Information, 2014 & 2015. U.S. Right to Know.

[34] IRS 990, Academics Review Org Co Bruce Chassy, 2013-2016. U.S. Right to Know.

[35] Chassy, B. (2011. March 10). Re: domain available. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[36] Graves, L. (2014, December 31). Rick Berman Caught on Tape: Hear His 10 Tactics to Aid Dirty Energy Corps. HuffPost.

[37] Chassy, B. (2011. March 10). Re: domain available. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[38] Chassy, B. (2010, November 30). Re: Questions. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Academics Review. (2015, March 23). IARC glyphosate cancer review fails on multiple fronts.

[41] Lipton, E. (2015, September 5). Food Industry enlisted academics in G.M.O. lobbying war, emails show. The New York Times.

[42] About. Academics Review. (Online). (The original Academics Review URL is no longer operational and the archived website has moved to the domain owned by Jay Byrne.)

[43] Ruskin, G. (2021, March 25). The American Council on Science and Health is a Corporate Front Group. U.S. Right to Know.

[44] Wilce, R. (2019, Jan. 24). Corporate Front Group, American Council on Science and Health, Smears List of Its Enemies as “Deniers for Hire”. Exposed by CMD.

[45] ACSH. (2013). FY 2013 Financial Update. U.S. Right Now.

[46] Kroll, A., & Schulman, J. (2013, October 28). Leaked documents reveal the secret finances of a pro-industry science group. Mother Jones.

[47] Goldstein, D. A. (2015, February 26). RE: ASCH. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ross, G. (2015, March 16). Re: Request for Monsanto Support ACSH, 2015, with “impacts”. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Berezow, A. (2017, Oct. 24). Glyphosate-Gate: IARC’s Scientific Fraud. American Council on Science and Health

[52] News Staff. (2018, August 6). Congress pulls funding for IARC statistics organization. Science 2.0

[53] Campbell, H. (2019, January 3). My EPA Comment On IARC Monograph Leader Kurt Straif Being Nominated To The Science Advisory Committee On Chemicals. Science 2.0.

[54] Campbell, H. (2019b, April 30). IARC Alone: EPA Confirms Again That Glyphosate Does Not Cause Cancer. Science 2.0.

[55] Gross, L. (2016, November 15). How Self-Appointed Guardians of “Sound Science” Tip the Scales Toward Industry. The Intercept.

[56] Malkan, S. (2020, November 17). Science Media Centre Promotes Corporate Views of Science. U.S. Right to Know.

[57] Ruskin, G. (2021, October 7). Genetic Literacy Project: PR Front for Monsanto, Bayer and the Chemical Industry. U.S. Right to Know.

[58] Ross, Gilbert. (2009, Aug. 28) ACSH proposal, “Pesticides and Health.” [Email.] Sourcewatch.

[59] Philpott, T. (2012, Feb. 24) The making of an agribusiness apologist. Mother Jones.

[60] Malkan, S. (2018, May 31) Academics Review: The making of a Monsanto front group. U.S. Right to Know.

[61] Malkan, S. (2022, July 14) Genetic Literacy Project: PR front for Monsanto, Bayer and the chemical industry. U.S. Right to Know.

[62] ACSH staff. (2017, June 29) Little Black Book of Junk Science. American Council on Science and Health.

[63] Root, T. (2019, July 10). Following the money that undermines climate science. The New York Times. and The Advancement of Sound Science Background. DeSmog (online).

[64] Internal Monsanto Document. (2015, February 23). Glyphosate: IARC. U.S. Right to Know.

[65] Martin, J. (2018, October 10). Cutting Through the Clutter on Glyphosate. Food Insight.

[66] Food Insight. (2020, August 27). 8 Crazy Ways They’re Trying to Scare You About Fruits and Vegetables [UPDATED].

[67] Navarro, A. (2015, December 8). Scientists Hired By Monsanto Say Weed Killer Glyphosate Does Not Cause Cancer. Tech Times.

[68] Malkan, S. (2022, April 12). IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News. U.S. Right to Know.

[69] Steele, S. Sarcevic, L. Ruskin, G. Stuckler, D. (2022, March 8). Confronting potential food industry ‘front groups’: case study of the international food information Council’s nutrition communications using the UCSF food industry documents archive. BioMed Central.

[70] Sims, T., PhD. (2020, June 30). Glyphosate 101: Gaining Food Safety Insights. Food Insight.

[71] Safe Fruits and Veggies Calculator

[72] Environmental Working Group (2010, Sept. 28). Taxpayers funding pro-pesticide PR campaign.

[73] Gillam, C. (2021, March 8). Chemicals on our food: When “safe” may not really be safe. EHN.

[74] President’s Cancer Panel. (2009). Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[75] International Food Information Council (IFC) and IFC Foundation. (2017). Partners and Supporters. Food Insight.

[76] Ayres, R. (2014, April 28). UPDATE: IFIC Foundation’s Understanding Our Food Initiative. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[77] Food Insight. (2017, May 1). 2017 Food and Health Survey: “A healthy perspective: Understanding american food values”.

[78] Ayres, R. (2014, April 28). UPDATE: IFIC Foundation’s Understanding Our Food Initiative. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[79] USDA ERS. (Online). Recent Trends in GE Adoption.

[80] Monsanto Internal Document. (2015, February 23). Glyphosate: IARC. U.S. Right to Know.

[81] Monsanto Internal Document. (2017, September 11). Project Spruce: Carey Gillam Book. U.S. Right to Know.

[82] Grassi, M. (2015, June 8). ASA, NCGA: IARC Pesticide Findings Create Confusion. CropLife.

[83] WHO Internal Agency for Research on Cancer. (2015, June 23). IARC Monographs evaluate DDT, lindane, and 2, 4-D. Press Release.

[84] Dimadis, T. (2018, June 26). FPA-FPF Board meeting at 4.30 pm. U.S. Right to Know.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Dimadis, T. (2018, July 11). Pictures- Secretary Johnson FPA event. U.S. Right to Know.

[87] Fedoroff, N. Raven, P. & Sharp, P. (2015, March 09). The anti-GM lobby appears to be taking a page out of the Climategate Playbook. The Guardian.

[88] Kloor, K. (2018, December 31). Mimicking climategate, anti-GMO activists fund legal attack on Biotech Academics. Genetic Literacy Project.

[89] Nina Fedoroff. OFW Law. (2021, January 15).

[90] Fedoroff, N. Raven, P. & Sharp, P. (2015, March 09). The anti-GM lobby appears to be taking a page out of the Climategate Playbook. The Guardian.

[91] Missouri Botanical Garden (2012, June 5) Missouri Botanical Garden receives $3 million gift from Monsanto Company toward development of a world flora online.

[92] Plant science. (Online). Missouri Botanical. Garden.

[93] Blanding, M. (2020, February 11). The Man Who Helped Launch Biotech. MIT Technology Review.

[94] American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2020, October 12). Statement by the AAAS Board of Directors On Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods.

[95] Gurian-Sherman, D. (2012, November 2). A contrary perspective on the AAAS Board statement against labeling of Engineered Foods. The Equation. /

[96] Hunt, P. (2012). Yes: Food labels would let consumers make informed choices. Environmental Health News.

[97] Priest, S. H. et al. (2013, February 15). AAAS position on GM Foods could backfire. Science.og.

[98] Malkan, S. (2022, March 22). ILSI is a food industry lobby group. U.S. Right to Know

[99] @NYTScience (2019, September 16) [Tweet].

[100] Malkan, S. (2017, July 20). Science Media Centre Promotes Corporate Views of Science. U.S. Right to Know.

[101] Callaway, E. (2013) Science media: Centre of attention. Nature.

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