How pesticide companies dominate Google News searches

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“Think of the internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does — but somebody is going to get killed.”

Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s former director of corporate communications, quoting Michael S. Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Computer Corporation[1]


The following is an excerpt from the report Merchants of Poison: How Monsanto Sold the World on a Toxic Pesticide, by Stacy Malkan, with Kendra Klein, PhD, and Anna Lappé, based on revelations from internal corporate and government documents that detail how Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) ran its product-defense campaigns to protect glyphosate and the GMO seeds designed to tolerate the chemical.

Weaponizing the web

When Edward Bernays designed PR campaigns for his clients in the 1920s and the decades that followed, he didn’t have the tools that help today’s corporate clients reach millions, even billions, with a stroke of a few keys: the internet and social media. Today, as more people get their news and information from social media, blogs, and seemingly independent online news and information sites like WebMD, companies like Monsanto, now Bayer, have developed many new stealth tactics to shape online public discourse.

Monsanto has been honing its skills in this arena for decades. In 2002, Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s then director of internet outreach, helped influence online debates about genetically engineered foods with the help of “fake citizens” — people who did not actually exist who were “bombarding internet listservs with messages denouncing the scientists and environmentalists who were critical of GM crops,” according to reporting by George Monbiot in the Guardian.[2] In a pitch to industry groups, the Guardian reported, Byrne described “how, before he got to work, the top GM sites listed by an internet search engine were all critical of the technology. Following his intervention, the top sites were all supportive ones”— and several of those sites had been established by Bivings, a Monsanto PR firm.[3] [4]

As we have shown throughout the Merchants of Poison report, Monsanto worked with a wide range of third-party allies to spread its product-defense messaging, using stealth tactics that make it difficult, and at times impossible, to detect the company’s fingerprints. That is especially true online, where search engines serve up corporate messaging from independent-appearing sources, and messengers appear seemingly spontaneously across social media platforms to attack journalists, scientists, and others who pose a threat to the company or the pesticide industry more broadly. Internal Monsanto documents point to an inner circle of messengers — including Byrne, now president of a PR firm called v-Fluence Interactive — who coordinate an echo chamber of third-party allies to disseminate messaging laid out in Monsanto/Bayer public relations plans. Here we take a closer look at how some of those groups wield influence online.

Monsanto-loving ‘science’ websites

Anyone looking for news articles explaining the finding by the World Health Organization’s independent cancer research group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, might try searching for the terms “IARC and glyphosate” in Google News. If they did so on October 14, 2021, they would have found that four of the top 10 “news” results came from one source: the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a well-known industry front group. Headlines for those ACSH articles included, “The Emperor — IARC — Has No Clothes,” and “Glyphosate Doesn’t Cause Cancer.”[5][6] As we reported in Tactic 3, internal emails establish that Monsanto had paid ACSH to help try to discredit IARC’s findings on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.


“Each and every day we work hard to prove our worth to companies such as Monsanto.” ACSH email seeking funds from Monsanto


Another “news” source turned up in the top spot of a Google News search in February 2020 for the terms “glyphosate and cancer”: Science 2.0, a website connected to ACSH. Science 2.0 promotes itself with the tagline, “The world’s best scientists. The internet’s smartest readers.” Its owner, Hank Campbell, was president of the Monsanto-funded ACSH from 2015 until December 2018. A few weeks prior to Campbell’s departure from ACSH, Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University, posted documents that offer insights into the high visibility of websites connected to Campbell. In a Twitter thread he called “Mapping a Monsanto-Loving Octopus,” Seife explained that, in 2016, ACSH paid $60,000 to ION Publications, which owned science blogging websites including Science 2.0 and Science Codex.[7] The payment was for promotional services to increase traffic to the website, according to tax records.[8] The owner of ION Publications was ACSH’s Campbell. In 2018, Campbell expanded his ring of science-focused websites when he converted Science 2.0 into a non-profit and acquired another popular blogging website,

All the “science” websites under this umbrella, including Science 2.0, Science Codex, and ScienceBlogs, cross-promoted the others and ACSH’s own website with content promoting and defending pesticides and other products made by companies that fund ACSH, among them Monsanto.[9] Seife summed up his findings: “this is how a once-admired science blogging site, @scienceblogs, was acquired by a complex and [in my opinion] shady network of for-profits and non-profits helping Monsanto.”

By the end of 2018, Campbell left ACSH and delinked his science websites from However, Campbell and others with connections to Monsanto continue to blog on his science websites, and Science 2.0 continues to enjoy high Google News search rankings for search terms related to pesticides.

Topping Google’s News search

Over a three-year period from 2019 to 2021, we conducted multiple keyword searches on topics related to glyphosate, other pesticides, and genetically engineered foods and found that a small group of Monsanto-connected “science communicators” has dominated the algorithm for Google News searches, leading to high-ranking results. (These searches were conducted on new browsers with no search history.) Industry influence of search results warrants further study to better understand the extent of the reach, but the results we found raises concerns about the integrity of Google News searches on themes related to the pesticide industry’s product-defense campaigns.

In a search for “glyphosate and cancer” across numerous dates,[10] for example, we found articles posted by the Genetic Literacy Project, a group now funded by Bayer,[11] ranked at or near the top every time.

In a Google News search for those keywords on February 14, 2020, for example, six of the top 10 returns were from Genetic Literacy Project — all with content that downplayed health concerns about glyphosate. As we highlighted earlier, internal Monsanto documents and public records establish that Genetic Literacy Project has been an important entity in Monsanto-coordinated PR and lobbying campaigns, particularly in pushing personal attacks on scientists who raised cancer concerns about glyphosate.

The Genetic Literacy Project links with high Google News ranking included headlines that align with talking points laid out in Monsanto’s PR glyphosate defense plan. For example: “With Roundup-cancer settlement looming, activists revive conspiracy claim that glyphosate surfactants threaten human health.”[12] The article was written by Cameron English, former managing editor of Genetic Literacy Project who now works for ACSH.[13] The timing of his article coincided with Bayer’s efforts to end the Roundup litigation and offer a $10 billion settlement with cancer victims who had sued Monsanto claiming exposure to glyphosate-based Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.[14]

Additional searches found a range of industry-aligned and industry-funded messages and messengers rising to the top of Google News. For a February 25, 2020 search for “Chris Portier,” a scientist who served on the IARC glyphosate panel, five of the first six Google News returns were articles attacking his credibility. Two of these were from the Genetic Literacy Project, one was from the Monsanto-funded ACSH, and another was from the ACSH-connected Science 2.0. Another top result was a link to a Forbes column by Geoffrey Kabat, the epidemiologist mentioned in Tactic 3 who has a history of defending tobacco industry interests, and who also serves on the board of Genetic Literacy Project.


Five of the top six Google “News” search results for a scientist’s name were attacks from front groups connected to Monsanto. 2/25/20 search for “Chris Porter,” who served on the IARC glyphosate panel


According to Google, its news search “helps you learn about what’s happening in the world through an organized experience of top stories, articles, videos and more” and the “Top stories feature aims to display relevant, high-quality results for a news topic.”[15] But these findings raise questions about the credibility of the “high-quality results.” Our searches for keywords important to Monsanto and now Bayer, and the pesticide industry more broadly, indicate that industry front groups are elevating corporate messaging over legitimate news to the top of the search results.

This search domination is critically important for two key reasons: Many people may presume that Google results provide links to legitimate reporting (for news) and trustworthy resources (for general searches). Secondly, most people do not click lower ranking results, even on the first page of returns let alone past page one. So, ensuring articles and links appear high in search returns makes a huge impact on visibility. One recent study by Sistrix, a Search Engine Optimization software company, found that in a 2020 analysis of billions of search results, 28.5 percent of people click the very first result in a Google Search, with click-through rates falling considerably past that: Second and third place rankings had only a 15 and 11 percent click-through rate (CTR), respectively.[16] By the tenth result, the CTR is just 2.5 percent, with virtually no one moving on to the second page.

Industry messaging rising

Here are more examples of how the Genetic Literacy Project, a group now funded by Bayer, dominated Google News searches on topics important to the pesticide industry. In a February 6, 2019 Google News search for “pesticides in food,” all five top results led to pro-pesticide content from Genetic Literacy Project:

In a February 27, 2023 Google News search for “GMOs and Africa,” two of the top three returns were Genetic Literacy Project articles encouraging African countries to accept GMOs:

How does GLP drive traffic to industry messaging?

One of the strategies Genetic Literacy Project uses to get consistent high-ranking results is to republish content of mainstream news articles. The website pulls articles from a range of outlets, ensuring a continual fresh stream of content. Importantly, GLP changes headlines, condenses content, adds graphics, and emphasizes specific keywords (such as glyphosate) in headlines. The website also sometimes adds promotional content to emphasize product-defense messaging, while linking back to the original news outlet. These practices elevate the site’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO),[17] helping vault Genetic Literacy Project’s industry-friendly messages to the top of the Google News search. As an example: in Google News searches for “glyphosate and cancer” conducted 11 days apart (on February 14 and February 25, 2020) six of the top 10 returns on both dates were from Genetic Literacy Project or the ACSH-connected Science 2.0. Several of these were reposts of articles lifted from other news outlets and reprinted by Genetic Literacy Project in condensed form.

Reposts included articles from the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg Law, and USA Today, posted with new headlines and some of the text cut to emphasize or downplay particular themes. For instance, a 33-paragraph Bloomberg Law article by Stephen Gardner — titled “Four Pesticides Could Show U.K.s Post-Brexit Regulation Plans”[18] — is condensed to five non-consecutive paragraphs in Genetic Literacy Project with a different headline (naming specific pesticides for search purposes), and with missing context, yet still carrying the reporter’s byline. The reprint does not include, for example, a paragraph explaining worries over the safety of glyphosate and a pending ban in Luxembourg.[19]

Genetic Literacy Projects explains these excerpted, retitled reprints with a disclaimer that the article is a “curated excerpt.” GLP explains that it “aggregates approximately 11 articles” each day from news sources following the fair use doctrine and Creative Commons guidelines.[20] The page explains, “Excerpted articles list the original media outlet as the source.” The page further notes that GLP, “selects short segments from an article chosen to reflect the original piece,” changes titles “so as not to pose a conflict in searches,” and also “adds pictures or illustrations.” All this provides opportunities to emphasize product-defense messaging, while keeping a stream of fresh content on the GLP website and helping its SEO.

Genetic Literacy Project also makes frequent use of “Editor’s notes” to promote its own content. For example, a February 11, 2020 press release from the State of California Department of Justice describes an amicus brief filed by the state arguing that federal laws should not preempt California laws requiring warnings on cancer-causing chemicals.[21] GLP reprinted the press release under the byline of then California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, but added an “Editor’s note” in bold near the top: “Most experts, including EPA regulators, don’t share California’s view that glyphosate causes cancer.”[22]

As another example of how the Genetic Literacy Project alters content to emphasize particular messaging, consider the excerpt from a January 28, 2020 BBC article by Emma Woollacot about a new weed-zapping device that uses electricity rather than chemicals.[25] The reprint leads with a paragraph that appears later in the piece.[26] The actual opening to Woollacot’s article was not as helpful to pesticide industry messaging: Woollacot began by explaining that weed-zapping machines are part of an effort to clean up parks by “doing away with potentially dangerous weedkillers.” The GLP repost also begins with a prominent “Editor’s note: Most experts say glyphosate probably doesn’t cause cancer.”

Monsanto’s “Let Nothing Go” strategy

Let Nothing Go” was Monsanto’s strategy to respond to any and all media coverage and social media posts involving the company or its products.[27] As plaintiff’s lawyers in one case against the company described, Monsanto was determined “to leave nothing, not even Facebook comments, unanswered” — a sort of “broken windows” approach to shaping the public narrative on GMOs and pesticides.[28] The lawyers further explained how Monsanto “employs individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry, who in turn post positive comments on news articles and Facebook posts, defending Monsanto, its chemicals, and GMOs.” The court brief calls out the Genetic Literacy Project and American Council on Science and Health specifically, describing them as “organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.”[29]

The “Let Nothing Go” strategy was to dominate social media and online fora to reframe the conversation about glyphosate, and GMOs generally, pushing back on all reporters, editors, influencers, and others who published unflattering material about these topics. A “Let Nothing Go report” compiled by the PR firm FleishmanHillard for Monsanto in 2017 describes how the firm was doing just this: tracking key influencers, volume and tone of conversation, and other social and media metrics in six European countries.[30]

As we reported in Tactic 4, Tracking and Attacking Scientists and Journalists, PR firms working for Monsanto and Bayer kept close tabs on the public communications (and personal information) of scientists, journalists and other influencers who are critical of pesticide industry products.

PR firm “balances” online conversation

One of the strategies the world’s largest pesticide companies developed to influence online conversations is GMO Answers. Though the effort was clearly a marketing and PR campaign launched in 2013 by the PR firm Ketchum,[31] the GMO Answers website described itself as a “transparency” initiative.[32] The initiative centers around a website that looks like a definitive source of information and features the voices of experts enlisted to build public trust in GMOs and the pesticides used to grow them. These experts, however, have been handpicked by Ketchum, the industry-funded PR firm running the site. Tax records show that the Council for Biotechnology Information, a trade group funded by Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, DowDupont, and formerly Monsanto, paid Ketchum over $14 million between 2014 and 2018 to conduct GMO Answers.[33] (CropLife International, the pesticide industry trade association, has since taken over the funding.)[34]

Ketchum characterized GMO Answers as an effort to answer public concerns with “nothing filtered or censored, and no voice silenced.” As the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported at the time, the top pesticide companies launched the campaign to “help clear up confusion — and dispel mistrust — about their products.”[35]

The website discloses that it is funded by pesticide firms, but how “filtered” is the site’s content? Internal documents reveal what a heavy hand the industry has had in shaping content. Internal documents reveal the specific ways Monsanto used GMO Answers in its glyphosate defense. In its PR plan to protect glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides in the wake of the IARC cancer ruling, for example, Monsanto named GMO Answers as an “industry partner” that could help discredit the cancer agency’s finding. GMO Answers also appears as a key partner in Monsanto’s PR plan to discredit the U.S. Right to Know public records investigation into hidden industry ties of academics.[36] And emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know via the public records search found a number of the “independent” experts and groups listed on the GMO Answers website were receiving funds from Monsanto or were working with the company on PR projects in ways that were not publicly disclosed.[37] [38] These internal records also reveal at least three instances of Ketchum employees working with professors to ghostwrite content for GMO Answers.[39]

Messaging on the site also mirrors industry talking points, often with industry sources. On the GMO Answers website, typing in the question, “Does glyphosate cause cancer?” yields an answer from Bayer scientist David Saltmiras: “No, glyphosate does not cause cancer. But don’t just take my word for it. Please also consider statements from multiple authorities who reviewed both robust glyphosate data sets and peer-reviewed literature.”[40] (See Tactic 1 for what the documents reveal about how Monsanto influenced regulatory reviews with subpar and ghostwritten science.)

Queries to GMO Answers about the IARC cancer report on glyphosate elicit an infographic from Monsanto’s Cami Ryan (who now works for Bayer) comparing the toxicity of glyphosate to wine,[41] and a quote from Kevin Folta, the University of Florida professor who worked with Monsanto on PR projects discussed in Tactic 2, claiming, “Glyphosate is amazingly non-toxic to humans or any other animals.”[42] (Folta now also works for the Bayer-funded Genetic Literacy Project.)[43]

Alongside the website, Ketchum developed a social media plan to engage people on platforms that were discussing GMOs and bring visitors to the site. Ketchum boasted this work had a measurable impact on the conversation about GMOs online. In a promotional video about GMO Answers, Ketchum noted: “On Twitter, where we closely monitor the conversation, we’ve successfully balanced 80 percent of interactions with detractors.” As a result of their engagement, Ketchum reported a doubling of “positive media coverage” about GMOs during its first year of operation. The firm also bragged about its success in changing Google search results: Before Ketchum got to work, according to the video, “anyone searching for GMOs had to navigate more than 25 pages of hate before finding one factual scientific response. We’re now on the first page of search results.”[44] (The video was removed after U.S. Right to Know called attention to it, but we captured it here.)

In 2014, these efforts on behalf of the pesticide industry earned Ketchum recognition for its success spinning the media and online coverage of the industry’s products: GMO Answers was shortlisted in the “Public Relations: Crisis and Issue Management” category for a CLIO Award, a prominent international advertising award.[45]

Unleashing the trolls

Coordinated, aggressive pushback on social media is a common experience for people who disagree with pesticide industry narratives about pesticides and GMOs. In Tactic 4, we discussed how attacking critics — often with ad hominem personal attacks — is a common product-defense strategy, one that is increasingly playing out on social media and in other online spaces.

In one example from the summer of 2017, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, became a target when she posted a blog critical of a documentary called Food Evolution.[46] The pro-GMO film was funded by an industry trade group and heavily promoted by industry allies, including professors, trade groups and front groups described in this report. On her blog, Nestle characterized the documentary as a “GMO propaganda film.” She explained to her readers on June 21, 2017, “I have asked repeatedly to have my short interview clip removed from this film. The director refuses. He believes his film is fair and balanced. I do not.” Cue a coordinated troll attack. “Would you believe 870 comments? These were filed in response to my post of last week about the GMO propaganda film,” Nestle reported on June 26.[47] In a post titled, “A Win for GMO Trolls,” Nestle announced she is no longer accepting comments on her website. “The GMO trolls — people who post deliberately hostile comments — have defeated me,” she wrote. “This is not about thoughtful discussion of the scientific, social, and political issues raised by GMOs. This is about personal attacks to discredit anyone who raises questions about those issues, as I did.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, Antifragile, and other bestselling books on risk management became a target of GMO trolls after he co-authored a paper in 2014 calling for a precautionary approach to genetically engineered foods; and a year later, when he described the GMO endeavor in the New York Times as a “too big to fail” system that is “vastly riskier” than the 2008 financial sector meltdown.[48] [49] The attacks from product-defense groups were swift and familiar: “unintelligible gibberish,” declared the Competitive Enterprise Institute,[50] while David Ropeik, a risk management consultant with pesticide industry clients, tried to discredit Taleb’s paper as “anti-GMO advocacy” via Twitter and a lengthy article on Medium.[51][52] Genetic Literacy Project wondered whether Taleb is a “dangerous imbecile in the pay of the anti-GMO mafia.”[53] A familiar ring of industry-friendly writers, including the freelance reporter Keith Kloor[54] and Mark Lynas of Cornell Alliance for Science[55] jumped in on Twitter to promote these critiques.


“unlike the mafia with tentacles, corporations are monstrously fragile. The fact that they need so much lobbying and spinning indicates how fragile they are.” Nassim Taleb


In a Facebook post he called “How to Argue with GMO Propagandists,” Taleb noted that these attacks echoed “the history of how the tobacco industry spread disinformation.” Taleb concluded, “unlike the mafia with tentacles, corporations are monstrously fragile. The fact that they need so much lobbying and spinning indicates how fragile they are.”

Coordinating industry troops: Bonus Eventus

While Monsanto’s and now Bayer’s tactics for shaping public debates are adapted to the age of social media and online news, the core strategy — to track, attack, and try to discredit critics of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture — has been developed over decades. Consider Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s former director of communications who ensured back in 2001 that the top websites appearing in an internet search for GMO foods “were all supportive ones.”[56] Today, as president of the public relations firm v-Fluence, Byrne plays an active role in pesticide industry defense efforts via his “Bonus Eventus.”[57] The “private social networking portal” supplies academics and other industry allies with talking points and promotional opportunities to promote pesticide interests.[58] Members receive Byrne’s newsletter, access to his reference library of talking points on agribusiness topics, a “stakeholder database” of influential people in the GMO and pesticide debate, and training and support for social media engagement.

Examples of Byrne’s newsletter can be found in a cache of emails from Byrne to Peter Phillips, a University of Saskatchewan professor who has been criticized for his close ties to Monsanto.[59] The emails were obtained by U.S. Right to Know via a public records request. In a newsletter from November 2016, Byrne urged Phillips and other recipients to share content on key topics important to the pesticide industry — and these influencers in turn shared messages via Twitter and other social media channels on topics Byrne suggests. That week Byrne urged followers to discuss the “flaws and omissions” in a New York Times report about the failure of GMO crops to increase yields and reduce pesticides,[60] and the “mounting questions” facing the IARC scientists who reported glyphosate is probably a human carcinogen.

Byrne prompted his audience to share content on these themes from industry-connected writers Julie Kelly,[61] Dr. Henry I. Miller,[62] Kavin Senapathy,[63] and Hank Campbell[64] formerly of the American Council on Science and Health, one of the groups Monsanto was paying to help discredit the cancer scientists.[65] All these writers, though they appear to be independent, are linked to Monsanto and participate in the echo chamber that shares pesticide industry messaging via blogs and social media activities.

Byrne’s client list has included a range of agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies and business groups, including the American Chemistry Council, Syngenta, AstraZeneca, Monsanto, Pfizer, the American Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, the pesticide industry trade group CropLife, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which promotes genetically engineered “Golden Rice.”[66]

His pitch to industry groups, urging them to spend more money for product defense and attack strategies, is laid out in a 2013 presentation to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) — a group funded by the Gates Foundation to develop commercial seeds for the private sector.[67][68] Byrne described the threats posed by “eco-advocates,” ranked their influence online, and urged companies to pool their resources to confront such influencers to avoid “regulatory market constraints.”[69]

The policy endgame

The documents described throughout this report point to a number of individuals and organizations — including Byrne, the Genetic Literacy Project, and the American Council on Science and Health — as key players in the effort to paint GMOs and glyphosate products as “science-based” solutions, while attacking industry critics using product-defense efforts paralleling those by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. While many of these efforts play out on social media or other online spaces, they are ultimately about lobbying in the real world: they are part of a coordinated effort to keep toxic products unregulated, even as health, environmental, and safety concerns mount.

As Harvard professors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway recount in their seminal book Merchants of Doubt, the product-defense efforts of fossil fuel and tobacco corporations succeeded in shaping public opinion and policy for decades, efforts that can be traced back to “a handful of scientists” who “obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to climate change.”[70] As Oreskes said in the documentary Merchants of Doubt: “None of this is about the science. All of this is a political debate about the role of government.” [71]


“None of this is about the science. All of this is a political debate about the role of government.” Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes


As we have shown throughout this report, policy debates over glyphosate, GMOs, and the broader topic of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture, have been heavily influenced by a small group of actors, too, led by academics and front groups with ties to industry. The U.S. government has also been an ally to these efforts, keeping products unregulated and helping to spread corporate messaging. As one example, a December 2013 email reveals communications between Genetic Literacy Project’s Jon Entine and Max T. Holtzman, then acting deputy undersecretary at USDA. Entine shared a pitch for a series of “US government – GLP – Byrne projects” to influence journalists, noting that he and Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s former communications director, had spoken to “two dozen people at State, with reps from USDA/FAS and USAID on how to effectively engage NGOs and journalists on agricultural biotech” and to preview Byrne’s stakeholder database tool.[72]

Entine proposed collaborating on a series of projects to increase global acceptance of GMOs and pesticides. The projects he described include many of the stealth tactics named in this report. He mentioned: a “boot camp and response swat team” to prepare third-party academics for “potential legislative engagement;” a “journalism enclave” to bolster media coverage about food security challenges; “coaching for younger journalists;” a global media outreach campaign; and “multi-media content and placements from credible sources” reinforcing key themes “with segments and footage made available on U.S. government websites, GLP and other platforms.”

Holtzman responded, “Thanks Jon. It was great meeting you as well. I think your outline below provides natural intersection points where usda/USG [U.S. government] messaging and your efforts intersect well. I’d like to engage further and loop other folks here at usda not only from the technical/trade areas but from our communications shop as well.”[73]

Further details of this partnership are not public, but the Monsanto investigations reveal numerous examples of the U.S. government aiding pesticide industry PR efforts. As one example, in 2012, U.S. taxpayers paid to produce a series of videos to promote genetically engineered foods with corporate messaging. Byrne’s PR firm v-Fluence helped create the videos that were “designed to appear a little low budget and amateurish,” according to an email from University of Illinois Professor Bruce Chassy obtained by U.S. Right to Know.[74]

Chassy wrote to Monsanto employees on April 27, 2012 to inform them he had a small grant from the U.S. State Department to produce 10 YouTube videos, noting that he thought it was important the videos came from the University of Illinois with credit to the State Department. He also noted he was seeking more government funding as well as outside sources to produce more videos, and he invited the Monsanto employees to provide suggestions. Monsanto’s Eric Sachs responded, “in a completely parallel effort, Monsanto is shooting videos to reinforce the safety of GM foods in support of food/retail industry requests for Monsanto to defend the onslaught of attacks on biotech crop safety and Bt/RR [Bt and Roundup Ready] sweet corn in particular. I alerted this team of your project and everyone was eager to see your work on-line. Obviously, independent content from the U of I and supported by US Govt agencies is the preferred approach.”[75]

The example is just one of many, as we have shown throughout this report, indicating that Monsanto’s public relations efforts to defend its flagship glyphosated-based Roundup herbicides and Roundup Ready seed products depend on subterfuge: on convincing the public that corporate product-defense messaging is coming from independent sources that are, in reality, anything but.


In recent years, outrage over Big Oil’s decades-long campaign of doubt and denialism to stall climate action has spilled onto the front page of major newspapers and into the Halls of Congress.[76] Outrage around Big Tobacco’s long-standing attempts to delay action on tobacco regulation, and the industry’s continued marketing and misinformation, has fueled similar public outcry. With more than 480,000 people dying for tobacco-related reasons[77] and 5 million extra deaths related to climate change every year,[78] this misinformation is literally deadly. In this report, through a case study about one pesticide company and one spin campaign to protect one chemical, we hope to add to the growing literature building the case for vigilance about industry misinformation, including from the pesticide industry.

Thanks to discovery and the findings from public records investigations, we now have a clear record of the disinformation campaigns waged by Monsanto/Bayer, and with these tactics revealed, we see clearly one more case of a pesticide marketed as safe. Companies like Monsanto, now Bayer, didn’t just take a page from the PR playbook of Big Oil and Big Tobacco, they helped to write it.

Ultimately, the story of deceit this report documents is a story about industry vulnerability: To forgo the regulation that would impact their profitability and market share, companies in the pesticide, oil, and tobacco industry are profoundly reliant on the success of PR subterfuge. They must protect the secrecy about how the evidence on which they base their defense is influenced by their cooptation of scientific and academic institutions; and they need to cover up the large web of organizations — from non-profits to academic think tanks and fake grassroots groups — that they rely on to push their products around the world. In the case of the pesticide industry, their current business model would not be possible if pesticide products were subject to rigorous, independent research and if there were widespread public understanding of the harms and risks of many of these products.

Dissipating the industry fog of doubt, denial, and deflection, we can more clearly see that glyphosate, as well as many of the most widely used pesticides in the world, are indeed harmful — to people and planet. And, not only is it possible to feed the world without glyphosate and other toxic pesticides, but given increasing weed and pest resistance to these pesticides and their impact on the climate and on the health of the soil, water, and biodiversity on which we depend to grow food, it is indeed our only way to do so.

While the propaganda tactics of Big Oil and Big Tobacco are well-documented and their grave impacts well understood, the pesticide industry’s similar role in widespread disinformation, and its extensive scope and impact, has not been as well documented or publicly understood. We hope this report, and the chorus of recent reporting, will change that and give journalists, policy makers, public interest groups, and consumers the tools they need to correct the record, hold pesticide companies accountable, and foster a more honest conversation about the choices we face for our food system and our future.

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[1] Byrne, J. (2001). Protecting Your Assets: An Inside Look at the Perils and Power of the Internet. [Internal Monsanto Document]. U.S. Right to Know.

[2] Monbiot, G. (2002, November 19). The Covert Biotech War. The Guardian.

[3] Byrne, J. (2001). Protecting Your Assets: An Inside Look at the Perils and Power of the Internet. [Internal Monsanto Document]. U.S. Right to Know.

[4] Monbiot, G. (2002, Mary 14). The Fake Persuaders. The Guardian.

[5] Goldhaber, S. (2021, June 14). The Emperor – IARC – Has No Clothes. American Council on Science and Health.

[6] English, C. (2021, June 17). Glyphosate Doesn’t Cause Cancer: New EU Report Confirms What We Already Knew. American Council on Science and Health.

[7]Seife, C. [@cgseife]. (2018). Thread: Mapping a @monsanto-loving octopus. Let’s start with @scienceblogs. [Tweet]. Twitter.

[8] IRS 990, American Council on Science and Health, 2016.

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

[10] A note on methodology:These searches were conducted using a new computer, incognito function, or newly downloaded browsers to avoid the influence of search history on the results.

[11]IRS 990, Science LIterary Project, 2020. U.S. Right to Know. (see Schedule B.)

[12] Entine, J. (2020, February 6). With Roundup-cancer settlement looming, activists revive conspiracy claim that glyphosate surfactants threaten human health. Genetic Literacy Project.

[13] English, C. (Online). Cameron English. American Council on Science and Health.

[14] Bayer Global. (Online). Roundup litigation – five-point plan.

[15] Google. (Online). Products – how news works.

[16] SISTRIX. (2021, January 18). Why (almost) everything you knew about google CTR is no longer valid.

[17] Lahey, C. (2021, May 26). 15 Keys to Improve Your SEO Ranking. Semrush Blog.

[18] Gardner, S. (2020, January 31). Four Pesticides Could Show U.K.’s Post-Brexit Regulation Plans. Bloomberg Law.

[19] Entine, J. (2020, February 4). Post-Brexit rules on glyphosate, neonicotinoid pesticides may reveal UK’s willingness to break from EU regulations. Genetic Literacy Project.

[20] Genetic Literacy Project. (2022, May 16). GLP’s aggregation of articles and use of images under the Fair Use copyright exception.

[21] Attorney General Becerra Files Amicus Brief in Lawsuit Against. (2020, February 12). State of California – Department of Justice – Office of the Attorney General.

[22] Entine, J. (2020, February 13). California attorney general sides with Bayer glyphosate cancer plaintiffs, challenges appeal of $78.5 million verdict. Genetic Literacy Project.

[23] Olalde, M. (2020, February 3). U.S. EPA unveils new pesticide rules, pleasing farmers but upsetting environmentalists. Palm Springs Desert Sun.

[24] Entine, J. (2020, February 4). Farmers cheer EPA rulings on glyphosate, neonicotinoid pesticides, while activists pan them as concessions to industry. Genetic Literacy Project.

[25] Woollacott, B. E. (2020, January 28). Zap! How microwaves and electricity are killing weeds. BBC News.

[26] Entine, J. (2020a, January 28). Glyphosate herbicide cancer fears could turn electricity, microwaves into viable weed-killing tools. Genetic Literacy Project.


[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Fleishman Hillard. (2017, March 24). Let Nothing Go Weekly Report. [Internal Monsanto Document]. U.S. Right to Know.

[31] Gillam, C. (2013, July 29). GMO companies launch website to fight anti-biotech movement. Reuters.

[32] GMO Answers. (Online). GMO Answers Stands by Our Commitment to Answering Questions with Transparency.

[33] Malkan, S. (2020, September 2). Council for Biotechnology Information, GMO Answers, CropLife: pesticide industry PR initiatives. U.S. Right to Know.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Gustin, G. (2013, October 12). Monsanto, other biotech companies, launch website to answer GMO-related questions. St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

[36] U.S. Right to Know FOIA Communications Plan. (2019, July 25). Monsanto Internal Document. U.S. Right to Know.

[37] Bruce M. Chassy. GMO Answers. (Online).

[38] Eng, M. (2016, April 1). Why didn’t an Illinois professor have to disclose GMO funding? WBEZ Chicago.

[39] Schmidt, E. (2013, July 31). Additional GMO Answers Question- Assistance Requested. U.S. Right to Know.

[40] Saltmiras, D. (n.d.). Does glyphosate cause cancer? GMO Answers.

[41] GMO Answers. (Online). IARC’s classification of glyphosate – what does it mean for you?

[42] Ibid.

[43] GMO Answers. (Online). GLP Staff and Contributors.

[44] Ruskin, G. (2018, August 1). The GMO Industry Doesn’t Want You to See This Video. U.S. Right to Know.

[45] GMO Answers. (2022). Clios.

[46] M. Nestle. (2017, June 20). GMO propaganda film: Food Evolution. Food Politics by Marion Nestle.

[47] Nestle, M. (2017, June 27). A win for GMO trolls: This blog no longer accepts comments. Food Politics by Marion Nestle.

[48]Taleb, N. et al. (2014, October 17). The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms). NYU School of Engineering.

[49] Spitznagel, M., & Taleb, N. N. (2015, July 13). Another ‘Too Big to Fail’ System in G.M.O.s. The New York Times.

[50] Conko, G. (2015, July 16). More Unintelligible Gibberish on GMO Risks from Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Competitive Enterprise Institute.

[51] D. Ropeik [@dropeik]. Anti GMO advocacy masquerading as ostensibly rational argument. So many examples. Anti-Monsanto? [Tweet]. [Link attached]. Twitter.

[52] Ropeik, D. (2014, November 11). On Taleb’s “The precautionary principle (with application to the genetic modification of… Medium.

[53]Entine, J. (2014, November 3). Is Nassim Taleb a “dangerous imbecile” or on the pay of anti-GMO activists? Genetic Literacy Project.

[54] Kloor, K. [@keithkloor]. Imbeciles on Twitter continue to distract @nntaleb Via @DiscoverMag. [Tweet]. [Link attached]. Twitter. For more on Kloor’s industry ties see, Malkan, S., (2018, November 1) Keith Kloor: How a science journalist worked behind the scenes with industry allies, U.S. Right to Know

[55] Lynas, M. [@mark_lynas]. ‘More unintelligible gibberish on GMO risks from @nntaleb” – great blog @ceidotorg… Naturalistic fallacy writ large.[Tweet]. [Link Attached]. Twitter.

[56] Monbiot, G. (2002, November 19). The Covert Biotech War. The Guardian.

[57] Bonus Eventus. (Online).

[58] Entine, J. (2015, July 10). Biotech Literacy Project 2015 – Summary Evaluation and Assessment. UC Davis Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy. U.S. Right to Know.

[59] Warrick, J. (2017, May 10). U of S defends Prof’s Monsanto ties, but some faculty disagree. CBC news.; Warrick, J. (2017, May 7). U of S professor says there’s nothing unusual about his ties to Monsanto. CBC News.; Bluethner, A. (2016). Email communication between Peter Phillips and chemical industry organizations. U.S. Right to Know.;

[60] Hakim, D. (2016, October 29). Doubts about the promised bounty of genetically modified crops. The New York Times.

[61] Malkan, S. (2021, March 24). Julie Kelly cooks up propaganda for the agrichemical industry. U.S. Right to Know.

[62] Ruskin, G. (2021, March 26). Henry Miller’s Monsanto Ties. U.S. Right to Know.

[63] Malkan, S. (2019, May 15). Why Forbes deleted some Kavin Senapathy articles. U.S. Right to Know.

[64] Malkan, S. (2021, March 8). Hank Campbell’s Shady Maze of monsanto-loving science blogs. U.S. Right to Know.

[65] Goldstein, D. A. (2015, February 6). ACSH. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[66] Byrne, J. (Online). Jay Byrne Linkedin Profile. U.S. Right to Know.

[67] Byrne, J. (2013, May). Food & Agricultural Advocacy Background & Best Practices. U.S.Right to Know.

[68] Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Online). African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

[69] Byrne, J. (2013, May). Food & Agricultural Advocacy Background & Best Practices. U.S.Right to Know.

[70] N. Oreskes & E.M. Conway. (2011, May 31). Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsbury Press.

[71] Kenner, Robert. (2014, August 30). Merchants of Doubt. [Film]. Participant Media.

[72] M. Holtzman. (2013, December 13). Re: anti-GMO crop biotech challenges with GLP and Jay Byrne. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[73] Ibid.

[74] B.M. Chassy. (2012, April 27). RE: U-Tube Videos. [Email]. U.S. Right to Know.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Daly, M. (2021, October 27). Watch: Oil executives testify over climate misinformation in house hearing. PBS. Retrieved August 24, 2022, from

[77] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, April 28). Tobacco-related mortality. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[78] WebMD. (2021, July 8). Climate change causes 5 million extra deaths per year.

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