International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a Food Industry Lobby Group

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The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a corporate-funded nonprofit organization based in Washington DC, with 17 affiliated chapters around the world. ILSI describes itself as a group that conducts “science for the public good” and “improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment.” However, investigations by academics, journalists and public interest researchers show that ILSI is a lobby group that protects the interests of the food industry, not public health.

Recent news

  • An April 2021 study in Globalization and Health documents how ILSI plays a key role in helping the food industry shape scientific principles by promoting the acceptance of public-private partnerships and permissiveness about conflicts of interest. 
  • Coca-Cola has severed its longtime ties with ILSI. The move is “a blow to the powerful food organization known for its pro-sugar research and policies,” Bloomberg reported in January 2021.  
  • ILSI helped Coca-Cola Company shape obesity policy in China, according to a September 2020 study in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh. “Beneath ILSI’s public narrative of unbiased science and no policy advocacy lay a maze of hidden channels companies used to advance their interests. Working through those channels, Coca Cola influenced China’s science and policy making during every phase in the policy process, from framing the issues to drafting official policy,” the paper concludes.

  • Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know add more evidence that ILSI is a food industry front group. A May 2020 study in Public Health Nutrition based on the documents reveal “a pattern of activity in which ILSI sought to exploit the credibility of scientists and academics to bolster industry positions and promote industry-devised content in its meetings, journal, and other activities.” See coverage in The BMJ, Food and drink industry sought to influence scientists and academics, emails show  (5.22.20)

  • Corporate Accountability’s April 2020 report examines how food and beverage corporations have leveraged ILSI to infiltrate the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and cripple progress on nutrition policy around the globe. See coverage in The BMJ, Food and soft drink industry has too much influence over US dietary guidelines, report says (4.24.20) 

  • New York Times investigation by Andrew Jacobs reveals that a trustee of the industry-funded nonprofit ILSI advised the Indian government against going ahead with warning labels on unhealthy foods. The Times described ILSI as a “shadowy industry group” and “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of.” (9.16.19) The Times cited a June study in Globalization and Health co-authored by Gary Ruskin of U.S. Right to Know reporting that ILSI operates as a lobby arm for its food and pesticide industry funders.

  • The New York Times revealed the undisclosed ILSI ties of Bradley C. Johnston, a co-author of five recent studies claiming red and processed meat don’t pose significant health problems. Johnston used similar methods in an ILSI-funded study to claim sugar is not a problem. (10.4.19)

  • Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog, ILSI: true colors revealed (10.3.19)

ILSI ties to Coca-Cola 

ILSI was founded in 1978 by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president at Coca-Cola who worked for Coke from 1969-2001. Coca-Cola has kept close ties with ILSI. Michael Ernest Knowles, Coca-Cola’s VP of global scientific and regulatory affairs from 2008–2013, was president of ILSI from 2009-2011. In 2015, ILSI’s president was Rhona Applebaum, who retired from her job as Coca-Cola’s chief health and science officer (and from ILSI) in 2015 after the New York Times and Associated Press reported that Coke funded the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network to help shift blame for obesity away from sugary drinks.  

Corporate funding 

ILSI is funded by its corporate members and company supporters, including leading food and chemical companies. ILSI acknowledges receiving funding from industry but does not publicly disclose who donates or how much they contribute. Our research reveals:

  • Corporate contributions to ILSI Global amounting to $2.4 million in 2012. This included $528,500 from CropLife International, a $500,000 contribution from Monsanto and $163,500 from Coca-Cola.
  • A draft 2013 ILSI tax return shows ILSI received $337,000 from Coca-Cola and more than $100,000 each from Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Agrisciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Bayer CropScience and BASF.
  • A draft 2016 ILSI North America tax return shows a $317,827 contribution from PepsiCo, contributions greater than $200,000 from Mars, Coca-Cola, and Mondelez, and contributions greater than $100,000 from General Mills, Nestle, Kellogg, Hershey, Kraft, Dr. Pepper, Snapple Group, Starbucks Coffee, Cargill, Uniliver and Campbell Soup.  

Emails show how ILSI seeks to influence policy to promote industry views 

A May 2020 study in Public Health Nutrition adds evidence that ILSI is a food industry front group. The study, based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records requests, reveals how ILSI promotes the interests of the food and agrichemical industries, including ILSI’s role in defending controversial food ingredients and suppressing views that are unfavorable to industry; that corporations such as Coca-Cola can earmark contributions to ILSI for specific programs; and, how ILSI uses academics for their authority but allows industry hidden influence in their publications.

The study also reveals new details about which companies fund ILSI and its branches, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions documented from leading junk food, soda and chemical companies.

A June 2019 paper in Globalization and Health provides several examples of how ILSI advances the interests of the food industry, especially by promoting industry-friendly science and arguments to policymakers. The study is based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records laws.  

The researchers concluded: “ILSI seeks to influence individuals, positions, and policy, both nationally and internationally, and its corporate members deploy it as a tool to promote their interests globally. Our analysis of ILSI serves as a caution to those involved in global health governance to be wary of putatively independent research groups, and to practice due diligence before relying upon their funded studies and/or engaging in relationship with such groups.”   

ILSI undermined obesity fight in China

In January 2019, two papers by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh revealed ILSI’s powerful influence on the Chinese government on issues related to obesity. The papers document how Coca-Cola and other corporations worked through the China branch of ILSI to influence decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Read the papers:

ILSI is so well-placed in China that it operates from inside the government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing.

Professor Geenhalgh’s papers document how Coca-Cola and other Western food and beverage giants “helped shape decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related diseases” by operating through ILSI to cultivate key Chinese officials “in an effort to stave off the growing movement for food regulation and soda taxes that has been sweeping the west,” the New York Times reported.  

Additional academic research from U.S. Right to Know about ILSI 

The UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents Archive has over 6,800 documents pertaining to ILSI.  

ILSI sugar study “right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook”

Public health experts denounced an ILSI-funded sugar study published in a prominent medical journal in 2016 that was a “scathing attack on global health advice to eat less sugar,” reported Anahad O’Connor in The New York Times. The ILSI-funded study argued that warnings to cut sugar are based on weak evidence and cannot be trusted.  

The Times story quoted Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research, on the ILSI study: “This comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science,” Nestle said. “This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.” 

Tobacco companies used ILSI to thwart policy 

A July 2000 report by an independent committee of the World Health Organization outlined a number of ways in which the tobacco industry attempted to undermine WHO tobacco control efforts, including using scientific groups to influence WHO’s decision-making and to manipulate scientific debate surrounding the health effects of tobacco. ILSI played a key role in these efforts, according to a case study on ILSI that accompanied the report. Findings indicate that ILSI was used by certain tobacco companies to thwart tobacco control policies. Senior office bearers in ILSI were directly involved in these actions,” according to the case study. See: 

The UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents Archive has more than 6,800 documents pertaining to ILSI

ILSI leaders helped defend glyphosate as chairs of key panel 

In May 2016, ILSI came under scrutiny after revelations that the vice president of ILSI Europe, Professor Alan Boobis, was also chairman of a UN panel that found Monsanto’s chemical glyphosate was unlikely to pose a cancer risk through diet. The co-chair of the UN Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), Professor Angelo Moretto, was a board member of ILSI’s Health and Environment Services Institute. Neither of the JMPR chairs declared their ILSI leadership roles as conflicts of interest, despite the significant financial contributions ILSI has received from Monsanto and the pesticide industry trade group. See: 

ILSI’s cozy ties at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  

In June 2016, U.S. Right to Know reported that Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of a CDC division charged with preventing heart disease and stroke, tried to help ILSI’s founder Alex Malaspina influence World Health Organization officials to back off policies to reduce sugar consumption. Bowman suggested people and groups for Malaspina to talk to, and solicited his comments on some CDC summaries of reports, the emails show. (Bowman stepped down after our first article was published reporting on these ties.)

This January 2019 study in the Milbank Quarterly describes key emails of Malaspina cozying up to Dr. Bowman. For more reporting on this topic, see: 

ILSI influence on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

report by the nonprofit group Corporate Accountability documents how ILSI has major influence on U.S. dietary guidelines via its infiltration of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.  The report examines the pervasive political interference of food and beverage transnationals like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nestlé, and PepsiCo, and how these corporations have leveraged the International Life Sciences Institute to cripple progress on nutrition policy across the globe.

ILSI influence in India 

The New York Times reported on ILSI’s influence in India in its article titled, “A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World.”

ILSI has close ties to some Indian government officials and, as in China, the nonprofit has pushed similar messaging and policy proposals as Coca-Cola – downplaying the role of sugar and diet as a cause of obesity, and promoting increased physical activity as the solution, according to the India Resource Center. 

Members of ILSI India’s board of trustees include Coca-Cola India’s director of regulatory affairs and representatives from Nestlé and Ajinomoto, a food additive company, along with government officials who serve on scientific panels that are tasked with deciding about food safety issues.  

Longstanding concerns about ILSI 

ILSI insists it is not an industry lobby group, but concerns and complaints are longstanding about the group’s pro-industry stances and conflicts of interest among the organization’s leaders. See, for example:

Untangle food industry influences, Nature Medicine (2019)

Food agency denies conflict-of-interest claim. But accusations of industry ties may taint European body’s reputation, Nature (2010)

Big Food Vs. Tim Noakes: The Final Crusade, Keep Fitness Legal, by Russ Greene (1.5.17) 

Real Food on Trial, by Dr. Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros (Columbus Publishing 2019). The book describes “the unprecedented prosecution and persecution of Professor Tim Noakes, a distinguished scientist and medical doctor, in a multimillion rand case that stretched over more than four years. All for a single tweet giving his opinion on nutrition.”

The Dicamba Papers: Key Documents and Analysis

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

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

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

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

Federal Action

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

Neonicotinoids: a growing concern

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On January 10, The Guardian published this story about a small rural Nebraska community that has been struggling for at least two years with contamination tied to neonicotinoid-coated corn seed. The source is an area ethanol plant that has been marketing itself as a free “recycling” location for seed companies such as Bayer, Syngenta and others who needed a place to get rid of excess supplies of these pesticide-treated seed stocks. The result, the townspeople say, is a landscape laced with stunningly high levels of neonicotinoid residues, which they say have triggered illnesses in both humans and animals. They fear their land and water are now irreparably contaminated.

State environmental officials have recorded levels of the neonicotinoids at a staggering 427,000 parts per billion (ppb) in testing of one of the large hills of waste on the site of the ethanol plant property. That compares to regulatory benchmarks saying levels must be under 70 ppb to be considered safe.

See this page for more details and documents.

The tale of the toll on the community in Mead, Nebraska, is but the latest sign that state and federal regulatory oversight of neonicotinoids needs to be strengthened, according to environmental advocates and researchers from several U.S. universities.

Most widely used insecticides

The controversy over the class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, has been growing in recent years and has become a global conflict between the corporate behemoths that sell neonics and environmental and consumer groups who say the insecticides are responsible for extensive environmental and human health harm.

Since being introduced in the 1990s, neonicotinoids have become the world’s most widely used class of insecticides, sold in at least 120 countries to help control damaging insects and protect agricultural production. The insecticides are not only sprayed on plants but also coated on seeds. Neonicotinoids are used in producing many types of crops, including rice, cotton, corn, potatoes and soybeans. As of 2014, neonicotinoids represented more than 25 percent of the global pesticide market, according to researchers.

Within the class, clothianidin and imidacloprid are the most commonly used in the United States, according to a 2019 paper published in the journal Environmental Health.

In January 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed interim decisions for acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, specific insecticides within the neonicotinoid class. The EPA said it was working to reduce the amount used on crops associated with “potential ecological risks,” restricting when the pesticides could be applied to blooming crops.

Tied to bee deaths

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that neonicotinoids are a factor in the widespread colony collapse disorder of bees, which are essential pollinators in food production. They are also seen as at least partly to blame for an “insect apocalypse. The insecticides have also been tied to serious defects in white-tailed deer, deepening concerns over the chemical’s potential to harm large mammals, including people.

The European Union banned the outdoor use of neonics clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam in 2018, and the United Nations says neonics are so hazardous that they should be “severely” restricted. But in the United States, neonics remain widely used.

Bayer’s Shady PR Firms: FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, FTI Consulting

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Originally posted May 2019; updated November 2020

In this post, U.S. Right to Know is tracking public deception scandals involving PR firms that agrichemical giants Bayer AG and Monsanto have relied on for their product defense campaigns: FTI consulting, Ketchum PR and FleishmanHillard. These firms have long histories of using deceptive tactics to promote the political agendas of their clients, including pesticide, tobacco and oil industry defense campaigns.

Recent scandals

NYT exposes FTI Consulting firm’s shady tactics for the oil industry: In a Nov. 11, 2020 New York Times article, Hiroko Tabuchi reveals how FTI Consulting “helped design, staff and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that can appear to represent grassroots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.” Based on her interviews with a dozen former FTI staffers and hundreds of internal documents, Tabuchi reports on how FTI monitored environmental activists, ran astroturf political campaigns, staffed two news and information sites and wrote pro-industry articles on fracking, climate lawsuits and other hot-button issues with direction from Exxon Mobile.

Monsanto and its PR firms orchestrated GOP effort to intimidate cancer researchers: Lee Fang reported for The Intercept in 2019 on documents suggesting that Monsanto antagonized regulators and applied pressure to shape research of the world’s leading herbicide, glyphosate. The story reports on deceptive PR tactics, including how FTI Consulting drafted a letter about glyphosate science signed by a senior GOP congressman.

Monsanto documents reveal tactics to discredit public interest investigation: Internal Monsanto documents released via litigation in August 2019 revealed a range of tactics the company and its PR firms used to target journalists and other influencers who raised concerns about pesticides and GMOs, and tried to counter an investigation into their activities by U.S. Right to Know.

See USRTK’s fact sheets, based on documents obtained from our investigation, reporting on third-parties engaged in pesticide industry defense: Tracking the Pesticide Industry Propaganda Network.

In May 2019, we reported on several scandals involving Bayer’s PR firms:

‘Monsanto File’ scandal

Journalists at Le Monde reported May 9 that they obtained a “Monsanto File” created by the public relations firm FleishmanHillard listing a “multitude of information” about 200 journalists, politicians, scientists and others deemed likely to influence the debate on glyphosate in France. Le Monde filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor’s office alleging that the document involved illegal collection and processing of personal data, spurring the prosecutor’s office to open a criminal probe. “This is a very important discovery because it shows there are objective strategies to silence strong voices. I can see they were trying to isolate me,” France’s former Environment Minister Segolene Royal, who is on the list, told France 24 TV.

“This is a very important discovery because it shows there are objective strategies to silence strong voices.”

Francois Veillerette, an environmentalist also on the list, told France 24 that it contained personal contact details, opinions and level of engagement in relation to Monsanto. “This is a major shock in France,” he said. “We don’t think this is normal.” Bayer has since admitted that FleishmanHillard drew up “‘watch lists’ of pro- or anti-pesticides figures” in seven countries across Europe, the AFP reported. The lists contained information about journalists, politicians and other interest groups. The AFP said it filed a complaint with a French regulatory agency because some of its journalists were on the list that surfaced in France.

Bayer apologized and said it suspended its relationship with the firms involved, including FleishmanHillard and Publicis Consultants, pending an investigation. “Our highest priority is to create transparency,” Bayer said. “We do not tolerate unethical behavior in our company.” (The firms were later cleared of wrongdoing by the law firm hired by Bayer.)

Further reading:

Posing as a reporter at Monsanto cancer trial

Adding to Bayer’s PR troubles, AFP reported on May 18 that an employee of another “crisis management” PR firm that works with Bayer and Monsanto — FTI Consulting — was caught posing as a freelance journalist at a federal trial in San Francisco that ended with an $80 million judgment against Bayer over glyphosate cancer concerns.

The FTI Consulting employee Sylvie Barak was seen chatted up reporters about story ideas at the trial. She claimed to work for the BBC and did not disclose that she actually worked for a PR firm.

Further reading:

Ketchum and FleishmanHillard run GMO PR salvo

In 2013, the agrichemical industry tapped FleishmanHillard and Ketchum, both owned by Omnicom, to head up a PR offensive to rehabilitate the image of its embattled GMO and pesticide products. Monsanto selected FleishmanHillard to “reshape” its reputation amid “fierce opposition” to genetically modified foods, according to the Holmes Report. Around the same time, FleishmanHillard also became the PR agency of record for Bayer, and the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) — a trade group funded by Bayer (Monsanto), Corteva (DowDuPont), Syngenta and BASF — hired Ketchum public relations firm to launch a marketing campaign called GMO Answers.

Spin tactics employed by these firms included “wooing mommy bloggers” and using the voices of supposedly “independent” experts to “clear up confusion and mistrust” about GMOs. However, evidence surfaced that the PR firms edited and scripted some of the “independent” experts. For example, documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that Ketchum scripted posts for GMO Answers that were signed by a University of Florida professor who claimed to be independent as he worked behind the scenes with Monsanto on PR projects. A senior vice president at FleishmanHillard edited the speech of a UC Davis professor and coached her how to “win over people in the room” at an IQ2 debate to convince the public to accept GMOs. Ketchum also gave the professor talking points for a radio interview about a scientific study.

Academics were important messengers for industry lobbying efforts to oppose GMO labeling, reported the New York Times in 2015. “Professors/researchers/scientists have a big white hat in this debate and support in their states, from politicians to producers,” Bill Mashek, a vice president at Ketchum, wrote to the University of Florida professor. “Keep it up!”  The industry trade group CBI has spent over $11 million on Ketchum’s GMO Answers since 2013, according to tax records.

GMO Answers ‘crisis management’ success

As one sign of its success as a PR spin tool, GMO Answers was shortlisted for a CLIO advertising award in 2014 in the category of “Crisis Management & Issue Management.” In this video for CLIO, Ketchum bragged about how it nearly doubled positive media attention of GMOs and “balanced 80% of interactions”  on Twitter. Many of those online interactions are from accounts that appear independent and do not disclose their connection to industry’s PR campaign.

Although the Ketchum video claimed GMO Answers would “redefine transparency” with information from experts with “nothing filtered or censored, and no voices silenced,” a Monsanto PR plan suggests the company counted on GMO Answers to help spin its products in a positive light. The document from 2015 listed GMO Answers among the “industry partners” that could help protect Roundup from cancer concerns; in a “resources” section on page 4, the plan listed links to GMO Answers alongside Monsanto documents that could communicate the company message that “Glyphosate is not carcinogenic.”

This Ketchum video was posted to the CLIO website and removed after we called attention to it.

Further reading:

Histories of deception: FleishmanHillard, Ketchum

Why any company would put FleishmanHillard or Ketchum, both owned by the PR conglomerate Omnicom, in front of efforts to inspire trust is difficult to understand. Both companies have long histories of documented deception. For example:

Until 2016, Ketchum was the PR firm for Russia and Vladimir Putin. According to documents obtained by ProPublica, Ketchum was caught placing pro-Putin op-eds under the names of “seemingly independent professionals” in various news outlets. In 2015, the embattled Honduran government hired Ketchum to try to rehabilitate its reputation after a multi-million dollar corruption scandal.

Documents leaked to Mother Jones indicate that Ketchum worked with a private security firm that “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.” FleishmanHillard was also caught using unethical espionage tactics against public health and tobacco control advocates on behalf of the tobacco company R. J. Reynolds, according to a study by Ruth Malone in the American Journal of Public Health. The PR firm even secretly audiotaped tobacco control meetings and conferences.

FleishmanHillard was the public relations firm for The Tobacco Institute, the cigarette industry’s main lobbying organization, for seven years. In a 1996 Washington Post article, Morton Mintz recounted the story of how FleishmanHillard and the Tobacco Institute converted the Healthy Buildings Institute into a front group for the tobacco industry in its effort to spin away public concern about the dangers of second-hand smoke. Ketchum also did work for the tobacco industry.

Both firms have at times worked on both sides of an issue. FleishmanHillard has been hired for anti-smoking campaigns. In 2017, Ketchum launched a spin-off firm called Cultivate to cash in on the growing organic food market, even though Ketchum’s GMO Answers has disparaged organic food, claiming that consumers pay a “hefty premium” for food that is no better than conventionally-grown food.

Further reading:

FTI Consulting: climate deception, tobacco ties

FTI Consulting, the “crisis management” PR firm that works with Bayer and whose employee was caught impersonating a journalist at the recent Roundup cancer trial in San Francisco, shares several similarities with FleishmanHillard and Ketchum, including its use of covert tactics, lack of transparency and history of working with the tobacco industry.

The firm is known as a key player in ExxonMobil’s efforts to evade responsibility for climate change. As Elana Schor and Andrew Restuccia reported in Politico in 2016:

“Aside from [Exxon] itself, the most vocal resistance to the greens has come from FTI Consulting, a firm filled with former Republican aides that has helped unify the GOP in defense of fossil fuels. Under the banner of Energy in Depth, a project it runs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, FTI has peppered reporters with emails that suggest “collusion” between green activists and state AGs, and has raised questions over InsideClimate’s Rockefeller grants.”

FTI Consulting employees have been caught impersonating journalists before. Karen Savage reported in January 2019 in Climate Liability News, “Two public relations strategists representing Exxon recently posed as journalists in an attempt to interview an attorney representing Colorado communities that are suing Exxon for climate change-related damages. The strategists—Michael Sandoval and Matt Dempsey—are employed by FTI Consulting, a firm long linked with the oil and gas industry.” According to Climate Liability News, the two men were listed as writers for Western Wire, a website run by oil interests and staffed with strategists from FTI Consulting, which also provides staff to Energy In Depth, a pro-fossil fuel “research, education and public outreach campaign.”

Energy In Depth presented itself as a “mom and pop shop” representing small energy providers but was created by major oil and gas companies to lobby for deregulation, DeSmog blog reported in 2011. The Greenpeace group uncovered a 2009 industry memo describing Energy In Depth as a “new industry-wide campaign… to combat new environmental regulations, especially with regard to hydraulic fracturing” that “would not be possible without the early financial commitments” of major oil and gas interests including BP, Halliburton, Chevron, Shell, XTO Energy (now owned by ExxonMobil).

Another feature in common with all these firms is their tobacco industry ties. FTI Consulting has “a long history of working with the tobacco industry,” according to Tobacco Tactics.org. A search of the UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents library brings up over 2,400 documents relating to FTI Consulting.

Further reading:

More reporting on Bayer’s PR scandals

Coverage in French

Coverage in English

Cornell Alliance for Science is a PR Campaign for the Agrichemical Industry

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Despite its academic-sounding name and affiliation with an Ivy League institution, the Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS) is a public relations campaign funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that trains fellows around the world to promote and defend genetically engineered crops and agrichemicals in their home countries. Numerous academics, food policy experts, food and farming groups have called out the inaccurate messaging and deceptive tactics CAS associates have used to try to discredit concerns about and alternatives to industrial agriculture.

In September, CAS announced $10 million in new funding from the Gates Foundation, bringing total Gates funding to $22 million since 2014. The new funding comes as Gates Foundation is facing pushback from African farming, food and faith groups for spending billions of dollars on agricultural development schemes in Africa that evidence shows are failing to alleviate hunger or lift up small farmers, as they entrench farming methods that benefit corporations over people. 

This fact sheet documents many examples of misinformation from CAS and people affiliated with the group.  The examples described here provide evidence that CAS is using Cornell’s name, reputation and authority to advance the PR and political agenda of the world’s largest chemical and seed corporations.

Industry-aligned mission and messaging

CAS launched in 2014 with a $5.6 million Gates Foundation grant and promises to “depolarize” the debate around GMOs. The group says its mission is to “promote access” to GMO crops and foods by training “science allies” around the world to educate their communities about the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

Pesticide industry group promotes CAS 

A key part of the CAS strategy is to recruit and train Global Leadership Fellows in communications and promotional tactics, focusing on regions where there is public opposition to the biotech industry, particularly African countries that have resisted GMO crops.

The CAS mission is strikingly similar to the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), a pesticide-industry funded public relations initiative that has partnered with CAS. The industry group worked to build alliances across the food chain and train third-parties, particularly academics and farmers, to persuade the public to accept GMOs.

CAS messaging aligns closely with pesticide industry PR: a myopic focus on  touting the possible future benefits of genetically engineered foods while downplaying, ignoring or denying risks and problems. Like industry PR efforts, CAS also focuses heavily on attacking and trying to discredit critics of agrichemical products, including scientists and journalists who raise health or environmental concerns.

Widespread criticism

CAS and its writers have drawn criticism from academics, farmers, students, community groups and food sovereignty movements who say the group promotes inaccurate and misleading messaging and uses unethical tactics. See for example:

Examples of misleading messaging

Experts in genetic engineering, biology, agroecology and food policy have documented many examples of inaccurate claims made by Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell who has written dozens of articles defending agrichemical products in the name of CAS; see for example his many articles promoted by the Genetic Literacy Project, a PR group that works with Monsanto. Lynas’ 2018 book argues for African countries to accept GMOs, and devotes a chapter to defending Monsanto.

Inaccurate claims about GMOs

Numerous scientists have criticized Lynas for making false statements, “unscientific, illogical and absurd” arguments, promoting dogma over data and research on GMOs, rehashing industry talking points, and making inaccurate claims about pesticides that “display a deep scientific ignorance, or an active effort to manufacture doubt.”

“The laundry list of what Mark Lynas got wrong about both GMOs and science is extensive, and has been refuted point by point by some of the world’s leading agroecologists and biologists,” wrote Eric Holt-Giménez, executive director of Food First, in April 2013 (Lynas joined Cornell as a visiting fellow later that year).  

“disingenuous and untruthful”

Africa-based groups have critiqued Lynas at length. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, a coalition of more than 40 food and farming groups across Africa, has described Lynas as a “fly-in pundit” whose “contempt for African people, custom and tradition is unmistakable.” Million Belay, director of AFSA, described Lynas as “a racist who is pushing a narrative that only industrial agriculture can save Africa.”

In a 2018 press release, the South Africa-based African Centre for Biodiversity described unethical tactics Lynas has used to promote the biotech lobby agenda in Tanzania. “There is an issue definitely about accountability and [need for] reigning the Cornell Alliance for Science in, because of the misinformation and the way that they are extremely disingenuous and untruthful,” Mariam Mayet, executive director of the African Centre for Biodiversity, said in a July 2020 webinar.

For detailed critiques of Lynas’ work, see articles at the end of this post and our Mark Lynas fact sheet.

Attacking agroecology

A recent example of inaccurate messaging is a widely panned article on the CAS website by Lynas claiming, “agro-ecology risks harming the poor.” Academics described the article as a “demagogic and non-scientific interpretation of a scientific paper,” “deeply unserious,” “pure ideology” and “an embarrassment for someone who wants to claim to be scientific,” a “really flawed analysis“ that makes “sweeping generalizations“ and “wild conclusions.” Some critics called for a retraction.

2019 article by CAS fellow Nassib Mugwanya provides another example of misleading content on the topic of agroecology. The article, “Why traditional agricultural practices can’t transform African agriculture,” reflects the typical messaging pattern in CAS materials: presenting GMO crops as the “pro-science” position while painting “alternative forms of agricultural development as ‘anti-science,’ groundless and harmful,” according to an analysis by the Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice.

“Particularly notable in the article are strong usages of metaphors (e.g., agroecology likened to handcuffs), generalizations, omissions of information and a number of factual inaccuracies,” the group said.

Using Monsanto playbook to defend pesticides

Another example of misleading industry-aligned CAS messaging can be found in the group’s defense of glyphosate-based Roundup. The herbicides are a key component of GMO crops with 90% of corn and soy grown in the United States genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup. In 2015, after the World Health Organization’s cancer research panel said glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, Monsanto organized allies to “orchestrate outcry” against the independent science panel to “protect the reputation” of Roundup, according to internal Monsanto documents.

Monsanto’s PR playbook: attacking cancer experts as ‘activists’

Mark Lynas used the CAS platform to amplify the Monsanto messaging, describing the cancer report as a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “anti-Monsanto activists” who “abused science” and committed “an obvious perversion of both science and natural justice” by reporting a cancer risk for glyphosate. Lynas used the same flawed arguments and industry sources as the American Council on Science and Health, a front group Monsanto paid to help spin the cancer report.

While claiming to be on the side of science, Lynas ignored ample evidence from Monsanto documents, widely reported in the press, that Monsanto interfered with scientific research, manipulated regulatory agencies and used other heavy-handed tactics to manipulate the scientific process in order to protect Roundup. In 2018, a jury found the that Monsanto “acted with malice, oppression or fraud” in covering up the cancer risk of Roundup.

Lobbying for pesticides and GMOs

Although its main geographical focus is Africa, CAS also aids pesticide industry efforts to defend pesticides and discredit public health advocates in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Islands are an important testing ground for GMO crops and also an area that reports high exposures to pesticides and concerns about pesticide-related health problems, including birth defects, cancer and asthma. These problems led residents to organize a years-long fight to pass stronger regulations to reduce pesticide exposures and improve disclosure of the chemicals used on agricultural fields.

“launched vicious attacks”

As these efforts gained traction, CAS engaged in a “massive public relations disinformation campaign designed to silence community concerns” about the health risks of pesticides, according to Fern Anuenue Holland, a community organizer for Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action. In the Cornell Daily Sun, Holland described how “paid Cornell Alliance for Science fellows — under the guise of scientific expertise — launched vicious attacks. They used social media and wrote dozens of blog posts condemning impacted community members and other leaders who had the courage to speak up.”

Holland said she and other members of her organization were subjected to “character assassinations, misrepresentations and attacks on personal and professional credibility” by CAS affiliates. “I have personally witnessed families and lifelong friendships torn apart,” she wrote.

Opposing the public’s right to know     

CAS Director Sarah Evanega, PhD, has said her group is independent of industry: “We do not write for industry, and we do not advocate or promote industry-owned products. As our website clearly and fully discloses, we receive no resources from industry.” However, dozens of emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know, now posted in the UCSF chemical industry documents library, show CAS and Evanega coordinating closely with the pesticide industry and its front groups on public relations initiatives. Examples include:

More examples of CAS partnerships with industry groups are described at the bottom of this fact sheet.  

Elevating front groups, unreliable messengers

In its efforts to promote GMOs as a “science-based” solution for agriculture, Cornell Alliance for Science has lent its platform to industry front groups and even a notorious climate science skeptic.

Trevor Butterworth and Sense About Science/STATS: CAS partners with Sense About Science/STATS to offer “statistical consultation for journalists” and gave a fellowship to the group’s director Trevor Butterworth, who built his career defending products important to the chemical, fracking, junk food and drug industries. Butterworth is founding director of Sense About Science USA, which he merged with his former platform, Statistical Assessment Service (STATS).

Journalists have described STATs and Butterworth as key players in chemical and pharmaceutical industry product defense campaigns (see Stat News, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Intercept and The Atlantic).  Monsanto documents identify Sense About Science among the “industry partner” it counted on to defend Roundup against cancer concerns.

Climate science skeptic Owen Paterson: In 2015, CAS hosted Owen Paterson, a British Conservative Party politician and well-known climate science skeptic who slashed funding for global warming mitigation efforts during his stint as UK Environment Minister. Paterson used the Cornell stage to claim that environmental groups raising concerns about GMOs “allow millions to die.” Pesticide industry groups used similar messaging 50 years ago to try to discredit Rachel Carson for raising concerns about DDT.

Lynas and Sense About Science: Lynas of CAS is also affiliated with Sense About Science as a longtime advisory board member. In 2015, Lynas partnered with climate science skeptic Owen Paterson Paterson also Sense About Science Director Tracey Brown to launch what he called the “ecomodernism movement,” a corporate-aligned, anti-regulation strain of “environmentalism.”

Industry defense in Hawaii

In 2016, CAS launched an affiliate group called the Hawaii Alliance for Science, which said its purpose was to “support evidence-based decision-making and agricultural innovation in the Islands.” Its messengers include:

Sarah Thompson, a former employee of Dow AgroSciences, coordinated the Hawaii Alliance for Science, which described itself as a “communications-based non-profit grassroots organization associated with the Cornell Alliance for Science.” (The website no longer appears active, but the group maintains a Facebook page.)

Social media posts from the Hawaii Alliance for Science and its coordinator Thompson have described critics of the agrichemical industry as arrogant and ignorant people, celebrated corn and soy mono-crops and defended neonicotinoid pesticides which many studies and scientists say are harming bees.

Joan Conrow, Managing Editor of CAS, writes articles on her personal website, her “Kauai Eclectic” blog and for the industry front group Genetic Literacy Project trying to discredit health professionals, community groups and politicians in Hawaii who advocate for stronger pesticide protections, and journalists who write about pesticide concerns. Conrow has accused environmental groups of tax evasion and compared a food safety group to the KKK.

Conrow has not always disclosed her Cornell affiliation. Hawaii’s Civil Beat newspaper criticized Conrow for her lack of transparency and cited her in 2016 as an example of why the paper was changing its commenting policies. Conrow “often argued the pro-GMO perspective without explicitly mentioning her occupation as a GMO sympathist,” wrote journalism professor Brett Oppegaard. “Conrow also has lost her journalistic independence (and credibility) to report fairly about GMO issues, because of the tone of her work on these issues.”

Joni Kamiya, a 2015 CAS Global Leadership Fellow argues against pesticide regulations on her website Hawaii Farmer’s Daughter, in the media and also for the industry front group Genetic Literacy Project. She is an “ambassador expert” for the agrichemical industry-funded marketing website GMO Answers. Like Conrow, Kamiya claims pesticide exposures in Hawaii aren’t a problem, and tries to discredit elected officials and “environmental extremists” who want to regulate pesticides.

Staffers, advisors

CAS describes itself as “an initiative based at Cornell University, a non-profit institution.” The group does not disclose its budget, expenditures or staff salaries, and Cornell University does not disclose any information about CAS in its tax filings.

The website lists 20 staff members, including Director Sarah Evanega, PhD, and Managing Editor Joan Conrow (it does not list Mark Lynas or other fellows who may also receive compensation). Other notable staff members listed on the website include:

The CAS advisory board includes academics who regularly assist the agrichemical industry with their PR efforts.

Gates Foundation critiques  

Since 2016, the Gates Foundation has spent over $4 billion on agricultural development strategies, much of that focused on Africa. The foundation’s agricultural development strategies were led by Rob Horsch (recently retired), a Monsanto veteran of 25 years. The strategies have drawn criticism for promoting GMOs and agrichemicals in Africa over the opposition of Africa-based groups and social movements, and despite many concerns and doubts about genetically engineered crops across Africa.

Critiques of the Gates Foundation’s approach to agricultural development and funding include:

More CAS-industry collaborations 

Dozens of emails obtained via FOIA by U.S. Right to Know, and now posted in the UCSF chemical industry documents library, show CAS coordinating closely with the agrichemical industry and its public relations groups to coordinate events and messaging:

More critiques of Mark Lynas 

GMO Answers is a Marketing and PR Campaign for Pesticide Companies

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Updates:

ketchum gmo answers

GMO Answers is billed as a forum where consumers can get straight answers from independent experts about genetically engineered foods, and some journalists take it seriously as an unbiased source. But the website is a straight-up industry marketing tool to spin GMOs in a positive light.

Evidence that GMO Answers is a crisis-management propaganda tool that lacks credibility.

GMO Answers was created as a vehicle to sway public opinion in favor of GMOs. Soon after Monsanto and its allies beat back the 2012 ballot initiative to label GMOs in California, Monsanto announced plans to launch a new public relations campaign to reshape the reputation of GMOs. They hired the public relations firm FleishmanHillard (owned by Omnicom) for a seven-figure campaign.

As part of the effort, the PR firm Ketchum (also owned by Omnicom) was hired by the Council for Biotechnology Information – funded by Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta – to create GMOAnswers.com. The site promised to clear up confusion and dispel mistrust about GMOs using the unedited voices of so-called “independent experts.”

But how independent are those experts?

The website hews to carefully crafted talking points that tell a positive story about GMOs while downplaying or ignoring the health and environmental risks. For example, when asked if GMOs are driving up the use of pesticides, the site offers a convoluted no, despite peer-reviewed data showing that, yes, in fact, they are.

“Roundup Ready” GMO crops have increased use of glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen, by hundreds of millions of pounds. A new GMO/pesticide scheme involving dicamba has led to the destruction of soybean crops across the U.S., and the FDA is bracing this year for triple the use of 2,4-D, an older toxic herbicide, due to new GMO crops that are engineered to resist it. All of this is nothing to worry about, according to GMO Answers.

Questions about safety are answered with false statements such as “every leading health organization in the world stands behind the safety of GMOs.” We found no mention of the statement signed by 300 scientists, physicians and academics who say there is “no scientific consensus on GMO safety,” and we received no answers to questions we posted about the statement.

Examples have since come to light that Ketchum PR scripted some of the GMO answers that were signed by “independent experts.”

Shortlisted for crisis management PR award

As further evidence the site is a spin vehicle: In 2014, GMO Answers was shortlisted for a CLIO advertising award in the category of “Public Relations: Crisis Management & Issue Management.”

And the PR firm that created GMO Answers boasted about its influence on journalists. In a video posted to the CLIO website, Ketchum bragged that GMO Answers “nearly doubled positive media coverage of GMOs.” The video was removed after U.S. Right to Know called attention to it, but we saved it here.

Why reporters would trust a marketing vehicle designed by Ketchum as a reliable source is difficult to understand. Ketchum, which until 2016 was the PR firm for Russia, has been implicated in espionage efforts against nonprofits concerned about GMOs. Not exactly a history that lends itself to dispelling mistrust.

Given that GMO Answers is a marketing tool created and funded by companies that sell GMOs, we think it’s fair game to ask: Are the “independent experts” who lend credibility to the website – several of whom work for public universities and are paid by taxpayers – truly independent and working in the public interest? Or are they working in league with corporations and public relations firms to help sell the public a spin story?

In search of these answers, U.S. Right to Know submitted Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the correspondence of publicly funded professors who write for GMOAnswers.com or worked on other GMO promotion efforts. The FOIA’s are narrow requests that cover no personal or academic information, but rather seek to understand the connections between the professors, the agrichemical companies that sell GMOs, their trade associations and the PR and lobbying firms that have been hired to promote GMOs and fight labeling so we’re kept in the dark about what we’re eating.

Follow the results of the U.S. Right to Know investigation here.

See our Pesticide Industry Propaganda Tracker for more information about key players in chemical industry public relations efforts.

You can help expand the Right to Know investigations by making a tax-deductible donation today

Bayer settles U.S. Roundup, dicamba and PCB litigation for more than $10 billion

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In an expensive clean-up of Monsanto litigation messes, Bayer AG said Wednesday that it will pay out more than $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of U.S. claims brought against Monsanto over its Roundup herbicide, as well as $400 million to resolve lawsuits over Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide and $650 million for PCB pollution claims.

The resolutions come two years after Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion and almost immediately saw share prices plummet due to the Roundup liability.

Bayer announced that it will pay $10.1 billion to $10.9 billion total to resolve roughly 75 percent of the claims by an estimated 125,000 people who allege exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killers caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The deal includes plaintiffs who have retained attorneys with the intent to sue but whose cases have not yet been filed, Bayer said.  Within that total, a payment of $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion will resolve the current litigation and $1.25 billion is being set aside to support potential future litigation, the company said.

The plaintiffs included in the settlement are those signed with the law firms that have been leading the Roundup federal multi-district litigation (MDL) and include The Miller Firm of Virginia, the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman firm of Los Angeles and the Andrus Wagstaff firm of Denver, Colorado.

“After years of hard fought litigation and a year of intense mediation I am glad to see our clients will now be compensated,” said Mike Miller, of the Miller law firm.

The Miller firm and the Baum Hedlund firm worked together to win the first case to go to trial, that of California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. Andrus Wagstaff won the second trial and The Miller Firm won the third case to go to trial. In all, the three trials resulted in jury verdicts totaling more than $2.3 billion, though the trial judges in each case lowered the verdicts.

The juries in all three trials found that Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides, such as Roundup, caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks and failed to warns users.

Each of the three trial verdicts are going through the appeals process now and Bayer said the plaintiffs in those cases are not included in the settlement.

Bayer said future Roundup claims will be part of a class agreement subject to approval by Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, who ordered the year-long mediation process that led to the settlement.

The agreement would take any future findings on cancer claims out of the hands of  juries, Bayer said. Instead, there will be the creation of an independent “Class Science Panel.” The Class Science Panel will determine whether Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and if so, at what minimum exposure levels.  Both the plaintiffs in the class action and Bayer will be bound by the Class Science Panel’s determination.  If the Class Science Panel determines there is no causal connection between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma then the class members will be barred from claiming otherwise in any future litigation against Bayer.

Bayer said the Class Science Panel’s determination is expected to take several years and class members will not be permitted to proceed with Roundup claims prior to that determination. They also cannot seek punitive damages, Bayer said.

“The Roundup™ agreements are designed as a constructive and reasonable resolution to a unique litigation,” said Kenneth R. Feinberg, the court-appointed mediator for the settlement talks.

Even as they announced the settlement, Bayer officials continued to deny Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides cause cancer.

“The extensive body of science indicates that Roundup does not cause cancer, and therefore, is not responsible for the illnesses alleged in this litigation,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement.

Dicamba Deal

Bayer also announced a mass tort agreement to settle U.S. dicamba drift litigation, which involves claims from farmers that use of dicamba herbicides developed by Monsanto and BASF to be sprayed over dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto caused widespread crop loss and injury.

In a trial earlier this year, Monsanto was ordered to pay $265 million to a Missouri peach farmer for dicamba drift damage to his orchard.

More than 100 other farmers have made similar legal claims. Bayer said it will pay up to a total of $400 million to resolve the multi-district dicamba litigation that is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, with claims for the 2015-2020 crop years. Claimants will be required to provide proof of damage to crop yields and evidence that it was due to dicamba in order to collect. The company expects a contribution from its co-defendant, BASF, towards this settlement.

The settlement will provide “much-needed resources for farmers” who have suffered crop losses due to drifting dicamba herbicides, said lawyer Joseph Peiffer of the Peiffer Wolf law firm, which represents farmers with dicamba claims.

“The settlement announced today is an important step to making things right for the farmers who just want to be able to put food on the table of America and the world,” Peiffer said.

Earlier this month a federal court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had violated the law when it approved dicamba herbicides made by Monsanto, BASF and Corteva Agriscience. The court found the EPA ignored the risks of dicamba damage.

PCB Pollution Settlement

Bayer also announced a series of agreements that resolve cases the company said represent most of its  exposure to litigation involving water contamination by PCBs, which Monsanto manufactured until  1977. One agreement establishes a class that includes all local governments with EPA permits involving water discharges impaired by PCBs. Bayer said it will pay a total of approximately $650 million to the class, which will be subject to court approval.

Additionally, Bayer said it has entered into separate agreements with the Attorneys-General of New Mexico, Washington, and the District of Columbia to resolve PCB claims. For these agreements, which are separate from the class, Bayer will make payments totally approximately $170 million.

Bayer said the potential cash outflow will not exceed $5 billion in 2020 and $5 billion in 2021 with the remaining balance to be paid in 2022 or later.

Big Ag groups argue court cannot tell EPA when to ban dicamba

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The heaviest of Big Ag’s heavy hitters told a federal court it should not try to stop GMO cotton and soybean farmers from using illegal dicamba weed killers through the end of July, despite the court’s order earlier this month for an immediate ban.

Six national trade associations, all of which have long-standing financial ties to Monsanto and the other companies selling the dicamba products in question,  filed a brief on Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging the court not to try to interfere with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement that farmers could continue to use the dicamba products through July 31.

They also asked the court not to hold the EPA in contempt as has been requested by the groups that won the June 3 court order issuing the ban.

“America’s soybean and cotton growers would risk severe financial harm if prevented from using Dicamba Products this growing season,” states the brief filed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Cotton Council of America, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, and National Sorghum Producers.

Separately, CropLife America, an influential lobbyist for the agrichemical industry, filed a brief  stating it wanted to provide “Helpful Information to the Court.” CropLife stated in the filing that the court has no authority over how the EPA proceeds to cancel the use of pesticide products such as dicamba weed killers.

The moves are but the latest in a dramatic flurry of events that followed the Ninth Circuit ruling, which found that the EPA violated the law when it approved dicamba products developed by Monsanto – owned by Bayer AG, as well as products sold by BASF, and DuPont, owned by Corteva Inc.

The court ordered an immediate ban on use of each of the companies’ products, finding that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” those products pose to farmers growing crops other than genetically engineered cotton and soy.

The EPA appeared to flout the order, however, when it told the cotton and soy farmers they could continue to spray the herbicides in question through July 31.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and other groups that originally took the EPA to court over the matter went back to court last week, demanding that the 9th Circuit hold the EPA in contempt. The court is now considering that motion.

“EPA and the pesticide companies have tried to confuse the issue and try to intimidate the Court,” said George Kimbrell, CFS legal director and counsel for the petitioners. “The Court held the product uses unlawful and EPA’s manipulations cannot change that.”

The order banning the company’s dicamba products has triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of genetically altered dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies. The crops tolerate the dicamba while the weeds die.

The farm lobby groups said in their brief that 64 million acres were planted with the dicamba-tolerant seeds this season. They said if those farmers cannot spray over their fields with the dicamba products they will be “largely defenseless against weeds resistant to other herbicides, causing
potentially significant financial consequences from yield losses.”

When Monsanto, BASF and DuPont/Corteva rolled out their dicamba herbicides a few years ago they  claimed the products would not volatize and drift into neighboring fields as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances proved false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage.

More than one million acres of crops not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba were reported damaged last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its ruling.

“The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment…” said National Family Farm Coalition board president Jim Goodman. “Their contempt for this mission could not be more clearly expressed than their flagrant disregard of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling to stop over-the-top applications of dicamba immediately to prevent millions of acres of farmers’ crops from being destroyed.”

In February, a Missouri jury ordered Bayer and BASF to pay a peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages for dicamba damage to the farmer’s orchards. The jury concluded that  Monsanto and BASF conspired in actions they knew would lead to widespread crop damage because they expected it would increase their own profits

Panicked chemical giants seek leeway in court ban on their weed killers

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Citing an “emergency,” chemical giants BASF and DuPont have asked a federal court to allow them to intervene in a case in which the court earlier this month ordered their dicamba herbicides to be immediately banned along with a dicamba product made by Monsanto owner Bayer AG.

The action by the chemical companies follows a June 3 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had violated the law when it approved the dicamba products developed by Monsanto/Bayer, BASF and DuPont, owned by Corteva Inc.

The court ordered an immediate ban on use of each of the company’s dicamba products, finding that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

The EPA flouted that order, however, telling farmers they could continue to spray the herbicides in question through the end of July.

The consortium of farm and consumer groups that originally filed the case against the EPA rushed back to court last week, asking for an emergency order holding the EPA in contempt.  The court gave the EPA until the end of the day Tuesday, June 16, to respond.

Uproar in Farm Country

The order banning the companies’ dicamba products has triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies.

The “dicamba crop system” provides for farmers to plant their fields with dicamba-tolerant crops, which they can then spray “over-the-top” with dicamba weed killer. The system has both enriched the companies selling the seeds and chemicals and and helped farmers growing the special dicamba-tolerant cotton and soy deal with stubborn weeds that are resistant to glyphosate-based Roundup products.

But for the large number of farmers who do not plant the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops, widespread use of dicamba herbicides has meant damage and crop losses because dicamba tends to volatize and drift long distances where it can kill crops, trees and shrubs that are not genetically altered to withstand the chemical.

The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances proved false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage. More than one million acres of crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its ruling.

Many farmers initially celebrated the court ruling and were relieved that their farms and orchards would be spared this summer from the dicamba damage they’ve experienced in prior summers. But the relief was short-lived when the EPA said it would not immediately enforce the court-ordered ban.

In a filing made Friday, BASF pleaded with the court not to enforce an immediate ban and told the court that it will need to close a manufacturing facility in Beaumont, Texas, that currently “operates 24 hours a day nearly continuously through the year” if it is not able to produce its dicamba herbicide brand called Engenia. BASF has spent $370 million in recent years improving the plant and employs 170 people there, the company said.

Noting “significant investments” in its product, BASF also told the court that there is enough of its product currently throughout its “customer channel” to treat 26.7 million acres of soybeans and cotton.  BASF has an additional $44 million worth of the Engenia dicamba product in its possession, enough to treat 6.6 million acres of soybeans and cotton, the company said.

DuPont/Corteva made a similar argument, telling the court in its filing that the ban “directly harms” the company “as well as the many farmers across this country that are in the midst of the growing season.”  It will damage the company’s “reputation” if its herbicide is banned, the company told the court.

Moreover, DuPont/Corteva expects to generate “significant revenues” from the sales of its dicamba herbicide, called FeXapan and will lose that money if the ban is enforced, the company said.

Monsanto was active in the case supporting the EPA approvals prior to the ruling, but both BASF and DuPont asserted wrongly that the court case applied only to Monsanto’s products and not to theirs. The court made it clear, however, that the EPA illegally approved the products made by all three companies.

Led by the Center for Food Safety,  the petition against the EPA was also brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

In asking the court to find the EPA in contempt, the consortium warned of the crop damage to come if the dicamba products are not banned immediately.

“EPA cannot get away with allowing the spraying of 16 million more pounds of dicamba and resulting damage to millions of acres, as well as significant risks to hundreds of endangered species,” the consortium said in its filing. “Something else is at stake too: the rule of law. The Court must act to prevent injustice and uphold the integrity of the judicial process. And given the blatant disregard EPA showed for the Court’s decision, Petitioners urge the Court to hold EPA in contempt.”

Dicamba Fact Sheet

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Latest news: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced October 27 it will allow U.S. farmers to continue spraying crops with Bayer AG’s weedkiller used on dicamba-resistant GMO soybeans and cotton, despite a court order blocking sales. In June an appeals court ruled that EPA “substantially understated the risks” of dicamba weed killers. Dozens of farmers around the U.S. are suing Bayer (formerly Monsanto) and BASF in an effort to hold the companies accountable for millions of acres of crop damage the farmers claim is due to widespread use of dicamba. We are posting discovery documents and analysis of the trials on our Dicamba Papers page.

Overview

Dicamba (3,6-dichloro-2-methoxybenzoic acid) is a broad-spectrum herbicide first registered in 1967. The herbicide is used on agricultural crops, fallow land, pastures, turfgrass and rangeland. Dicamba is also registered for non-agricultural uses in residential areas and other sites, such as golf courses where it is primarily used to control broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, chickweed, clover and ground ivy.

More than 1,000 products sold in the United States that include dicamba, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Dicamba’s mode of action is as an auxin agonist: it produces uncontrollable growth that leads to plant death.

Environmental Concerns 

Older versions of dicamba were known to drift far from where they were applied, and typically were not used widely during warm growing months when they could kill off-target crops or trees.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved the registration of new dicamba formulations in 2016, however, allowing for a new use of “over-the-top” applications on growing dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean plants. Scientists warned the new uses would result in dicamba drift damage.

The new uses for dicamba came about because of the development of widespread weed resistance to glyphosate-based herbicides, including the popular Roundup brand, introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s. In the 1990s, Monsanto introduced glyphosate-tolerant crops, and encouraged famers to use its “Roundup Ready” cropping systems. Farmers could plant Monsanto’s genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, corn, cotton and other crops, and then spray glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup directly over the top of the growing crops without killing them. The system made weed management easier for farmers as they could spray the chemicals directly over their entire fields during the growing season, wiping out weeds that competed with the crops for moisture and soil nutrients.

The popularity of the Roundup Ready system led to a surge in weed resistance, however, leaving farmers with fields of hardy weeds that would no longer die when sprayed with glyphosate.

In 2011 Monsanto announced that glyphosate, had been “relied on too long by itself” and said it planned to collaborate with BASF and develop a cropping system of genetically engineered crops that would tolerate being sprayed with dicamba. It said it would introduce a new type of dicamba herbicide that would not drift far from fields where it was sprayed.

Since the introduction of the new system, complaints about dicamba drift damage have surged in several farm states, including hundreds of complaints from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas.

In a report dated Nov. 1, 2017, the EPA said it had tallied 2,708 official dicamba-related crop injury investigations (as reported by state departments of agriculture). The agency said there were more than 3.6 million acres of soybeans impacted at that time. Other impacted crops were tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, vineyards, pumpkins, vegetables, tobacco, residential gardens, trees and shrubs

In July 2017, the Missouri Department of Agriculture temporarily issued a “Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order,” on all dicamba products in Missouri.  The state lifted the order in September 2017.

These are some dicamba products:

On Oct. 31, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an extension of Engenia, XtendiMax and FeXapan registrations through 2020 for “over-the-top” use in dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean fields. EPA said it had enhanced the previous labels and put in place additional safeguards in an effort to increase the success and safe use of the product in the field.

The two-year registration is valid through Dec. 20, 2020. The EPA has stated the following provisions:

  • Only certified applicators may apply dicamba over-the-top (those working under the supervision of a certified applicator may no longer make applications)
  • Prohibit over-the-top application of dicamba on soybeans 45 days after planting or up until the R1 growth stage (first bloom), whichever comes first
  • Prohibit over-the-top application of dicamba on cotton 60 days after planting
  • For cotton, limit the number of over-the-top applications from four to two
  • For soybeans, the number of over-the-top applications remains at two
  • Applications will be allowed only from one hour after sunrise to two hours before sunset
  • In counties where endangered species may exist, the downwind buffer will remain at 110 feet and there will be a new 57-foot buffer around the other sides of the field (the 110-foot downwind buffer applies to all applications, not just in counties where endangered species may exist)
  • Enhanced tank clean-out instructions for the entire system
  • Enhanced label to improve applicator awareness on the impact of low pH on the potential volatility of dicamba
  • Label clean up and consistency to improve compliance and enforceability

U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit Ruling 

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

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

On June 11, 2020, the petitioners in the case filed an emergency motion seeking to enforce the court order and to hold the EPA in contempt.

More details can be found here.

Food Residues 

Just as glyphosate applications in farm fields have been found to leave residues of glyphosate on and in finished foods, such as oatmeal, breads, cereals, etc., dicamba residues are expected to leave residues in food. Farmers whose produce has been contaminated with dicamba residues via drift have expressed concerns that their products might be rejected or otherwise harmed commercially because of the residue issue.

The EPA has set tolerance levels for dicamba is several grains and for the meat of livestock that consume grains, but not for a variety of fruits and vegetables. A tolerance for dicamba in soybeans is set at 10 parts per million, for instance, in the United States, and a 2 parts per million for wheat grain. Tolerances can be seen here. 

The EPA has issued this statement regarding dicamba residues in food: “EPA performed the analysis required by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and determined that residues on food are “safe” – meaning that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm to people, including all reasonably identifiable subpopulations, including infants and children, from dietary and all other non-occupational exposure to dicamba.”

Cancer and Hypothyroidism 

The EPA states that dicamba is not likely to be carcinogenic, but some studies have found an increased risk of cancer for users of dicamba.

See these studies regarding the human health effects of dicamba:

Dicamba use and cancer incidence in the agricultural health study: an updated analysis International Journal of Epidemiology (05.01.2020) “Among 49 922 applicators, 26 412 (52.9%) used dicamba. Compared with applicators reporting no dicamba use, those in the highest quartile of exposure had elevated risk of liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and decreased risk of myeloid leukaemia.”

Pesticide Use and Incident Hypothyroidism in Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study.  Environmental Health Perspectives (9.26.18)
“In this large prospective cohort of farmers that were occupationally exposed to pesticides, we found that ever-use of four organochlorine insecticides (aldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, and lindane), four organophosphate insecticides (coumaphos, diazinon, dichlorvos, and malathion), and three herbicides (dicamba, glyphosate, and 2,4-D) was associated with increased risk of hypothyroidism.”

Hypothyroidism and pesticide use among male private pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine (10.1.14)
“The herbicides 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, 2,4,5-TP, alachlor, dicamba, and petroleum oil were all associated with an increased odds of hypothyroidism”

A review of pesticide exposure and cancer incidence in the Agricultural Health Study cohort.  Environmental Heath Perspectives (8.1.10)
“We reviewed 28 studies; most of the 32 pesticides examined were not strongly associated with cancer incidence in pesticide applicators. Increased rate ratios (or odds ratios) and positive exposure–response patterns were reported for 12 pesticides currently registered in Canada and/or the United States (alachlor, aldicarb, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, dicamba, S-ethyl-N,N-dipropylthiocarbamate, imazethapyr, metolachlor, pendimethalin, permethrin, trifluralin).”

Cancer Incidence among Pesticide Applicators Exposed to Dicamba in the Agricultural Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives (7.13.06)
“Exposure was not associated with overall cancer incidence nor were there strong associations with any specific type of cancer. When the reference group comprised low-exposed applicators, we observed a positive trend in risk between lifetime exposure days and lung cancer (p = 0.02), but none of the individual point estimates was significantly elevated. We also observed significant trends of increasing risk for colon cancer for both lifetime exposure days and intensity-weighted lifetime days, although these results are largely due to elevated risk at the highest exposure level.”

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Specific Pesticide Exposures in Men: Cross-Canada Study of Pesticides and Health.  Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (11.01)
“Among individual compounds, in multivariate analyses, the risk of NHL was statistically significantly increased by exposure to the herbicides…dicamba (OR, 1.68; 95% CI, 1.00–2.81); ….In additional multivariate models, which included exposure to other major chemical classes or individual pesticides, personal antecedent cancer, a history of cancer among first-degree relatives, and exposure to mixtures containing dicamba (OR, 1.96; 95% CI, 1.40–2.75)…were significant independent predictors of an increased risk for NHL”

Litigation 

The dicamba drift damage concerns have prompted lawsuits from farmers in many U.S. states. Details on the litigation can be found here.