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

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In the latest PR scandal to engulf Bayer, 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.

Adding to Bayer’s PR troubles, AFP reported on May 18 that an employee of another PR firm was caught posing as a freelance journalist who worked for the BBC at the recent federal trial in San Francisco that ended with an $80 million judgment against Bayer. The woman, who was seen chatting up reporters about story ideas at the trial, did not disclose that she actually worked for FTI Consulting, a “crisis management firm” whose clients include Bayer and Monsanto.

In the wake of the “Monsanto File” revelations 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.” However the PR companies Bayer relies upon, including FleishmanHillard and PR firms under the same corporate ownership, have histories of using underhanded tactics to promote and defend their clients – and they have done the same for Bayer.

Ketchum and FleishmanHillard hired to rehab image of GMOs

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.

The spin has influenced journalists, according to the PR industry. In 2014, GMO Answers was shortlisted for a CLIO advertising award for “Crisis Management & Issue Management.” In this video, 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.

Omnicom’s FleishmanHillard and Ketchum: histories of deception

Why any company would put FleishmanHillard or Ketchum in front of efforts to inspire trust is difficult to understand, given their histories of documented deceptions. 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.

FTI Consulting: climate deception and more 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.

More on Bayer’s recent PR scandals

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Up Next – Trial In Monsanto’s Hometown Set for August After $2 Billion Roundup Cancer Verdict

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After three stunning courtroom losses in California, the legal battle over the safety of Monsanto’s top-selling Roundup herbicide is headed for the company’s hometown, where corporate officials can be forced to appear on the witness stand, and legal precedence shows a history of anti-corporate judgments.

Sharlean Gordon, an cancer-stricken woman in her 50s, is the next plaintiff currently set for trial.  Gordon v. Monsanto starts Aug. 19 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, located just a few miles from the St. Louis, Missouri-area campus that was the company’s longtime world headquarters until Bayer bought Monsanto last June. The case was filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs and Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

According to the complaint, Gordon purchased and used Roundup for at least 15 continuous years through approximately 2017 and was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006. Gordon has gone through two stem cell transplants and spent a year in a nursing home at one point in her treatment. She is so debilitated that it is difficult for her to be mobile.

Her case, like that of the thousands of others filed around the United States, alleges use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused her to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“She’s been through hell,” said St. Louis attorney Eric Holland, one of the legal team members representing Gordon.  “She’s horribly injured. The human toll here is tremendous. I think Sharlean is really going to put a face on what Monsanto’s done to people.”

Gordon said the hardest part about preparing for trial is determining what evidence to present to the jury within the three-week time span that the judge has set for the trial.

“This evidence against them, their conduct, is the most outrageous I’ve seen in my 30 years of doing this,” Holland said.  “The things that have gone on here, I want St. Louis juries to hear this stuff.”

That Gordon trial will be followed by a September 9 trial also in St. Louis County in a case brought by plaintiffs Maurice Cohen and Burrell Lamb.

Monsanto’s deep roots in the community, including a large employment base and generous charitable donations throughout the area, could favor its chances with local jurors. But on the flip side, St. Louis is regarded in legal circles as one the most favorable places for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against corporations and there is a long history of large verdicts against major companies. St. Louis City Court is generally considered the most favorable but St. Louis County is also desired by plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The approach of the August and September trials comes on the heels of a stunning $2 billion verdict issued against Monsanto May 13.  In that case, a jury in Oakland, California awarded married couple Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who both suffer from cancer, $55 million in compensatory damages and $1 billion each in punitive damages. The jury found that Monsanto has spent years covering up evidence that its herbicide causes cancer.

That verdict came only a little more than a month after a San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $80 million in damages to Edwin Hardeman, who also developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup.  And last summer, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson who received a terminal cancer diagnosis after using Monsanto herbicides in his job.

Aimee Wagstaff, who was co-lead counsel for Hardeman, is set to try the Gordon case in St. Louis with Holland. Wagstaff said she plans to subpoena several Monsanto scientists to appear on the witness stand to answer questions directly in front of a jury. She and the other attorneys trying the California cases were not able to force Monsanto employees to testify live because of the distance.

MEDIATION MEETING MAY 22

The trial losses have left Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG under siege. Angry investors have pushed share prices to the lowest levels in roughly seven years,  erasing more than 40 percent of Bayer’s market value. And some investors are calling for Bayer CEO Werner Baumann to be ousted for championing the Monsanto acquisition, which closed in June of last year just as the first trial was getting underway.

Bayer maintains that there is no valid evidence of cancer causation associated with Monsanto’s herbicides, and says it believes it will win on appeal.  But U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has ordered Bayer to begin mediation talks aimed at potentially settling the sprawling mass of lawsuits that includes roughly 13,400 plaintiffs in the United States alone. All the plaintiffs are cancer victims or their family members and all allege Monsanto engaged in a range of deceptive tactics to hide the risks of its herbicides, including manipulating the scientific record with ghostwritten studies, colluding with regulators, and using outside individuals and organizations to promote the safety of its products while making sure they falsely appeared to be acting independently of the company.

A May 22 hearing is being held in part to define details of the mediation process. Bayer has indicated that it will comply with the order, but may not yet be ready to consider settling the litigation despite the courtroom losses.

Meanwhile, the litigation that originated in the United States has crossed the border into Canada where a Saskatchewan farmer is leading a class action lawsuit against Bayer and Monsanto making allegations that mirror those in the U.S. lawsuits.

“THE QUEEN OF ROUNDUP”

Elaine Stevick of Petaluma, California was supposed to be the next in line to take on Monsanto at trial. But in his order of mediation, Judge Chhabria also vacated her May 20 trial date. A new trial date is to be discussed at the hearing on Wednesday.

Stevick and her husband Christopher Stevick sued Monsanto in April of 2016 and said in an interview that they are eager to get their chance to confront the company over the devastating damage they say Elaine’s use of Roundup has done to her health. She was diagnosed in December 2014 at the age of 63 with multiple brain tumors due to a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called central nervous system lymphoma (CNSL).  Alberta Pilliod, who just won the most recent trial, also had a CNSL brain tumor.

The couple purchased an old Victorian home and overgrown property in 1990 and while Christopher worked on renovating the interior of the house, Elaine’s job was to spray weed killer over the weeds and wild onions that the couple said took over a good portion of the property. She sprayed multiple times a year until she was diagnosed with cancer. She never wore gloves or other protective clothing because believed it to be as safe as advertised, she said.

Stevick is currently in remission but nearly died at one point in her treatment, Christopher Stevick said.

“I called her the ‘queen of Roundup’ because she was always walking around spraying the stuff,” he said.

The couple attended parts of both the Pilliod and Hardeman trials, and said they are grateful the truth about Monsanto’s actions to hide the risks are coming into the public spotlight. And they want to see Bayer and Monsanto start warning users about the cancer risks of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides.

“We want the companies to take responsibility for warning people -even if there is a chance that something would be harmful or hazardous for them, people should be warned,” Elaine Stevick said.

(Published first in Environmental Health News)

Follow @Careygillam on Twitter

Monsanto Ordered to Pay $2 Billion to Cancer Victims

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After less than two full days of deliberations, a California jury ordered Monsanto to pay just over $2 billion in punitive and compensatory damages to a married couple who both developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma they say was caused by their many years of using Roundup products.

After listening to 17 days of trial testimony, jurors said Monsanto must pay $1 billion to Alberta Pilliod, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma brain cancer  in 2015, and another $1 billion to her husband Alva Pilliod, who was diagnosed in 2011 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma that spread from his bones to his pelvis and spine. The couple, who are both in their 70s,  started using Roundup in the 1970s and continued using the herbicide until only a few years ago. The jury also awarded the couple a total of $55 million in damages for past and future medical bills and other losses.

In ordering punitive damages, the jury had to find that Monsanto “engaged in conduct with malice, oppression or fraud committed by one or more officers, directors or managing agents of Monsanto”  who were acting on behalf of the company.

Pilliod v. Monsanto is the third Roundup cancer case to go to trial. And it is the third to conclude that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides can cause cancer and that Monsanto has long known about – and covered up – the risks.

In March, a unanimous jury in federal court in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay roughly $80 million in damages for failing to warn plaintiff Edwin Hardeman of the cancer risks of Roundup herbicide. Last August, jurors in state court in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million  in damages to school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who is dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma the jury found was caused by his exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides. The judge in that case lowered the total verdict to $78 million and the verdict is now on appeal.

Both Johnson and Hardeman attended closing arguments in the Pilliod trial.

The Pilliod verdict is expected to only further erode the market value of Bayer AG, which purchased Monsanto last summer for $63 billion. Shares have dropped more than 40 percent since the Aug. 10 Johnson verdict was handed down.

More than 13,000 plaintiffs have filed similar lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging the company’s herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the company has hidden the risks.

Evidence laid out in the three trials included numerous scientific studies that showed what plaintiffs’ attorneys said was proof Monsanto’s herbicides can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. As well, the attorneys presented jurors with many internal Monsanto communications obtained through court-ordered discovery that show Monsanto has intentionally manipulated the public record to hide the cancer risks.

Among the many revelations that have emerged from the trials:

* Monsanto never conducted epidemiology studies for Roundup and its other formulations made with the active ingredient glyphosate to evaluate the cancer risks for users.

* Monsanto was aware that the surfactants in Roundup were much more toxic than glyphosate alone.

* Monsanto spent millions of dollars on covert public relations campaigns to finance ghostwritten studies and articles aimed at discrediting independent scientists whose work found dangers with Monsanto’s herbicides.

* When the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sought to evaluate glyphosate toxicity in 2015, Monsanto engaged the assistance of EPA officials to delay that review.

* Monsanto enjoyed a close relationship with certain officials within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who have repeatedly backed Monsanto’s assertions about the safety of its glyphosate products.

* The company internally had worker safety recommendations that called for wearing a full range of protective gear when applying glyphosate herbicides, but did not warn the public to do the same.

Pilliod attorney Brent Wisner suggested to jurors in his closing arguments that they consider punitive damages in the range of $1 billion to send a message to Monsanto and Bayer about the need to change the company’s practices.

“The jury saw for themselves internal company documents demonstrating that, from day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe,” Wisner said following the verdict. “Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda.”

Michael Miller, who served with Wisner as co-lead trial counsel said: “Unlike the first two Monsanto trials, where the judges severely limited the amount of plaintiffs’ evidence, we were finally allowed to show a jury the mountain of evidence showing Monsanto’s manipulation of science, the media and regulatory agencies to forward their own agenda despite Roundup’s severe harm to the animal kingdom and humankind.”

Bayer issued a statement after the verdict saying it would appeal: “Bayer is disappointed with the jury’s decision and will appeal the verdict in this case, which conflicts directly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s interim registration review decision released just last month, the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the 40 years of extensive scientific research on which their favorable conclusions are based.

“We have great sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod, but the evidence in this case was clear that both have long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), most NHL has no known cause, and there is not reliable scientific evidence to conclude that glyphosate-based herbicides were the “but for” cause of their illnesses as the jury was required to find in this case.”

The damage award breaks down as follows:

Alva Pilliod

Compensatory:

Past economic – $47,296.01

Past non-economic loss – $8 million

Future non-economic loss – $10 million

Punitive damages – $1 billion

Alberta Pilliod

Compensatory:

Past economic – $201,166.76

Past non-economic – $8 million

Future economic  – $2,957,710

Future non-economic – $26 million

Punitive damages – $1 billion

TOTAL – $2.055 billion  

A federal judge has ordered Bayer to start mediation with plaintiffs’ attorneys and a hearing is set for next week in San Francisco on that issue. Several more trials are scheduled over the next year in courts around the United States.

For more updates follow Carey Gillam on Twitter @careygillam 

In Their Hands – Jurors in 3rd Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial Weigh Evidence

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Jury deliberations were set to resume Monday morning in Oakland, California in the case of an elderly married couple who allege that many years of use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide caused them each to develop debilitating non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Lawyers for plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod and legal counsel for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG presented contrasting closing arguments last week. Jurors then had one day of deliberations on Thursday before taking Friday and the weekend off.

Jurors have a lot of evidence to sift through after 17 days of trial testimony that included 16 live witnesses and 11 more testifying via video. The trial transcript, as noted by Monsanto attorney Tarek Ismail, is more than 5,000 pages long.

The 12-member jury has already had several questions, sending notes to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith with queries about some medical articles and about the testimony of Monsanto expert witness  Dr. Celeste Bello, a medical oncologist hematologist who practices at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida. Bello testified that epidemiological data does not show a valid association  between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She said that both Alva and Alberta Pilliod had a history of medical problems and weakened immune systems, which likely led to their cancers. Bello told jurors she agreed with the Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

Jurors also asked about some medical articles and a query about how many of the jurors need to agree on individual questions on the verdict forms.  That question prompted Monsanto attorney Ismail to comment to the judge that “we obviously have — seemingly have some sort of split in the jury.”

Nine of the 12 jurors must agree on a verdict but Ismail noted that the instructions to the jury
allows for different groups of nine jurors to agree on different parts of the verdict form. Here is a bit of his exchange with Judge Smith on the company’s concern:

Mr. ISMAIL: “So, for example, Jurors 1 through 9 could say  yes on question 1, and Jurors 4 through 12 agree on — say yes to question 2, but you only have six people who think liability is found.

THE COURT: That’s a function of California law.

MR. ISMAIL: It is. I recognize that. I know you’re not going to change it here. But I’m preserving the objection that it is —

THE COURT: I understand what you’re saying.

MR. ISMAIL: It seems like an inconsistency in the way — where it’s written that a verdict requires nine, and a verdict here would actually potentially not require nine; it could require fewer than nine. And I understand Your Honor is bound by the way the law is written in the CACI, but we’re preserving that objection in light of that.

THE COURT: Well, I have to follow California law, which does explicitly say that not all nine have to answer each question the same way.

Both Pilliods have diffuse large B-cell lymphoma though Alberta’s developed in her brain while Alva’s invaded his pelvis and spine.  Pilliod attorney Brent Wisner asked the jury to award approximately $37 million in compensatory damages for Alberta Pilliod and $18 million for Alva Pilliod. He suggested jurors should consider a punitive damage award for the couple of $1 billion.

“Go Get ‘Em” – Jury Deliberations Starting in Roundup Cancer Trial

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After dramatic day-long closing arguments in which the plaintiffs’ attorney suggested $1 billion in punitive damages would be appropriate, jury deliberations were getting underway on Thursday in the trial pitting a married couple with cancer against Monsanto.

Alva and Alberta Pilliod, each diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, were in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California, on Wednesday as attorney Brent Wisner implored jurors to agree with allegations that the development of the Pilliods’ debilitating illnesses was due to their many years of use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.

Monsanto strongly denies its products are carcinogenic. But Pilliod attorney Brent Wisner told jurors there was ample evidence of cancer concerns and rather than warn customers of the risks, the company engaged in 45 years of deceptive tactics that manipulated the scientific record about the dangers of its products.

He said jurors should consider ordering at least $892 million in punitive damages as that represented one year of profits for Monsanto, which last year was acquired by Bayer AG. He said a better figure might be $1 billion in order to send a message to Bayer and Monsanto. Additionally, he asked for approximately $37 million in compensatory damages for Alberta Pilliod and $18 million for Alva Pilliod.

“Hold them accountable,” Wisner told jurors in a three-hour closing argument. During his presentation to jurors, Wisner reminded them of evidence introduced over the lengthy trial.  He walked them through several scientific studies he said showed links to cancer, showed them excerpts of internal Monsanto emails that talked about ghostwriting scientific papers and covertly paying front groups such as the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) to publicly promote the safety of its herbicides. He reminded jurors of documents showing cozy ties to certain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials who back the safety of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, and documents showing Monsanto strategies to discredit international cancer scientists who classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

Wisner said Monsanto buried studies that found harm with its products and promoted ghostwritten studies that promoted safety, engaging in conduct that was “reprehensible.”

“That ladies and gentlemen is how you manipulate science,” he said.

In contrast, Monsanto attorney Tarek Ismail told jurors in his closing argument that both Pilliods had multiple health problems and weakened immune systems and their cancers were not connected by any legitimate evidence to their use of Roundup.

“After all this time that we’ve been here in this trial, the plaintiffs haven’t showed you a single document or medical record or test specifically linking either plaintiff’s NHL to Roundup,” said Ismail.  “And the thing is, you don’t have to agree with us on all of these or even some, because, if you follow any of these paths, you get to the same answer, that the plaintiffs have not met their burden of proof.”

Ismail told jurors that Wisner was manipulating their emotions, promoting “fear over science” and “emotion over evidence.” Regulatory agencies around the world back the safety of glyphosate and Monsanto herbicides, and aside from some poor choices of language in internal emails, there is no evidence of bad conduct by Monsanto. He said that Wisner was engaging in an “absurd” “charade” and “blatantly trying to manipulate” jurors when he put on gloves during trial testimony to handle a Roundup bottle filled not with the herbicide but with water.

“You folks have worked too hard, been here too long to allow someone to insult your intelligence like that. And I hope you reject it for what it was,” Ismail said.

Sparks flew when it was Wisner’s turn for rebuttal, as he loudly and angrily held up multiple notes he said were handed to him by colleagues pointing out falsehoods in various statements made by Ismail.

“Get out of here!” Wisner yelled, prompting Judge Winifred Smith to admonish him to calm down. He ended his rebuttal again imploring jurors to find for the Pilliods and order damages in such a high amount as to send a message to Monsanto and Bayer.

His final words to jurors – “Go get ’em.”

See transcript of closing arguments here. 

The Pilliod case is the third Roundup cancer case to go to trial. Last summer a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289  million in damages to cancer victim Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. The judge in the case later lowered the amount to $78 million. A second trial, also held in San Francisco in a separate case, resulted in an $80.2 million verdict for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman.

There are more than 13,000 other plaintiffs also alleging Monsanto’s herbicides cause cancer and the company has hidden the risks. Bayer shares have been rocked by the verdicts and investors are nervously awaiting the outcome of this trial. The company has lost more than $30 billion in shareholder value after buying Monsanto last summer.

Sparks to Fly in Closing Arguments at Third Roundup Cancer Trial

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After two costly courtroom losses, lawyers for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG on Wednesday were set to make closing arguments in what is the third trial brought by people who blame their cancers on use of Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killer brands.

Plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a married couple in their 70s who both have non-Hodgkin lymphoma, claim that Monsanto should be held liable for their illnesses because scientific evidence shows Monsanto’s herbicides can cause cancer and because Monsanto failed to properly warn of the risks.

While Monsanto has maintained that the weight of scientific evidence shows no causal connection between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and its glyphosate herbicides, lawyers for the Pilliods presented scientific evidence during the trial that does show a cancer link. Moreover, the plaintiffs’ attorneys showed jurors a trove of internal Monsanto communications and other records that they said displayed the company’s manipulation of scientific literature, including ghostwriting several papers published in scientific journals. Also among the evidence were records showing Monsanto efforts to influence regulatory agencies, to plant helpful stories in the global news outlet Reuters, and to discredit scientists who determined the company’s products were potentially carcinogenic.

Closing arguments are expected to take most or all of the day and tensions on both sides are high.

On Tuesday, Monsanto filed a motion seeking to head off what it said were likely to be “improper” closing arguments by the lawyers representing the Pilliods. They singled out attorneys Brent Wisner and Michael Baum for criticism, citing various actions.

“Monsanto has a real concern that counsel’s closing argument in this case will be replete with misconduct,” the motion states.

In the motion, Monsanto attorneys said that the Pilliod lawyers “already turned this trial into a circus on multiple occasions,” including by twice putting on gloves before handling a Roundup bottle that contained only water.

In addition, the lawyers “paraded around celebrities and anti-Monsanto advocates Neil Young and Daryl Hannah… engaging in photo-ops right outside the jury room in a clearly improper attempt to influence the jury.”

“If any members of the jury were to perform a simple Google search for Mr. Young or Ms. Hannah, they would quickly learn of their strong anti-Monsanto sentiment,” Monsanto said in its filing, pointing out that four years ago Young produced an album critical of the company called “The Monsanto Years.”

In addition, Monsanto said, “Ms. Hannah’s Twitter account contains numerous tweets about the Roundup trials, including one where she specifically wrote about her experience in court during this trial: “Well that was a trip! – of course I know these skeevy corporate cronies manipulate & lie – but to see it right in front of your eyes is soooo depressing & creepy.”’

Monsanto also said that Wisner’s characterization of the case as “historic” should not be allowed again. Similarly, none of the plaintiffs’ lawyers should be allowed to suggest that the verdict will “change the world or have any effect outside of this case,” Monsanto argued.

The tiny courtroom in Oakland, California is expected to be packed. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who won the first trial against Monsanto last summer, is expected to be in attendance, as is Edwin Hardeman, who won the second trial.

Like the two previous trials, internal Monsanto records have provided some drama. On Tuesday, internal communications from last summer were made available by the court indicating clear  White House support for Monsanto. In a report attached to a July 2018 email to Monsanto global strategy official Todd Rands, the strategic intelligence and advisory firm Hakluyt  reported to Monsanto the following:

“A domestic policy adviser at the White House said, for instance: ‘We have Monsanto’s back on pesticides regulation. We are prepared to go toe-to-toe on any disputes they may have with, for example, the EU. Monsanto need not fear any additional regulation from this administration.”

New Monsanto documents expose cozy connection to Reuters reporter

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We knew from previously released documents that Reuters reporter Kate Kelland was a key connection for Monsanto in its endeavor to undermine and discredit the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) scientists who classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in 2015. Now we have additional evidence of the coziness of the connection.

Not only did Kelland write a 2017 story that Monsanto asked her to write in exactly the way Monsanto executive Sam Murphey asked her to write it, (without disclosing to readers that Monsanto was the source,) but now we see evidence that a draft of a separate story Kelland did about glyphosate was delivered to Monsanto  before it was published, a practice typically frowned on by news outlets.

The emails shows the story written by Kelland was emailed to Murphey with the subject line “My draft, Confidential.”

The story, headlined “New study on Monsanto weed killer to feed into crucial EU vote,” was about preliminary findings of an unpublished study by an Italian scientist showing that experimental rats exposed to glyphosate at levels equivalent to those allowed in humans showed no initial adverse reaction. The final version was published on April 13, 2017.

And another newly released email details how Monsanto’s fingerprints were on at least two other Kelland stories. The March 1, 2016 email speaks of the involvement of Monsanto’s “Red Flag” campaign  in an already published Reuters story that was critical of  IARC and the desire to influence a second similar story Reuters was planning.  Red Flag is a Dublin-based PR and lobbying firm that works to defend glyphosate safety and promote pro-glyphosate messaging via third parties such as farmer groups.

According to the partly redacted email, “following engagement by Red Flag a number of months ago, the first piece was quite critical of IARC.”  The email goes on: “You may also be aware that Red Flag is in touch with Reuters regarding the second report in the series…”

A little over a month later, Reuters published Kelland’s story headlined “Special Report: How the World Health Organization’s cancer agency confuses consumers.” 

Those revelations follow the disclosure earlier this year of email correspondence detailing how Kelland helped Monsanto drive a false narrative about cancer scientist Aaron Blair in his role as head of the IARC working group that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.  Internal Monsanto correspondence dated April 27, 2017 shows that Monsanto executive Sam Murphey sent the company’s desired narrative to Kelland with a slide deck of talking points and portions of the Blair deposition that was not filed in court.

On June 14, 2017, Kelland authored a controversial story based on what she said were “court documents,” that in reality were documents fed to her by Murphey. Because the documents Kelland cited were not really filed in court they were not publicly available for easy fact-checking by readers. By  falsely attributing the information as based on court documents she avoided disclosing Monsanto’s role in driving the story.

When the story came out, it portrayed Blair as hiding “important information”that found no links between glyphosate and cancer from IARC. Kelland wrote that a deposition showed that Blair “said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis” even though a review of the actual deposition shows that Blair did not say that.

Kelland provided no link to the documents she cited, making it impossible for readers to see for themselves how far she veered from accuracy.

The story was picked up by media outlets around the world, and promoted by Monsanto and chemical industry allies. Google advertisements were even purchased promoting the story. This story was also used by Monsanto to attack IARC on multiple fronts, including an effort by Monsanto to get Congress to strip funding from IARC.

There is nothing inherently wrong in receiving story suggestions that benefit companies from the companies themselves. It happens all the time. But reporters must be diligent in presenting facts, not corporate propaganda.

Reuters editor Mike Williams has defended Kelland’s work and declined to issue a clarification or correction on the Aaron Blair piece. He said “It was a great piece, and I stand by it fully.” Reuters “ethics editor” Alix Freedman also supports Kelland’s Blair story, despite the evidence of Monsanto’s involvement and the lack of disclosure of that involvement to readers. “We are proud of it and stand behind it,” Freedman said in an email.

On a personal note, I spent 17 years as a reporter at Reuters covering Monsanto and I am horrified at this violation of journalistic standards. It is particularly noteworthy that Alix Freedman is the same person who told me I was not allowed to write about many independent scientific studies of Monsanto’s glyphosate that were showing harmful impacts .

At the very least, Kelland should have been honest with readers and acknowledged that Monsanto was her source – on that story, and apparently many others. Reuters owes the world – and IARC – an apology.

For more background on this topic, see this article.

 

Monsanto Relied on These “Partners” to Attack Top Cancer Scientists

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Related: Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists, by Stacy Malkan

This fact sheet describes the contents of Monsanto’s confidential public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research unit, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in order to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, the international group of experts on the IARC panel judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.

The Monsanto plan names more than a dozen “industry partner” groups that company executives planned to “inform / inoculate / engage” in their efforts to protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent the “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies.” Partners included academics as well as chemical and food industry front groups, trade groups and lobby groups — follow the links below to fact sheets that provide more information about the partner groups.

Together these fact sheets provide a sense of the depth and breadth of the corporate attack on the IARC cancer experts in defense of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide.

Monsanto’s objectives for dealing with the IARC carcinogenicity rating for glyphosate (page 5).

Background

A key document released in 2017 in legal proceedings against Monsanto describes the corporation’s “preparedness and engagement plan” for the IARC cancer classification for glyphosate, the world’s most widely used agrichemical. The internal Monsanto document — dated Feb. 23, 2015 — assigns more than 20 Monsanto staffers to objectives including “neutralize impact of decision,” “regulator outreach,” “ensure MON POV” and “lead voice in ‘who is IARC’ plus 2B outrage.” On March 20, 2015, IARC announced its decision to classify glyphosate as Group 2A carcinogen, “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

For more background, see: “How Monsanto Manufactured Outrage at Chemical Cancer Classification it Expected,” by Carey Gillam, Huffington Post (9/19/2017)

Monsanto’s Tier 1-4 “Industry Partners”

Page 5 of the Monsanto document identifies four tiers of “industry partners” that Monsanto executives planned to engage in its IARC preparedness plan. These groups together have a broad reach and influence in pushing a narrative about cancer risk that protects corporate profits.

Tier 1 industry partners are agrichemical industry-funded lobby and PR groups.

Tier 2 industry partners are front groups that are often cited as independent sources, but work with the chemical industry behind the scenes on public relations and lobbying campaigns.

Tier 3 industry partners are food-industry funded nonprofit and trade groups. These groups were tapped to, “Alert food companies via Stakeholder Engagement team (IFIC, GMA, CFI) for ‘inoculation strategy’ to provide early education on glyphosate residue levels, describe science-based studies versus agenda-driven hypotheses” of the independent cancer panel.

Tier 4 industry partners are “key grower’s associations.” These are the various trade groups representing corn, soy and other industrial growers and food manufacturers.

Orchestrating outcry against the cancer report on glyphosate

Monsanto’s PR document described their plans to conduct robust media and social media outreach to “orchestrate outcry with the IARC decision.”

How that played out can be seen in the writings of the industry partner groups that used common messaging and sources to accuse the cancer research agency of wrongdoing and attempt to discredit the scientists who worked on the glyphosate report.

Examples of the attack messaging can be seen on the Genetic Literacy Project website. This group claims to be an independent source on science, however, documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that Genetic Literacy Project works with Monsanto on PR projects without disclosing those collaborations. Jon Entine launched the group in 2011 when Monsanto was a client of his PR firm. This is a classic front group tactic; moving a company’s messaging through a group that claims to be independent but isn’t.

Plan suggests Sense About Science to “lead industry response”

Monsanto’s PR document discusses plans to conduct robust media and social media outreach to “orchestrate outcry with the IARC decision.” The plan suggests the group Sense About Science (in brackets with a question mark) for “leads industry response and provides platform for IARC observers and industry spokesperson.”

Sense About Science is a public charity based in London that claims to promote public understanding of science, but the group is “known to take positions that buck scientific consensus or dismiss emerging evidence of harm,” reported Liza Gross in The Intercept. In 2014, Sense About Science launched a US version under the direction of  Trevor Butterworth, a writer with a long history of disagreeing with science that raises health concerns about toxic chemicals.

Sense About Science is related to the Science Media Centre, a science PR agency in London that receives corporate funding and is known for pushing corporate views of science. A reporter with close ties to the Science Media Centre, Kate Kelland, has published several articles in Reuters critical of the IARC cancer agency that were based on false narratives and inaccurate incomplete reporting. The Reuters articles have been heavily promoted by Monsanto’s “industry partner” groups and were used as the basis for political attacks against IARC.

For more information:

  • “IARC rejects false claims in Reuters article,” IARC statement (3/1/18)
  • Reuters’ Aaron Blair IARC story promotes false narrative, USRTK (7/24/2017)
  • Reuters’ claim that IARC “edited out” findings is also false, USRTK (10/20/2017)
  • “Are corporate ties influencing science coverage?” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (7/24/2017)

“Engage Henry Miller”

Page 2 of the Monsanto PR document identifies the first external deliverable for planning and preparation: “Engage Henry Miller” to “inoculate / establish public perspective on IARC and reviews.”

“I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.”

Henry I. Miller, MD, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, has a long documented history of working with corporations to defend hazardous products. The Monsanto plan identifies the “MON owner” of the task as Eric Sachs, Monsanto’s science, technology and outreach lead.

Documents later reported by The New York Times reveal that Sachs emailed Miller a week before the IARC glyphosate report to ask if Miller was interested in writing about the “controversial decision.” Miller responded, “I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.” On March 23, Miller posted an article on Forbes that “largely mirrored” the draft provided by Monsanto, according to the Times. Forbes severed its relationship with Miller in the wake of the ghostwriting scandal and deleted his articles from the site.

American Council on Science and Health 

Although the Monsanto PR document did not name the corporate-funded American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) among its “industry partners,” emails released via litigation show that Monsanto funded the American Council on Science and Health and asked the group to write about the IARC glyphosate report.  The emails indicate that Monsanto executives were uncomfortable about working with ACSH but did so anyway because, “we don’t have a lot of supporters and can’t afford to lose the few we have.”

Monsanto’s senior science lead Daniel Goldstein wrote his colleagues, “I can assure you I am not all starry eyed about ACSH- they have PLENTY of warts- but: You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH” (emphasis his). Goldstein sent links to dozens of ACSH materials promoting and defending GMOs and pesticides that he described as “EXTREMELY USEFUL.”

See also: Tracking the Agrichemical Industry Propaganda Network 

Follow the findings of U.S. Right to Know and media coverage about collaborations between food industry groups and academics on our investigations page. USRTK documents are also available in the Chemical Industry Documents Library hosted by UCSF.

Who Is Paying for Monsanto’s Crimes? We Are

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This article was originally published in The Guardian.

By Carey Gillam

The chickens are coming home to roost, as they say in farm country.

For the second time in less than eight months a US jury has found that decades of scientific evidence demonstrates a clear cancer connection to Monsanto’s line of top-selling Roundup herbicides, which are used widely by consumers and farmers. Twice now jurors have additionally determined that the company’s own internal records show Monsanto has intentionally manipulated the public record to hide the cancer risks. Both juries found punitive damages were warranted because the company’s cover-up of cancer risks was so egregious.

The juries saw evidence that Monsanto has ghost-written scientific papers, tried to silence scientists, scuttled independent government testing and cozied up to regulators for favorable safety reviews of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

Even the US district judge Vince Chhabria, who oversaw the San Francisco trial that concluded Wednesday with an $80.2m damage award, had harsh words for Monsanto. Chhabria said there were “large swaths of evidence” showing that the company’s herbicides could cause cancer. He also said there was “a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product … and does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”

Monsanto’s new owner, the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, asserts that the juries and judges are wrong; the evidence of a cancer risk is invalid; the evidence of bad corporate conduct is misunderstood and out of context; and that the company will ultimately prevail.

Meanwhile, Monsanto critics are celebrating the wins and counting on more as a third trial got underway this week and 11,000 additional plaintiffs await their turn. As well, a growing number of communities and businesses are backing away from use of Monsanto’s herbicides. And investors are punishing Bayer, pushing share prices to a seven-year low on Thursday.

Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Tom Claps has warned shareholders to brace for a global settlement of between $2.5bn and $4.5bn.

“We don’t believe [Monsanto] will lose every single trial, but we do believe that they could lose a significant majority,” he told the Guardian.

Following the recent courtroom victories, some have cheered the notion that Monsanto is finally being made to pay for alleged wrongdoing. But by selling to Bayer last summer for $63bn just before the Roundup cancer lawsuits started going to trial, Monsanto executives were able to walk away from the legal mess with riches. The Monsanto chairman Hugh Grant’s exit package allowed him to pocket $32m, for instance.

Amid the uproar of the courtroom scuffles, a larger issue looms: Monsanto’s push to make use of glyphosate herbicides so pervasive that traces are commonly found in our food and even our bodily fluids, is just one example of how several corporate giants are creating lasting human health and environmental woes around the world. Monsanto and its brethren have targeted farmers in particular as a critical market for their herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, and now many farmers around the world believe they cannot farm without them.

Studies show that along with promoting illness and disease in people, these pesticides pushed by Bayer and Monsanto, DowDuPont and other corporate players, are endangering wildlife, soil health, water quality and the long-term sustainability of food production. Yet regulators have allowed these corporations to combine forces, making them ever more powerful and more able to direct public policies that favor their interests.

The Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren this week called for taking back some of that power. She announced on Wednesday a plan to break up big agribusinesses and work against the type of corporate capture of Washington we have seen in recent years.

It’s a solid step in the right direction. But it cannot undo the suffering of cancer victims, nor easily transform a deeply contaminated landscape to create a healthier future and unleash us from the chains of a pesticide-dependent agricultural system.

And while Bayer may dole out a few billion dollars in damages, who is really being made to pay?

We all are.

Newsweek Gets Ad Money from Bayer, Prints Op-Eds That Help Bayer

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Newsweek failed to disclose the chemical industry connections of two opinion writers who argued today in an op-ed that glyphosate can’t be regulated. The commentary by Henry I. Miller and Stuart Smyth, both of whom have ties to Monsanto that were not disclosed in the piece, appeared soon after a federal jury handed cancer victim Edwin Hardeman an $80 million verdict against Monsanto (now Bayer), and said the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide was a “substantial factor” in causing Hardeman’s cancer.

Last year, we complained to Newsweek’s opinion editor about an op-ed Dr. Miller wrote attacking the organic industry that was based on pesticide industry sources and didn’t disclose Miller’s Monsanto ties. See our bizarre email exchange with the editor, Nicholas Wapshott, in which he declined to inform readers about the conflicts of interest. Wapshott is no longer at Newsweek, but Miller’s organic food attack still appears there, and today it was surrounded by Bayer advertisements promoting glyphosate.

Bayer ads surrounding Dr. Miller’s 2018 attack on organic food – March 28, 2019

Today’s op-ed in Newsweek, in which Miller and Smyth defended Monsanto and Roundup, provided these bios: Stuart J. Smyth is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and holds the Industry Funded Research Chair in Agri-Food Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

Here’s what Newsweek did not disclose to its readers about the authors:

Henry Miller’s Monsanto ties:

Stuart Smyth’s Monsanto ties:

  • Dr. Smyth also collaborates with the agrichemical industry on PR projects, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know and published in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Archive.
  • Emails from 2016 indicate that Dr. Smyth receives “program support” from Monsanto. The email from Monsanto Canada’s Public and Industry Affairs Director asks Dr. Smyth to send the “invoice for this year’s contribution.”

Newsweek has a duty to inform its readers about the chemical industry connections of writers and sources who argue in Newsweek for the safety and necessity of pesticides linked to cancer.

For more information: