Bayer pressured researchers over neonic study results, but researchers pushed back

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Agrichemical giant Bayer helped fund a study by university academics, then pressured them to omit photos that implicated a defective insecticide-treated seed product as a threat to bees, according to communications obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

Several seed and insecticide companies, including Bayer, paid Ohio State University researchers to determine how much their insecticide-coated seed products affected bees during corn planting season in 2014 and 2015. After the researchers presented their preliminary results to “stakeholders,” which included funders, a Bayer official asked that their final report exclude photos of insecticide-coated corn seeds in which the product appeared defective. He also urged the researchers to qualify statements in the final report that discussed threats to bee health in ways that benefited Bayer’s corporate interests.

One of the seeds Johnson and Watters photographed after they observed insecticidal coatings flaking off in the field in 2015.

Although the photos and all the researchers’ conclusions ultimately made it to the final publication, internal emails show the seed and chemical industry funders intensely scrutinizing the researchers’ findings during pre-publication presentations. The study’s funding contract allowed funders to review and comment on findings prior to publication, and required pre-approval for any press releases or sharing of results.

This situation serves as an example of how agrichemical companies attempted to influence scientific research at a public university. Emails show how an industry funder tried to control and spin researchers’ results. Internal communications and research contracts are elements of sponsored research that are typically hidden from the public, but in this case, they provide insight into corporate sponsors’ involvement in the research process.

Concerns about bee deaths 

The main funders of this research were chemical companies that manufacture neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely-used insecticide. Neonicotinoids, or neonics for short, are often  delivered to crops via a colorful coating on the seed. Neonics are systemic, which means the seed grows into a plant containing the insecticide throughout, so it kills any bug that bites it. Since they are insecticides, neonics are also toxic to bees and other beneficial pollinator insects.

The companies manufacturing neonics have been trying to shape the narrative about bees and insecticides for more than a decade, as concerns have grown about harm to bees.

In 2008, there was a major honey bee die-off in Germany that researchers traced back to the planting of neonic-coated seeds. The coatings were flaking off the seeds as tractors drove around in the fields towing corn planters, which are mechanical devices that plant corn seeds one at a time into the ground. The mechanical planting process churned up clouds of neonic-imbued dust that killed bees. Bayer said it was a bad batch of seed, and they released a paper the following year announcing they would retrain seed manufacturers, improve the coating ingredients, and develop dust-cutting modifications for planters. But a 2012 Purdue University paper listed neonic-contaminated dust from corn planters as a route of neonic exposure for bees. Canada was able to link bee deaths to corn and soybean planting events in 2012 and 2013.

The next year, the nonprofit Pollinator Partnership formed the Crop Dust Research Consortium (CDRC), which funded research to determine the best practices for minimizing honey bee exposure to seed dust. Its funders included companies such as Bayer, Syngenta, and BASF, all of which manufacture insecticidal seed coatings; trade groups with direct financial interests in neonic-coated seeds; and beekeeping and agricultural interest groups.

The CDRC said that its goal across all research objectives was to “produce peer-reviewed published papers to advance the understanding of the issue through open and transparent oversight.” Its material explicitly said the research was not intended as an endorsement of seed treatment, neonics, or any other specific practice. One of its objectives was to test a new lubricant Bayer developed that was intended to contain the coatings better than existing lubricants.

In 2014, the CDRC granted $157,224 to Dr. Reed Johnson and agronomist Harold Watters of Ohio State University. The researchers were to characterize bee visits to flowers around cornfields during spring planting to figure out how to reduce pesticide exposure during those visits, and to test how well various seed lubricants reduced dust. In 2015, CDRC granted the lab an additional $145,000 to continue the research.  In addition, the researchers were to investigate the long-term health consequences of bee colonies exposed to insecticide-contaminated dust from corn planters, and the efficacy of the CDRC’s recommendations in preventing bee exposure to planter dust. Researchers in Iowa, Nebraska, Montana, and Ontario also received funding.

Johnson and Watters determined there was very little difference in the amount of neonic dust generated by different kinds of corn planters, and that Bayer’s new lubricant didn’t outperform the other lubricants. This conclusion was published in the CDRC final report in 2017. Johnson and Watters also documented higher neonic levels in bee-collected pollen, and an uptick in bee deaths during corn planting season. However, they didn’t find evidence that the contaminated pollen killed the bees (bees could have died by direct exposure to the planter dust) and the neonic exposures didn’t appear to impact longer-term colony strength or overwintering success. They published these conclusions in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in 2020, in addition to the CDRC final report.

The conversations leading up to publication show that, although the researchers ultimately published all their findings, they first had to respond to funders who had a financial interest in the results as they reviewed and suggested changes to their report.

The flaky seed coating ordeal

During corn planting, Johnson and Watters noticed the insecticidal coating on their seeds was visibly flaking off, so they sampled the seeds after they’d been rattling around in the planting hopper for 15 minutes to an hour. They later photographed a few seeds from every sample. The photos showed the seeds were losing a lot of their insecticidal coating before they went into the ground. Johnson and Watters included these photos in a November 2015 presentation to the Entomological Society of America and a contractually-required December 2015 presentation to CDRC stakeholders.

By January, the CDRC’s industry-affiliated stakeholders began to take intense interest. In emails from January through November of 2016, they asked Watters and Johnson for minute details about their research conditions, remarked that the seeds looked unusually bad, and suggested conducting more studies to replicate the phenomenon.

“I can’t explain the photos taken by OSU,” wrote David Fischer, the director of pollinator science for Bayer, prior to a July 2016 presentation of the Ohio State team’s preliminary results. “I’d like to know more about the seed treatment quality. … So much of the seed treatment has been eroded from these seeds I don’t see how any pest control efficacy could be achieved. In past studies, the amount of active ingredient removed from the seed is usually less than 2%. The seeds from the OSU study look to be 30% or more.”

While Fischer insisted the findings were an outlier, Watters defended his research and said the coating problems he observed were likely typical in the field, in an interview with U.S. Right to Know.

One important distinction is that most of the prior experiments Fischer referenced were conducted on small plots, Watters said.

“Frequently when we do corn trials in small plots we use a length of 17 feet 5 inches – because in a 30-inch row this is 1/1,000th of an acre. It makes calculations for yield very easy. I do not use this for most of my work because I feel it is too small to get world/reality check as to accuracy,” he said. “A typical farm field is 40, 80, 160 or perhaps 320 acres in size. My work was done in these typically sized farm fields.”

Furthermore, Johnson and Watters’ research was conducted on working farmers’ fields, using the coated seed the grower already planned to use for that field.

“The seed came off the typical commercial lots sold to farmers,” Watters said. “So hybrid, company of origin, maturity, etc. would have been at random – we made no prior plans on seed, only what field we were in and with what grower.”

Ultimately, Watters said they observed degraded seed coatings at random throughout the study.

“Our observations were totally random and as a conclusion I would expect similar seed coat breakage to happen everywhere,” he said.

At least one stakeholder on the conference calls told Watters and Johnson that getting seed treatments to stick to corn seeds is difficult as a rule, Watters said.

“This was apparently not unexpected for at least that one person.”

“I think there was an understanding that this is probably a component of the problem: the quality of the coating maybe was not as good as the seed casing they were producing in their own facilities,” Johnson said, referencing an American Seed Trade Association top lobbyist asking about how the seeds had been stored and under what circumstances they’d been purchased. But he said he believed the scrutiny was coming from industry affiliates’ interest in identifying what to fix. “I think they genuinely wanted to solve this problem,” he said.

“The recollection I have is they couldn’t believe that there were actually flakes of the seed coating coming off of the seed,” Watters said when asked about the emailed exchanges. “The seed coats did crack. We collected material in the field, we had sticky traps… there were chunks of the seed coat that were coming off as the seed was being planted.”

Although he engaged with the questions from the industry stakeholders, Watters said he remained firm in his testimony.

“I’m comfortable with the remarks I made with them that these were the results I saw,” he said.

Watters also found a 2013 review from Belgium that documented similar seed coat loss. He wrote to Johnson in August 2016 that “apparently it is not unheard of… and should not be a surprise.”

Bayer’s David Fischer asks for changes in the report

In advance of a conference call with other research stakeholders in July 2016, Bayer’s Fischer wrote to the group:

“Bayer has very significant concerns about the inclusion in the CDRC report of the photographs of seeds with severely eroded seed coatings that are shown in Fig 10 of the report from Ohio State University, especially the photo characterized as “typical” example of what seeds look like after passing through a planter. Many BCS [Bayer Crop Science] personnel have seen these photos and consider them completely atypical of anything they’ve seen in their experience.”

Fischer went on to say that Bayer’s internal studies yielded very different results, where the coating stayed on nearly perfectly after passing through a planter. Fischer then asked for further studies and interpretations on the matter.

The CDRC final report indicates which seed companies sold the seeds used in Johnson and Watters’ study (Beck’s, Dekalb/Monsanto, Master’s Choice and Stewart’s) but no information explicitly named which seed coating manufacturer’s product was on those seeds. Although three seed coating manufacturers were represented in the CDRC’s stakeholder group (Syngenta, BASF, and Bayer), Bayer’s David Fischer dominates the communications obtained by USRTK.

After the meeting, Fischer sent Johnson several pages of comments in which he asked for Johnson to remove the photos, and asked him to qualify several statements pertaining to bee health.

Despite this, conclusions remained unchanged between the June 2016 draft that Fischer commented on and the final report, aside from one statement that Johnson added to qualify the observed uptick in bee deaths: “The increase in adult mortality, however, would not be expected based on the concentrations of seed treatment insecticide measured in bulk pollen samples.”

In other words, it clarified that pesticide concentrations in the pollen were too low to adequately explain the bee deaths they observed.

“The insecticide was probably not evenly distributed throughout the pollen,” Johnson explained, referring to it as “the toxic chocolate chip cookie hypothesis.”

“There were these little chunks of the seed treatments and if the bee got that chunk, it was gonna die. But overall, the concentration, if you averaged it all together, was still below the level that was expected to kill bees,” he said in an interview with U.S. Right to Know.

Although Fisher’s requests appeared to elicit little change in the report, he asked for many changes: With regards to the flaky seed coatings, he called for a dedicated study to determine whether OSU’s seeds met industry standards, but noted that might be impossible for the specific batch of seeds that had been used in Johnson’s study.

“So the quality of the seed treatment of the seeds used in the OSU study is an uncertainty. Given this uncertainty, I would suggest that the photographs of abraded seeds be removed from the report, or at least a clear statement made that indicates the quality of the treatment of these seeds is unknown,” Fischer wrote. “Figure 10, showing the photos of seeds with a large amount of the seed treatment eroded as a result of planter abrasion is problematic. There are no data backing up the statement that the photo on the left represents a typical seed after passing through a planter. Also, the amount of a.i. [active ingredient] remaining on the seed hasn’t been determined. These photos have the potential to mislead the reader regarding the amount of a.i. lost due to dust abrasion. These photos should be deleted from the report.”

Fischer further suggested qualifiers and changes to the report, such as removing the word “elevated” from “[neonic] residues are reliably detected at elevated levels (8 ppb above background on average).” This suggestion was ignored.

Fischer also suggested that Johnson contextualize the neonicotinoid levels he found in pollen that bees had collected by discussing their risk to bee health. He provided several paragraphs of analysis and a diagram to that extent.

“The residue levels measured DO NOT indicate any appreciable risk to honey bees, and DO NOT explain the acute mortality observed in the study.  The above analysis should be included in the report. Without it, the reader might mistakenly think that the residue measurements DO explain the mortality observed.” (Emphasis Fischer’s.) This appears to be the one area where Johnson et al added a sentence to emphasize the above fact, although Fischer’s diagram was not included in the final report.

Fischer also wrote to Johnson about the bee deaths documented in the research.

“It is important that the CDRC report emphasizes that the level of mortality documented in this study was low, and had no observed effect on colony development or viability.” he said.

Fischer went on to tell Johnson that one of his conclusions, that removing flowering weeds is unlikely to reduce pesticide exposure to bees, “needs to be considered speculative, because the risk to bees was very low regardless of the landscape conditions in this study.” This was ignored in Johnson’s section of the final report.

Fischer also told Johnson that “the number of trials is too few to draw the definitive conclusions” his lab made about the relative efficacy of Bayer’s seed planting lubricant.

Johnson responded to Fischer’s comments in an email to Pollinator Partnership staff two days later.

“Clearly, the photos of seeds have struck a nerve. I’d be very reluctant to remove the photos entirely, but I think David Fischer does have valid concerns,” he wrote.

When asked in an interview about what Fischer asked him to do, Johnson said he thought Fischer didn’t want the pictures to be highlighted in the report.

“I pushed back,” Johnson said, because he believed the degraded seed coatings could be an important factor in the questions the CDRC sought to answer. However, Johnson acknowledged that he didn’t know much about coated seeds, and Fischer’s concerns seemed valid if the seeds he’d photographed had been a fluke. He largely disregarded Fischer’s suggested edits, though, besides adding the line about how the average insecticide levels were lower than lethal in the pollen samples.

“I think we were happy with the conclusions we had come to. I guess we disagreed with what David Fischer had suggested,” he said, “except on that one point.”

Did Johnson think this exchange was an overstep on Fischer’s part?

“I think that was his role to play in this group, and he did it,” Johnson said.

When asked whether he thought several stakeholders’ commercial interests in coated seeds affected the discussion of his study results, Johnson said he thought their presence was productive.

“It was interesting because they definitely came at this with their point of view, which was expected,” he said.

They were engaged on the conference calls and there was sometimes genuine disagreement, he said, about things like the efficacy of the lubricants, the mechanism of bee exposure to neonics, and whether weed control was a good approach to mediate the effects of seed treatment dust.

But the group was well-mediated, and it was “really exciting” to be on calls with the very people who had the ability to make changes and solve the problem, he said.

“In many ways they’re the prime audience for this research. I felt the discussions were quite productive. I always had it in my mind they were coming at it with their point of view,” he said, adding that he freely presented the study’s results to many audiences, and the chapter he submitted to the CDRC final report was published with all data and conclusions intact.

Funder/researcher interactions consistent with funding contracts

The funding contracts Johnson signed in 2014 and 2015 specify an obligation to share results with the funders before publication. “The Corn Dust Research Consortium has been formed to review proposals and oversee the project execution, including review and comment on study protocols, draft reports and presentation materials prior to their execution and public release. Final decisions on technical interpretation of the study findings and content of study reports, publications and presentations will be made by study personnel,” read the CDRC request for proposals. Both contracts Johnson signed contained provisions that all press releases and release of research results must be pre-approved by the Pollinator Partnership. Furthermore, “Research data is not to be released outside of the CDRC group without an agreed upon date between P2 [Pollinator Partnership] and the principal investigator,” the contracts read, with a suggested date soon after that of each contract’s expiration.

The contracts explicitly encouraged “photography or videography documentation from the onset of methods, experimental plots locations and in field activity for use in explaining the methodology and illustrating observations.”

“That was one of the expectations going into this project… they said they would let us publish whatever we wanted,” Johnson said. When asked about the contract’s pre-approval clause, he said that only factored in during the length of the contract. “They were actively encouraging us to publish our results,” he said.

Dr. Quinn Grundy is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, who studies corporate influence in health and health research. She said elements of this situation at Ohio State are “really familiar” to what she sees in the medically-related industries.

Overall, the CDRC contract “sounds pretty standard” to Grundy:  “I think, in most cases, sponsors ask for updates or the ability to comment or to approve publication,” she said.

However, the clause in the CDRC contract requiring  pre-approval of press releases isn’t ideal: “It definitely raises red flags for me, and I think in an ideal world the sponsor would have no role in approving the output of sponsored research, but unfortunately I think it’s pretty common. Usually the clause is something like the sponsor has the right to see, but can’t block publication or overrule the researchers, in the decision to publish,” she said.

It’s “so important” that contracts explicitly state a researcher’s ability to publish their research regardless of the results, Grundy said, particularly for early career scientists.

Grundy also noted that the CDRC is one instance of many where corporations have obscured their research contributions by providing them through a foundation or trade organization. Such entities might have “innocuous and nice sounding names,” Grundy said, but are “actually representing the pooled contributions of several commercial or corporate entities with an interest in shaping the direction of a research agenda.”

It can be hard for an average reader to identify conflicts of interest in a system that relies on voluntary disclosures from researchers, Grundy said. Structural or policy interventions might be necessary to eliminate bias or funder influence.  “It sounds like [Johnson and Watters] in fact did the right thing, but could have benefited from more supports to ensure the independence and integrity of their work which… has some pretty powerful implications for not only bees, but all of us that depend on bees,” she said.

One beekeeper stakeholder’s perspective on chemical industry influence

Iowa Beekeeper Manley Bigalk was appointed a CDRC stakeholder on behalf of the American Beekeeping Federation, a beekeeping industry interest group. He said that the chemical company stakeholders contributed more funds and had a more central role in discussions.

“So I was a stakeholder for, I forget what was pledged, $300 or $700 or something like that. Well, the companies were in there for hundreds of thousands because they were sponsoring the tests,” Bigalk said.

“A chemical company running grants to find out if their chemicals are active? Might be a little bit of a conflict of interest there. But a lot of the research today is funded by these people even at the universities,” he said. “And they have the money.” Bigalk spoke about the way he saw the main sponsors, the chemical company stakeholders, attempt to shape the scope of the study and the content of the report. “There never was a full admission there was dust in the air, to tell you the truth,” he said. Bigalk also noted they left certain critical details out of the CDRC’s final report. “Wouldn’t you think,” he said, if the study sought to address beekeeper complaints about toxic corn dust, “ …that you would have some evidence of things that now have been corrected? Or evidence that it does kill bees? Wouldn’t you think?”

Although Bigalk saw the project through from start to finish, another beekeeping interest group representative grew so disheartened with the CDRC that he dropped out of the partnership. Randy Verhoek attended a couple meetings on behalf of the American Honey Producers Association, but dropped out after hearing the group arrive at conclusions he didn’t agree with,  American Honey Producers Association president Chris Hiatt confirmed.

“It was really a strange experience. And for more ways than one,” Bigalk said. In one of the very first stakeholder meetings, Bigalk said he suggested the seed coating dust could be remediated with a different polymer that would stick better to corn seed. “That comment was made and there was no response and they went on to something else,” he said. That surprised him, he said, since a small chemical vendor had readily mentioned the coating problem to Bigalk previously.

Johnson’s team stands their ground

Several days after Johnson responded to Fischer’s feedback, Pollinator Partnership personnel scheduled a phone conversation with Johnson, then convened another conference call in November specifically to talk about the seed coating issue.

During that call, minutes obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that Fischer said that “chunks coming off seeds do not affect the bees as much as the pollen-sized seed coating that comes off,” to which then-Pollinator Partnership Executive Director Laurie Davies Adams responded that big chunks of insecticidal coating could still affect the water quality on the site.

Meeting minutes show one seed company representative, Beck’s Hybrids manager Jim Herr, suggested throwing out the worst-looking photo. “In trying to understand how this could have happened, it seems that this one photo (picture 2. B-F) was an extreme scenario so it may not be the best to include in a report.”

The CDRC final report included 14 photos of the degraded seeds, including the contested “extreme” photo mentioned above.

“All examined corn seeds showed signs of seed treatment degradation, varying in severity,” the report reads. The photo caption says that “seeds varied in the perceived integrity of the coating, but most showed signs [of] particle generation. In an extreme case, we found one seed that had almost no coating left on it (B2), though this was the only example we noticed of such extensive degradation.”

In an early November email exchange, Watters and Johnson expressed their “exhaustion” on the topic to one another.

“However I get the sense there may be some appetite for funding additional research? Hard to say,” Johnson wrote.

Ultimately, Johnson said that he didn’t conduct any of the further studies that had been suggested. “I would really have loved to follow up,” he said.

He described a study he wanted to do where he’d use a dust meter to measure the amount of coating flaking off of the seeds, but it was “actually quite difficult” to access the necessary equipment, the CDRC didn’t offer any further funding opportunities, and eventually, Johnson moved on.

“I’m a honey bee researcher, and I finally made the decision that this is really getting too far afield,” he said.

Other issues with the final CDRC report

Starting in January 2017, the Pollinator Partnership circulated a draft of their final report, which was meant to summarize the study results and make final recommendations for mitigating planter dust contamination. Members of Johnson’s lab internally expressed disdain for the long list of recommendations to farmers, beekeepers, pesticide and equipment manufacturers, seed dealers, regulators, and educators. They were particularly irked that the report made recommendations to beekeepers, whose practices were not the focus of the study.

“I’m genuinely offended that the farmers and beekeepers are the first groups to be addressed, as though they bear the primary responsibility for this issue,” a lab member whose name was redacted told Johnson when he asked them what they thought of the conclusions.

When submitting comments on the report’s final draft in April, Johnson wrote, “I don’t recall anyone doing research on supplemental feeding or providing water or placement of hives around a field. I realize this leaves you with no bolded recommendations for beekeepers, but generating recommendations for beekeepers really wasn’t a focus of the research,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, the CDRC’s final report featured bolded recommendations for beekeepers.

Furthermore, the report’s overall conclusions recommended that farmers remove flowering vegetation within fields “through tillage, mowing or use of herbicides where appropriate” prior to planting, despite Johnson’s chapter recommending against that. Johnson said he believes some of the above discrepancies came from the fact that, although the 2017 report only contained the final year of each university team’s research data, the report’s overall conclusions attempted to synthesize three years of sometimes conflicting conclusions made by the different university research groups.

Johnson believes that Pollinator Partnership staff drafted the overall conclusions. Pollinator Partnership did not respond to a request to confirm this.

The aftermath

“My conclusion is that, at the end of this project our major conclusion was that it was really a quality control issue… and the seed treatment wasn’t adhering well to the seed,” Johnson said.

He said he believes that the seed coating formulation changed in the years since his study.

“I don’t get any calls about bees dying during corn planting anymore,” he said, compared to many calls in 2012 and 2013, and he detects lower insecticide concentrations in pollen during planting season nowadays. “It seems that this problem has been solved one way or another,” he said. “I think [the research] reached an audience who needed to see it.”

“I still don’t…like these insecticidal seed treatments, for a whole variety of reasons,” Johnson said. “The bee issues are just one of them. The fact that they’re not really very effective at pest control is another major issue here. But they do seem to have solved it causing mass bee kills from dust off like it did in these years.”

The CDRC research did not signify the end of neonic contamination issues, however, Bigalk said.

“They made the steps to research the corn dust situation. But in many ways, it just stopped short of showing the full toxic effect of neonics on what we call beneficial insects,” he said, or on aquatic organisms.

Bigalk said he believes the participating chemical companies corrected the flaky seed coating formula, as Johnson suspects. He also believes that mechanical dust control kits, which farmers can attach to corn planters, have helped to reduce dust since the CDRC was formed.

“We have controlled a great amount of that dust,” he said.

Although Bigalk had a large bee kill prior to the formation of the CDRC, he hasn’t had anything like it in the years since, he said. But he said problems from the “abuse of chemicals” persist.

“But with the things affecting honey bees today during the summer months and into the winter, we don’t have outright kills…. we’ve got this invisible negative influence that are coming into the hive and are just disrupting many, many things. And it’s a subtle thing,” Bigalk said, which might manifest in a colony’s queen dying or never returning to the hive after going out to mate.  “My word, there’s such a dramatic change in colony health today compared to what it was 30 years ago. 40 years ago,” he said. Although parasitic Varroa and tracheal mites hurt colony health, Bigalk said they’re not the only bee stressor at play.  “There are beekeepers out there without any elevated number of Varroa mites that are suffering greatly. It’s invisible…. Invisible negative influences from abuse of chemicals,” he said.

Just last year, Nebraska regulators closed down the AltEn LLC ethanol plant after the neonic coatings on the seeds the plant processed caused widespread environmental contamination.

Bigalk is a farmer as well as a beekeeper. He said he’s aware that neonicotinoids are applied to far more acres than actually need treatment.

“It’s abusive use,” he said.

However, he still allows them to be applied on his own land, in part to make things less complicated for his neighbors, since their fields are planted with the same equipment.

“I would surely prefer not having it on, but it doesn’t work out that well when you’re in a custom [planting] situation,” he said.

The Pollinator Partnership did not respond to requests for comment on this story. A Bayer representative informed USRTK that David Fischer has retired. The representative did not respond to requests for comment.

U.S. Right to Know obtained the documents for this report through an Ohio Public Records Act request to Ohio State University, and by asking Dr. Johnson directly for certain additional communications.

Abbe Hamilton is an investigative reporter covering corporate influence on neonicotinoid science and policy for U.S. Right to Know.

Alison Van Eenennaam: key outside spokesperson and lobbyist for the agrichemical and GMO industries

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Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD, a Professor of Cooperative Extension in Animal Biotechnology and Genomics at University of California, Davis, is a leading promoter of genetically engineered animals, crops and the pesticides that accompany them, and an advocate for deregulation.

Dr. Van Eenennaam argues GE animals should not be subject to pre-market safety reviews or labels.

Dr. Van Eenennaam is a former Monsanto employee who opposes requiring safety studies for genetically engineered animals and holds several patents involving genetic engineering. Her lab experiments include using CRISPR, a genetic engineering technique, to eliminate the horns of dairy cows and breed “all-male terminator cattle” to father only male offspring — a project she calls “Boys Only.” A proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require safety and efficacy studies for genetically engineered animals is “insane,” according to Dr. Van Eenennaam.

See also: Wall Street Journal (12.14.18),  Big Tongues and Extra Vertebrae: The Unintended Consequences of Animal Gene Editing 

Although often presented in the media as an independent scientist, Dr. Van Eenennaam coordinates with agrichemical companies and their PR firms on messaging, lobbying and PR activities, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know and now posted in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Library.

She is also a member of the board of directors of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a corporate funded front group that engages in product defense efforts for the largest food and chemical companies. For more information about IFIC see:

  • March 2022 study in Globalization and Health, “Confronting potential food industry ‘front groups’: case study of the international food information Council’s nutrition communications using the UCSF food industry documents archives,” describes how food and chemical industry players view IFIC and the IFIC Foundation as “being central to promoting industry-favourable content in defence of products facing potentially negative press, such as aspartame…”
  • U.S. Right to Know fact sheet: “IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News”

More examples of Van Eenennaam’s collaborations with the agrichemical industry include:

Monsanto edited her remarks for the Intelligence Squared debate 

Emails show that Lee Quarles, Monsanto’s global communication lead, and Tony Zagora, senior vice president and partner of the FleishmanHillard PR firm, edited Dr. Van Eenennaam’s remarks for a December 2014 Intelligence Squared (IQ2) debate where she argued for public acceptance of genetically engineered foods alongside Robb Fraley of Monsanto.

Quarles also connected Dr. Van Eenennaam with higher ups at Monsanto and FleishmanHillard to discuss the core positions she and Fraley should align on, and he arranged for Zagora and the PR agency to provide her with guidance on “approach, tone, delivery and personal presentation. This will help you better understand what are the key things our team should consider as we work to win over the people in the room, as well as all of those consumers in the NPR rebroadcast of the event.”

Some of Monsanto’s edits to Professor Van Eenennaam’s remarks are shown in track changes:

 

Source documents linked here

Former Monsanto Communications Director Jay Byrne and industry PR firm Ketchum provided coaching for media interviews 

In 2012, Dr. Van Eenennaam assisted the industry-funded No on Proposition 37 campaign in California to oppose GMO labeling. Emails show that the “No on 37” campaign staff arranged for Dr. Van Eenennaam to appear on the Dr. Oz Show to speak against labeling, and also arranged for her to receive media and messaging training from Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s former head of corporate communications. (Emails also revealed that Jay Byrne worked with Monsanto to set up a front group to attack GMO critics and the organic industry while “keeping Monsanto in the background“.)

In 2014, the agrichemical industry’s lead public relations firm, Ketchum, pitched Dr. Van Eenennaam as a source and helped her prepare for a radio interview to debunk a study that linked genetically engineered animal feed to stomach inflammation. Ketchum provided Dr. Van Eenennaam with talking points from industry allies describing the stomach study as “junk science.”

Appeared at Hill briefing organized by climate science skeptic group 

In September 2012, Dr. Van Eenennaam appeared at a Competitive Enterprise Institute congressional briefing to argue for the deregulation of genetically engineered animals. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is an industry-funded group that promotes climate science skepticism and opposes regulations for the chemical industry. In 2013, donors to the Competitive Enterprises Institute annual fundraiser included Monsanto, Syngenta, FMC Corporation, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and Google, as well as oil and tobacco companies and foundations related to Koch Industries. In 2016, CEI’s Director of Energy and Environment Myron Ebell, a prominent climate science skeptic who has said the case for global warming is “silly,” was chosen by the Trump Administration’s to lead the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Coordinated lobbying efforts; defends pesticides 

Dr. Van Eenennaam has coordinated lobbying to deregulate genetically engineered crops and animals, and keep them unlabeled. In 2012, she wrote a letter to the Obama Administration on behalf of the American Society of Animal Science public policy committee arguing for approval of the Aqua Bounty genetically engineered salmon without rigorous safety testing or labeling. In 2015, she recruited professors to support deregulating the Simplot Innate 2.0 genetically engineered potato. “Simplot is looking for some comments on their deregulation … the antis are trying to get the comment period extended as usual,” she wrote to the professors.

Dr. Van Eenennaam also defends glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide and a probable human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency. For a post on her website, she used pesticide industry sources and infographics to speculate about the market consequences of banning glyphosate, and characterized people raising concerns as the “worried wealthy.” The Monsanto (now Bayer) website promotes Dr. Van Eenennaam as a source to discredit a study that linked glyphosate to liver disease at low doses.

Some of Alison Van Eenennaam’s other industry collaborations 

  • Is a member of “AgBioChatter,” a private email listserve that pro-industry academics, senior staff of agrichemical companies and public relations consultants have used to coordinate messaging and lobbying activities.

IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News

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Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and other sources shine light on the inner workings of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a trade group funded by large food and agrichemical companies, and its nonprofit “public education arm” the IFIC Foundation. The IFIC groups conduct research and training programs, produce marketing materials and coordinate other industry groups to communicate industry spin about food safety and nutrition. Messaging includes promoting and defending sugar, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, food additives, pesticides and genetically engineered foods.

2022 study: IFIC pushes food industry product defense

A new study co-authored by U.S. Right to Know in the journal Globalization and Health shows that food and chemical industry players view IFIC and the IFIC Foundation as “being central to promoting industry-favourable content in defence of products facing potentially negative press, such as aspartame…” 

The study quotes Alex Malaspina, a former Coca-Cola executive and founder of ILSI, explaining the close relationship between the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and IFIC: “… IFIC is kind of a sister entity to ILSI. ILSI generates the scientific facts and IFIC communicates them to the media and public…” See also our fact sheet on ILSI, a food industry lobby group.

Based on documents in the USCF chemical industry archive, the study provides evidence that is “more than sufficient to negate IFIC’s portrayal that it is a neutral organization,” the authors wrote. “We argue that IFIC and its Foundation’s communications should be viewed as conducting marketing and public relations for the food industry.”

Spinning pesticide cancer report for Monsanto

As one example of how IFIC partners with corporations to promote agrichemical products and deflect cancer concerns, this internal Monsanto document identifies IFIC as an “industry partner” in Monsanto’s public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research team, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), to “protect the reputation” of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, IARC judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.

Monsanto listed IFIC as a Tier 3 “industry partner” along with two other food-industry funded groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Center for Food Integrity.

How IFIC tries to communicate its message to women.

The groups were identified as part of a “Stakeholder Engagement team” that could alert the food companies to Monsanto’s “inoculation strategy” for the glyphosate cancer report.

Blogs later posted on the IFIC website illustrate the group’s patronizing “don’t worry, trust us” messaging to women.  Entries include, “8 crazy ways they’re trying to scare you about fruits and vegetables,” “Cutting through the clutter on glyphosate,” and “Before we freak out, let’s ask the experts … the real experts.”

Corporate funders and board members

IFIC spent over $22 million in the five-year period from 2013-2017, while the IFIC Foundation spent over $5 million in those five years, according to tax forms filed with the IRS. Corporations and industry groups that support IFIC, according to public disclosures, include the American Beverage Association, American Meat Science Association, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bayer CropScience, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Dannon, DowDuPont, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Perdue Farms and PepsiCo.

Draft tax records for the IFIC Foundation, obtained via state records requests, list the corporations that funded the group in 2011, 2013 or both: Grocery Manufacturers Association, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever. The US Department of Agriculture gave IFIC Foundation $177,480 of taxpayer money in 2013 to produce a “communicator’s guide” for promoting genetically engineered foods.

IFIC also solicits money from corporations for specific product-defense campaigns. This April 28, 2014 email from an IFIC executive to a long list of corporate board members asks for $10,000 contributions to update the “Understanding our Food” initiative to improve consumer views of processed foods. The email notes previous financial supporters: Bayer, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo and DuPont.

The IFIC board of directors includes executives from PepsiCo, General Mills and other food companies. Also on the board is Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD, a Professor of Cooperative Extension in Animal Biotechnology and Genomics at University of California, Davis, who is a leading promoter of genetically engineered animals, crops and the pesticides that accompany them, and an advocate for deregulation. See our fact sheet on Dr. Van Eenennaam for more examples of food pesticide industry spin.

Promotes GMOs to schoolchildren

IFIC coordinated 130 groups via the Alliance to Feed the Future on messaging efforts to “improve understanding” about genetically engineered foods. Members include the American Council on Science and Health, the Calorie Control Council, the Center for Food Integrity and The Nature Conservancy.

The Alliance to Feed the Future provided free educational curricula to teach students to promote genetically engineered foods, including “The Science of Feeding the World” for K-8 teachers and “Bringing Biotechnology to Life” for grades 7-10.

The inner workings of IFIC’s PR services

A series of documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know provide a sense of how IFIC operates behind the scenes to spin bad news and defend the products of its corporate sponsors.

Connects reporters to industry-funded scientists  

  • May 5, 2014 email from Matt Raymond, senior director of communications, alerted IFIC leadership and “media dialogue group” to “high profile stories in which IFIC is currently involved” to help spin negative news coverage, including responding to the movie Fed Up. He noted they had connected a New York Times reporter with “Dr. John Sievenpiper, our noted expert in the field of sugars.” Sievenpiper “is among a small group of Canadian academic scientists who have received hundreds of thousands in funding from soft-drink makers, packaged-food trade associations and the sugar industry, turning out studies and opinion articles that often coincide with those businesses’ interests,” according to the National Post.
  • Emails from 2010 and 2012 suggest that IFIC relies on a small group of industry-connected scientists to confront studies that raise concerns about GMOs. In both emails, Bruce Chassy, a University of Illinois professor who received undisclosed funds from Monsanto to promote and defend GMOs, advises IFIC on how to respond to studies raising concerns about GMOs.

DuPont executive suggests stealth strategy to confront Consumer Reports

  • In a February 3, 2013 email, IFIC staff alerted its “media relations group” that Consumer Reports reported concerns about the safety and environmental impact of GMOs. Doyle Karr, DuPont’s director of biotechnology policy and vice president of the board of Center for Food Integrity, forwarded the email to a scientist with a query for response ideas, and suggested confronting Consumer Reports with this stealth tactic: “Maybe create a letter to the editor signed by 1,000 scientists who have no affiliation with the biotech seed companies stating that they take issue with (Consumer Reports’) statements on the safety and environmental impact. ??”

Other PR services IFIC provides to industry

  • Disseminates misleading industry talking points: April 25, 2012 mail to the 130 members of the Alliance to Feed the Future “on behalf of Alliance member Grocery Manufacturers Association” claimed that the California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods “would effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of grocery products in California unless they contain special labels.”
  • Confronts books critical of processed foods: February 20, 2013 email describes IFIC’s strategy to spin two books critical of the food industry, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss, and “Pandora’s Lunchbox” by Melanie Warner. Plans included writing book reviews, disseminating talking points and “exploring additional options to enhance engagement in the digital media measured by the extent of coverage.” In a February 22, 2013 email, an IFIC executive reached out to three academics — Roger Clemens of the University of Southern California, Mario Ferruzzi of Purdue University and Joanne Slavin of University of Minnesota — to ask them to be available for media interviews about the books. The email provided the academics with summaries of the two books and IFIC’s talking points defending processed foods. “We will appreciate you sharing any specific talking points about specific science issues that are raised in the books,” states the email from Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC’s senior vice president of nutrition and food safety.
  • Research and surveys to support industry positions; one example is a 2012 survey that found 76% of consumers “can’t think of anything additional they would like to see on the label” that was used by industry groups to oppose GMO labeling.
  • “Don’t worry, trust us” marketing brochures, such as this one explaining that food additives and colors are nothing to worry about. The chemicals and dyes “have played an important role in reducing serious nutritional deficiencies among consumers,” according to the IFIC Foundation brochure that was “prepared under a partnering agreement with the US Food and Drug Administration.”

originally posted May 31, 2018 and updated in February 2020

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

  • March 2022 study in Cambridge University Press found that 95% of the U.S. 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had conflicting interests with the food, and/or pharmaceutical industries. Particular actors, including Kellogg, Abbott, Kraft, Mead Johnson, General Mills, Dannon, and the ILSI had connections with multiple members. “Trustworthy dietary guidelines result from a transparent, objective, and science-based, process,” the researchers wrote. The “significant and widespread” COI on the committee “prevent the DGA from achieving the recommended standard for transparency without mechanisms in place to make this information publicly available.”

  • February 2022 study in Globalization and Health co-authored by U.S. Right to Know shows that food and chemical industry players view the International Food Information Council (IFIC) as “being central to promoting industry-favorable content in defense of products facing potentially negative press, such as aspartame…” The study describes IFIC as “a sister entity to ILSI. ILSI generates the scientific facts and IFIC communicates them to the media and public. See also, IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News.

  • 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.”

U.S. Supreme Court sets date to consider review of Monsanto Roundup case

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Bayer AG’s effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review a key trial loss in the nationwide Roundup litigation inched forward this week when the high court said it would include Bayer’s petition for a writ of certiorari in a December 10 conference where the justices will discuss which cases to accept for review.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, filed the petition in August, asking the court to review the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that affirmed the district court’s judgment in Monsanto’s 2019 trial loss to plaintiff Edwin Hardeman. The jury in the case found that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide was a cause of Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

Hardeman’s attorneys presented jurors with a range of scientific research showing cancer connections to Monsanto’s herbicides as well as evidence of many Monsanto strategies aimed at suppressing the scientific information about the risks of its products. Hardeman’s attorneys argued that instead of hiding information, Monsanto should have warned consumers about the risks that its products could cause cancer.

Two key issues

Bayer maintains Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides do not cause cancer, and it additionally argues that  the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which governs the registration, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides in the United States, preempts “failure-to-warn” claims by Hardeman and other plaintiffs in the Roundup litigation. Because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved labels with no cancer warning, failure-to-warn claims should be barred, the company maintains.

In addition to the FIFRA issue, the company petition filed in August urged the Supreme Court to also address whether or not the Ninth Circuit’s standard for admitting expert testimony “is inconsistent with this Court’s precedent and Federal Rule of Evidence 702.” Bayer argues that the admission of expert testimony in the Hardeman case “departed from federal standards, enabling plaintiff’s causation witnesses to provide unsupported testimony on the principal issue in the case, Roundup’s safety profile.”

In response to Bayer’s petition that the Supreme Court review the case, Hardeman’s attorneys filed a reply brief arguing the company’s request “is unworthy of review,” mischaracterizes elements of the case, and the company’s petition should be denied.

No certainty

There is no certainty the Supreme Court will agree to take up the case; nor a certainty that there will even be much discussion of the case, but if the court does decide to grant the company’s request, it would shine a national spotlight on the product liability litigation that has seen more than 100,000 plaintiffs sue over allegations Roundup herbicide causes cancer.

A favorable Supreme Court decision is widely seen as Bayer’s best hope for putting an end to the Roundup litigation, which has attracted tens of thousands of plaintiffs, all alleging they developed NHL due to exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides.

Several organizations have joined in the request for Supreme Court review of the Hardeman decision, including the industry lobbying group CropLife America, The Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America; Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; the American Tort Reform Association; the Product Liability Advisory Council; the Washington Legal Foundation; and Lawyers for Civil Justice.

The Supreme Court typically takes fewer than 200 cases out of thousands of case review requests each year, and favors accepting cases that have national significance, or deal with conflicting decisions in lower courts and those that are seen as setting an important precedent.

California court rejects Bayer’s petition to review Pilliod Roundup trial victory

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Bayer AG suffered yet another setback this week in the company’s ongoing effort to undo at least one of the trial losses dealt to Monsanto Co. in U.S. litigation alleging that the company’s Roundup herbicide causes cancer and Monsanto spent decades covering up the risks.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018 just as the first Roundup trial was getting underway, petitioned the California Supreme Court in September seeking a review of the case of Pilliod v. Monsanto.  The court rejected that petition for review on Wednesday.

Husband and wife Alva and Alberta Pilliod were awarded over $2 billion in 2019 after a trial in which their lawyers presented evidence that the non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) suffered by both was caused by their long-term exposure to Roundup herbicide. Alberta was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma brain cancer  in 2015, while her husband Alva was diagnosed in 2011 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma that spread from his bones to his pelvis and spine. The couple had started using Roundup in the 1970s and used it for more than 30 years.

The trial judge then lowered the jury award to $87 million.

Alberta Pilliod told US Right to Know that she and her husband were very happy to hear of the court’s rejection of Bayer’s petition, and hope to soon see their judgment paid.

“We’ve jumped through all the hoops. We’d like to get to the final score,” she said.

Alva Pilliod, 79, remains in remission, and though 77-year-old Alberta is also currently in remission she has had multiple recurrences of her cancer and has to be hospitalized frequently for health problems, she said.

The California Supreme  Court’s refusal to review the Pilliod case comes three months after the 1st Appellate District in the Court of Appeal for California rejected Monsanto’s bid to overturn the trial loss.

The appeals court ruling had scathing words for Monsanto: “We find that substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdicts,” the court stated. “Monsanto’s conduct evidenced reckless disregard of the health and safety of the multitude of unsuspecting consumers it kept in the dark. This was not an isolated incident; Monsanto’s conduct involved repeated actions over a period of many years motivated by the desire for sales and profit.”

The court also said there was substantial evidence that Monsanto acted with a “willful and conscious disregard for the safety of others,” supporting the awarding of punitive damages.

The evidence showed that Monsanto “failed to conduct adequate studies on glyphosate and Roundup, thus impeding discouraging, or distorting scientific inquiry concerning glyphosate and Roundup,” the court said.

The court specifically rejected the argument that federal law preempts such claims, an argument Bayer has told investors offers a potential path out of the litigation. Bayer has said it hopes it can get the U.S. Supreme  Court to agree with its preemption argument.

Damning evidence

Evidence laid out in the Pilliod trial and two previous trials included numerous scientific studies that showed what plaintiffs’ attorneys said was proof Monsanto’s herbicides cause NHL. 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.

Bayer has settled several other cases that were scheduled to go to trial over the last two years. And in 2020, the company said it would pay roughly $11 billion to settle about 100,000 existing Roundup cancer claims. This year, Bayer said it would set aside another $4.5 billion toward Roundup litigation liability.

Bayer also announced it would stop selling Roundup, and other herbicides made with the active ingredient glyphosate, to U.S. consumers by 2023. But the company continues to sell the products for use by farmers and commercial applicators.

Stephens trial drags on

Even as Bayer attempts to settle cases, it also is proceeding to trial with several. One trial that has turned into a sluggish, on-again-off-again, Zoom-based trial is the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto.

The case, in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California, has been held via Zoom due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19, but has been marred by numerous technical problems as well as scheduling conflicts.

The jury trial has generally only been in session 2-3 days per week after getting underway in July. The next session is set for Monday, which will be the 51st day of trial.

Stephens suffers from non-Hodgkin lymphoma she blames on her use of Roundup. Her trial is a “preference” case, meaning her case was expedited after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens was “in a perpetual state of pain” and losing cognition and memory due.

Stephens trial drags on, toxicologist testifies about studies of herbicide and cancer risk

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A scientist testified Monday that a California woman’s regular use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide “vastly” exceeded the exposure scientific research shows more than doubles the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

William Sawyer, a toxicologist and expert witness for plaintiff Donnetta Stephens in her lawsuit against Monsanto, cited scientific research that links use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup, to cancer and specifically to NHL.  Sawyer has testified in prior Roundup cancer trials, including a 2019 trial that resulted in a jury verdict of more than $2 billion for a husband-and-wife who both suffered from NHL.

The Stephens v. Monsanto trial has been underway for roughly three months, starting in late July. The proceedings have been  handled via Zoom, and multiple technical problems have at time hindered the delivery of testimony and sharing of evidence with jury members.

Jurors have heard from Stephens, her son, various cancer  experts and from some of Monsanto’s top scientists, including longtime Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer. Farmer now works for Bayer AG, the German pharmaceutical company that bought Monsanto in 2018.

“Perpetual” pain

Stephens’ trial is a “preference” case, meaning her case was expedited after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens was “in a perpetual state of pain” and losing cognition and memory.

The case is being tried in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California under the oversight of Judge Gilbert Ochoa. Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Juries in the first three trials found in favor of the plaintiffs, agreeing with claims that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killers, such as Roundup, cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Monsanto spent decades covering up the risks, and failing to warn users.

Monsanto won a recent trial involving a mother who claimed her son developed NHL because of exposure he experienced while she sprayed the weed killer.

More trouble for Bayer

Angry investors can proceed with litigation against Bayer over allegations that the company made misleading statements about its $63 billion 2018 acquisition of Monsanto, and of the extent of concerns about the company’s herbicide products.

A federal judge ruled last week that a class action led by a group of pension funds can proceed with their claims that Bayer proceeded with its purchase of Monsanto despite analyst warnings and an awareness that acquiring Monsanto brought significant risks, and assuring investors Bayer management had fully assessed those risks.

Bayer has settled several cases that were scheduled to go to trial over the last two years. And in 2020, the company said it would pay roughly $11 billion to settle a majority of the more than 100,000 existing Roundup cancer claims. The company recently said it was setting aside another $4.5 billion toward Roundup litigation liability.

Bayer also announced it would stop selling Roundup, and other herbicides made with the active ingredient glyphosate, to U.S. consumers by 2023. But the company continues to sell the products for use by farmers and commercial applicators.

Bayer wins Roundup trial; plaintiff fails to prove exposure caused child’s disease

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The former Monsanto Co., now owned by Bayer AG, notched its first win in the mass tort U.S. Roundup litigation on Tuesday, defeating at trial a mother who alleged her use of Roundup exposed her child to the pesticide and caused him to develop cancer.

Ezra Clark was born in May 2011 and diagnosed in 2016 with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that has a high tendency to spread to the central nervous system, and can also involve the liver, spleen and bone marrow, according to the court filings. Ezra’s mother, Destiny Clark, is the plaintiff in the case, which was heard in Los Angeles County Superior Court. A different Roundup trial is underway in San Bernardino County Superior Court.

Ezra Clark was “directly exposed” to Roundup many times as he accompanied his mother while she sprayed Roundup to kill weeds around the property where the family lived, according to court documents. Ezra has autism and his mother said it calmed him to play outdoors while she worked in the yard, which meant he often played in areas freshly sprayed with Roundup, according to the court filings.

Fletch Trammell, lead attorney for Clark, said his case was subject to a bifurcation order that organized the case into two phases. In the first phase he was limited to presenting evidence that focused on the child’s personal exposure to Roundup and whether or not it could have been enough to have contributed to his disease. The case would have proceeded to a second phase had the plaintiff won the first phase, but the loss in the first phases ends the trial.

“This was nothing like any of the other three trials,” Trammell said.

The jury was asked to address one key question in the first phase: Whether or not the child’s exposure to  Roundup was a “substantial factor” in his development of Burkitt’s lymphoma.

In a 9 to 3 decision, the jury found that it was not.

Trammell said the jury decision was because the jury doubted the child’s exposure to Roundup could have been enough to cause cancer. The decision did not address the larger question of the alleged carcinogenicity of Roundup overall, he said.

But Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018 as the first Roundup trial was getting underway, said the jury’s decision was in line with scientific research showing glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is safe and does not cause cancer.

“The jury carefully considered the science applicable to this case and determined that Roundup was not the cause of his illness,” the company said in a statement.

80 hours

During the trial, Trammel presented evidence indicating Ezra was exposed to Roundup for about 80 cumulative hours over the years his mother sprayed with him at her side. He paired that with research showing there could ben an increased risk of NHL associated with repeated spraying of glyphosate herbicides, such as Roundup. And he noted language on Roundup labels in Canada that advise users to wear protective gloves and avoid getting the chemical on bare skin.

“The studies… they show that Roundup does three different things when it gets to your
lymphocyte cells…   It can kill cells, which is bad enough; but it also causes the exact DNA damage
that results in Burkitt’s lymphoma; it also, in a variety of ways, devastates your body’s ability to
repair DNA damage,” Trammell told jurors in his closing argument.

Trammell also sought to counter problems with deposition testimony given by Destiny Clark. Trammell said the mother also has suffered from cancer, a cervical cancer that metastasized to her brain. The illness and treatments she has undergone made it difficult for her to recall details and she “made a lot of mistakes” in the deposition she gave to Monsanto’s attorneys, Trammell told jurors. But she was very clear, he told jurors, on recalling her use of Roundup nearly “every weekend” when Ezra was young.

Monsanto attorney  Brian Stekloff told jurors that Ezra’s exposure was in doubt. He told jurors that while they might have sympathy for the family, they could not ignore inconsistencies in Destiny Clark’s testimony about how often her son was exposed, and could not ignore statements by other family members that they did not see her spraying around Ezra.

“And there is an old adage or old saying, and it goes like this: The truth is simple because there’s nothing to remember,” Stekloff told jurors. “When you tell the truth, you don’t mix up the facts. It’s when it didn’t happen that you can’t remember what you said the first time and the next time, and the next time, and the next time. And the inconsistencies start piling up and piling up, and the explanations start coming and piling up and piling up. And that’s what you have seen here in this trial.”

Stekloff told jurors the evidence did not support a finding that exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his cancer.

“This is not a popularity contest. This is not a referendum on Monsanto. It’s not even a referendum on Roundup,” he said in his closing argument. “Roundup did not cause Ezra Clark’s Burkitt’s lymphoma.”

Clark is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed U.S. lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts in 2015 classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides – as a probable human carcinogen with an association to NHL.

Monsanto lost each of the three previous trials, after lawyers for the plaintiffs presented jurors with multiple scientific studies finding potential health risks with glyphosate and Roundup  The plaintiffs lawyers also used internal Monsanto documents as evidence, arguing the so-called “Monsanto Papers” showed intentional efforts by the company to manipulate regulators and control scientific research.

The jury in the last trial ordered $2 billion in damages though the award was later shaved to $87 million.

Bayer has maintained that there is no cancer risk with the glyphosate herbicides it inherited from Monsanto, but it has agreed to pay close to $14 billion to try to settle the litigation and said it will remove glyphosate products from the U.S. consumer market by 2023. The company will continue to sell the herbicides to farmers and other commercial users.

Mike Miller, who heads the Virginia law firm that won two of the three previously held Roundup trials, i but who was not involved in the Clark case, said the verdict does not change anything about the litigation, nor Bayer’s liability.

“Nothing about that verdict change the fact: Roundup causes cancer,” he said.

See transcript of closing arguments in Clark v. Monsanto. 

Monsanto scientist tells jurors company’s side of Roundup cancer controversy

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A senior scientist at the former Monsanto Co. on Tuesday told jurors in a California trial that regulators around the world support the company’s position that its glyphosate-based herbicides, such as the popular Roundup brand, are safe for users.

Donna Farmer, who worked as a toxicologist at Monsanto for more than two decades and now works at Monsanto owner Bayer AG, spent long hours testifying in the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto. Farmer has been a key witness in the Stephens case and was quizzed intently for days by lawyers for Stephens before Monsanto’s lawyers took up the questioning.

Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed U.S. lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts in 2015 classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicides – as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Stephens case is the fourth Roundup cancer lawsuit to go to trial and the first since 2019. Stephens suffers from non-Hodgkin lymphoma she blames on her use of Roundup herbicide for more than 30 years.

A chance to explain

Monsanto lawyer Monsanto lawyer Manuel Cachan questioned Farmer about several issues that were raised earlier by plaintiffs’ attorneys, telling Farmer it was her chance to explain details about several matters that Stephens’ lawyers had presented as evidence of Monsanto wrong-doing.

One such issue involved comments Farmer wrote in a 2003 email to colleagues about the importance of distinguishing between the chemical glyphosate and the Roundup formulation, which is made with glyphosate as the active ingredient.

In the email, Farmer wrote “The terms glyphosate and Roundup cannot be used interchangeably nor can you use “Roundup” for all glyphosate-based herbicides any more. For example you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen… we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement. The testing on the formulations are not anywhere near the level of the active ingredient.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyers have pointed to that language as part of a broad argument disputing Monsanto’s contention that thorough testing of Roundup has demonstrated it does not cause cancer.

In testimony Tuesday, Farmer said that she merely was trying to be “very precise” when explaining to colleagues the distinctions between products. She was not indicating in the email that there was any question about whether or not Roundup might cause cancer, Farmer testified.

She pointed out that in that internal email she also wrote “there is no reason to believe that Roundup would cause cancer.”

And though it was true at that time that Monsanto had not conducted extensive carcinogenicity testing on Roundup formulations, that changed over time, Farmer testified.

“I think we’ve got a lot more studies on Roundup than we had, and so I think we have a lot more information about the Roundup formulations that still supports the conclusions and safety about the formulation,” Farmer told the jury.

A regulatory pass

At another point in the questioning by Monsanto’s lawyer, Farmer told jurors that regulators had never required the company to conduct animal carcinogenicity testing on Roundup. She said not only had the U.S. EPA not demanded such testing, but regulators in Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan had similarly not required any such animal testing on Roundup products.

She also told jurors that while it was true that Roundup products contain formaldehyde, it was a “very, very small amount” and posed no danger to human health. Regulators agreed there was no reason for concern, Farmer testified.

“We produce formaldehyde every day in our bodies,” said Farmer. “Small amounts of formaldehyde like in the formulations at those low levels do not present a health hazard to humans.”

Farmer’s testimony sought to rebut other points of evidence raised by Stephens’ lawyers, seeking to cast Monsanto as a responsible, science-based organization that has been the innocent target of activist-driven misinformation. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have twisted internal conversations seen in emails and other communications to confuse and mislead jurors, according to arguments by Monsanto attorneys.

Monsanto lost each of the three previous trials, after lawyers for the plaintiffs presented jurors with multiple scientific studies finding potential health risks with glyphosate and Roundup  The plaintiffs lawyers also used internal Monsanto documents as evidence, arguing they showed intentional efforts by the company to manipulate regulators and control scientific research.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has settled other cases that had been scheduled to go to trial. And in 2020, the company said it would pay roughly $11 billion to settle about 100,000 existing Roundup cancer claims. Bayer also recently said it would set aside another $4.5 billion toward Roundup litigation liability.

To try to quell future litigation, Bayer said it would stop selling Roundup, and other herbicides made with the active ingredient glyphosate, to U.S. consumers by 2023. But the company continues to sell the products for use by farmers and commercial applicators.

Monsanto scientist defends Roundup safety in California trial

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A senior scientist at the former Monsanto Co. told jurors in a California trial that the company’s Roundup herbicide is so safe that the scientist uses it regularly at her home, and suggests friends also use the weed killing product.

Donna Farmer, who worked as a toxicologist at Monsanto for more than two decades and now works at Monsanto owner Bayer AG, spent long hours testifying Monday and on multiple days last week in the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto. The Stephens case is the fourth Roundup cancer lawsuit to go to trial and the first since 2019. Stephens suffers from non-Hodgkin lymphoma she blames on her use of Roundup herbicide for more than 30 years.

Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed U.S. lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts in 2015 classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides – as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Monsanto lost each of the three previous trials, after lawyers for the plaintiffs presented jurors with multiple scientific studies finding potential health risks with glyphosate and Roundup  The plaintiffs lawyers also used internal Monsanto documents as evidence, arguing the so-called “Monsanto Papers” showed intentional efforts by the company to manipulate regulators and control scientific research.

The jury in the last trial ordered $2 billion in damages though the award was later shaved to $87 million.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, insists there is no cancer risk with its glyphosate herbicides, but it has agreed to pay close to $14 billion to try to settle the litigation and said it will remove glyphosate products from the U.S. consumer market by 2023. The company will continue to sell the herbicides to farmers and other commercial users.

Combative exchanges

In testimony delivered under cross-examination by Stephens’ lawyer William Shapiro, Farmer was combative, going beyond answering the yes or no questions Shapiro posed to her in an effort to “explain” the context she said Shapiro was misrepresenting.

Shapiro quizzed Farmer about emails and documents dating back to the late 1990s that Shapiro presented as evidence that Farmer and other company scientists engaged in misconduct, including ghostwriting scientific papers to fraudulently assert the safety of its glyphosate-based herbicides and buried information that found cancer risk with the products.

On Monday, Monsanto lawyer Manuel Cachan questioned Farmer about many of the same pieces of evidence focused on by Shapiro, but cast the emails and other evidence as innocent exchanges that bear no signs of deceit or misconduct.

Under Cachan’s questioning, Farmer said that based on the science that she is familiar with, she does not believe glyphosate causes cancer, and is confident that Roundup is safe to use. She said that she is so certain of the safety of Roundup that she has used it around her yard for about 25 years. She does not wear gloves or special protective gear when spraying, she testified. Farmer said she has no worries about recommending the product to family members and friends.

Farmer said the phase-out for consumers is not due to any safety concerns and is being removed from consumer markets simply “because of the litigation and the lawsuits.” Farmer said she does not think the product should be withdrawn.

“The product is in my opinion – and not just my opinion but regulators around the world – the product is safe and is not a carcinogen,” Farmer testified.

Even after Bayer stops selling Roundup to consumers in 2023, Farmer said she plans to keep using it.

“It has a good shelf life so I’ll probably buy some extra bottles,” she said. “You can go to dealerships in farm country, you can buy some of the products there.”

Monsanto has been persecuted by an anti-pesticide movement, according to Farmer.

“There are a lot of people who don’t like pesticides. They don’t like glyphosate and quite frankly don’t like Monsanto. There are a lot of people who make allegations and spread misinformation about the safety of our products,” Farmer testified.

Beyond Pesticides

At one point in her testimony, Farmer weighed in on a nonprofit group and Monsanto critic called Beyond Pesticides, telling jurors that Beyond Pesticides was not a scientific group but rather an activist group that was “misrepresenting the science” about synthetic pesticides such as glyphosate.

“Their mission is to stop the use of synthetic pesticides and so what they publish is misinformation, inaccurate information about pesticides,” she testified.

Monsanto’s lawyer asked her to address a 2008 internal Monsanto email regarding a press release issued by Beyond Pesticides. The press release by the nonprofit group shared a research study that found glyphosate exposure could increase a person’s risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The group advised people should embrace organic agriculture and use “non-toxic land care” on residential lawns.

In the email, Farmer had written to colleagues: “We have been aware of this paper for awhile and knew it would only be a matter of time before the activists picked it up.” Mentioning the Beyond Pesticides line about embracing organic agriculture, Farmer had written: How do we combat this?”

Under questioning from Monsanto’s lawyer, Farmer explained that she was not indicating Monsanto should try to combat the scientific research but was addressing only the Beyond Pesticide advice about avoiding pesticide use.

The Stephens trial started as an in-person proceeding but was changed to a Zoom trial due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19, and has been plagued by repeated “technical problems” ever since the change. Several times jurors and/or a witness have lost their audio and/or video connections to the trial.

Judge Gilbert Ochoa of the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California, is overseeing the proceedings.

The trial does not resume until Monday Oct. 4 because of scheduling conflicts for some of the trial participants.