Nina Fedoroff: Mobilizing the authority of American science to back Monsanto

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Key points:

  • As a president and board chair of AAAS from 2011-2013, Dr. Fedoroff advanced agrichemical industry policy objectives. She now works for a lobbying firm.
  • Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show how public relations and lobbying efforts are coordinated behind the scenes among the agrichemical industry, front groups and academics who appear independent.
  • Dr. Fedoroff promotes organizations that mislead the public about science and their industry ties.

Nina Fedoroff, PhD, is one of the most influential scientists advocating for the proliferation and deregulation of genetically engineered foods. She is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011-2012) and former chair of the AAAS Board of Directors (2012-2013). She is a senior science advisor since 2015 at OFW Law, a lobbying firm whose clients have included Syngenta and the Council for Biotechnology Information, a trade group representing Bayer (which owns Monsanto), BASF, Corteva (a division of DowDuPont) and Syngenta.

From 2007-2010, Dr. Fedoroff served as science and technology advisor to the Secretary of State and the Administrator of USAID under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. Prior to that, she was a board member of the Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, a multinational chemical and biotech firm; and an advisory board member of Evogene, a biotechnology company that partnered with DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Monsanto. 

In 2017, Dr. Fedoroff promoted the American Council on Science and Health “junk science” book alongside two scientists affiliated with groups that deny climate science and lobby for tobacco products.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “science czar,” Dr. Fedoroff served as diplomat for the “GMO all the way” thrust of U.S. foreign policy, Tom Philpott reported in Grist in 2008 and 2009. Pesticide Action Network of North America has described Dr. Fedoroff as “literally the U.S. ambassador” for genetic engineering. According to Greenpeace, Dr. Fedoroff has been “a fervent advocate for the global proliferation of GM (genetically modified) foods throughout her career.”

During her tenure as president and chairman of AAAS, the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society, Dr. Fedoroff leveraged those roles to provide political aid to the agrichemical industry: the AAAS Board of Directors under her chairmanship issued a politically timed statement to oppose GMO labeling in 2012; while president of the scientific organization in 2011, Dr. Fedoroff helped defeat a U.S. EPA proposal that would have required additional health and safety data for GMO crops, according to emails described below. See, Nina Fedoroff, AAAS and the agrichemical industry lobby. Dr. Fedoroff and AAAS have not responded to requests for response.

Affiliations with deceptive industry front groups and PR efforts

Dr. Fedoroff has promoted and helped to legitimize groups that claim to be independent voices for science but work behind the scenes with the agrichemical industry in ways that mislead the public − including two groups that helped Monsanto try to discredit the scientists who served on the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) expert panel that classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.

American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is funded by chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, according to leaked internal documents that document how the group pitches its services to corporations for product-defense campaigns. Emails released via court proceedings show that Monsanto agreed to fund ACSH in 2015, and asked the group to write about the IARC cancer report on glyphosate; ACSH later claimed the cancer report was a “scientific fraud.”     

Dr. Fedoroff helped promote this group as a legitimate science source in a 2017 National Press Club event to launch the ACSH’s “Little Black Book of Junk Science.” Appearing alongside Dr. Fedoroff at the press event were two scientists affiliated with groups that deny climate science and lobby for tobacco products:

Genetic Literacy Project: Dr. Fedoroff is listed as a board member on the website of the Genetic Literacy Project, a group that claims to be independent but partners with Monsanto on PR and lobbying projects, according to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know. Documents released in court filings show that Monsanto listed this group among the “industry partners” it planned to engage in a strategy to “orchestrate outcry” against IARC’s glyphosate assessment in order to “protect the reputation and FTO of Roundup.” Genetic Literacy Project has since posted more than 200 articles critical of the cancer research agency, including numerous personal attacks on the scientists involved in the glyphosate report, accusing them of conspiracy, fraud, lying, corruption, secrecy, and being motivated by “profit and vanity.”

In an award-winning series in Le Monde about Monsanto’s “effort to destroy the UN cancer agency by any means possible,” journalists Stéphane Foucart and Stéphane Horel described Genetic Literacy Project and ACSH as “well-known propaganda websites” and said GLP is “fed by PR people linked to the pesticides and biotechnology industries.” GLP was launched in 2011 by Jon Entine, who owns a public relations firm that had Monsanto as a client at that time.

Attacks on cancer researchers on the Genetic Literacy Project website that lists Dr. Fedoroff as a “board member”:

Academics Review: Dr. Fedoroff promoted Academics Review as a trustworthy science source in a 2012 article in Trends in Genetics and a 2016 interview with the Washington Examiner about poor science journalism. Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that Academics Review was set up as a front group with the help of Monsanto to discredit critics of genetic engineering and pesticides, while keeping corporate fingerprints hidden. The group, which claimed to be independent but was funded by agrichemical companies, attacked the organic industry as a “marketing scam.”

Biotech Literacy Boot Camp: Dr. Fedoroff was listed as a core faculty member of a Biotech Literacy Project “boot camp” held at UC Davis in 2015. The event was organized by two PR groups, Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review, and secretly funded by agrichemical companies to “train scientists and journalists to frame the debate over GMOs and the toxicity of glyphosate,” reported Paul Thacker in The Progressive. Speakers included a familiar list of industry PR allies including Jay Byrne, Jon Entine, Bruce Chassy, David Tribe, Hank Campbell of ACSH and a keynote by the “Sci Babe.”

AgBioWorld: In her 2012 Trends and Genetics article, Dr. Fedoroff promoted the website AgBioWorld as “another invaluable resource” to learn about science. In a 2002 article in the Guardian, George Monbiot described how Monsanto’s PR team used the AgBioWorld website and fake social media accounts to discredit scientists and environmentalists who raised concerns about GM crops. Monbiot reported:  

“At the end of last year, Jay Byrne, formerly [Monsanto’s] director of internet outreach, explained to a number of other firms the tactics he had used at Monsanto. He showed how, before he got to work, the top GM sites listed by an internet search engine were all critical of the technology. Following his intervention, the top sites were all supportive ones (four of them established by Monsanto’s PR firm Bivings). He told them to ‘think of the internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does, but somebody is going to get killed.’

While he was working for Monsanto, Byrne told the internet newsletter Wow that he ‘spends his time and effort participating’ in web discussions about biotech. He singled out the site AgBioWorld, where he ‘ensures his company gets proper play.’ AgBioWorld is the site on which [fake online personality Mary] Smetacek launched her campaign.”

Attack on Greenpeace: Dr. Fedoroff spoke at a 2016 press event for a group calling itself “Support Precision Agriculture,” which presented a letter signed by over 100 Nobel laureates criticizing Greenpeace for their opposition to GMOs. Agrichemical industry allies helped out with the campaign, including Monsanto’s former Communications Director Jay Byrne; former biotech trade group VP Val Giddings; and Matt Winkler, who funds the PR group Genetic Literacy Project and is listed as a board member along with Dr. Fedoroff on the group’s website. The .com version of the supposedly independent “Support Precision Agriculture” website redirected to the Genetic Literacy Project for years (it was delinked after we called attention to it in 2019). In emails from 2011, Byrne identified Greenpeace on a “targets” list he was developing for Monsanto with names of industry critics they could confront from behind the cover of an industry-funded academic group that appeared independent.

Friend of GMO Answers: Dr. Fedoroff is an independent expert for GMO Answers, a PR campaign developed by Ketchum public relations, which has a history of using deceptive tactics to influence the public. Although Ketchum claimed the GMO Answers campaign would “redefine transparency,” the group scripted answers for an “independent” expert and was listed among the “industry partners” in Monsanto’s PR plan to protect Roundup from cancer concerns. A “resources” section (page 4) pointed to GMO Answers and Monsanto links that communicate the company message that “Glyphosate is not carcinogenic.” In 2016, Dr. Fedoroff spoke on a panel sponsored by GMO Answers, Scientific American and the Cornell Alliance for Science about media coverage of science featuring industry-friendly journalists Keith Kloor and Tamar Haspel. See “Monsanto’s Media Machine Comes to Washington,” by Paul Thacker.

Opposed investigation to uncover industry-academic ties

In 2015, Dr. Fedoroff and two other former AAAS presidents, Peter Raven and Phillip Sharp, promoted their AAAS leadership roles, but failed to disclose any of their industry ties, in a Guardian op-ed opposing a public records investigation that sought to uncover undisclosed partnerships and financial arrangements between agrichemical companies, their PR groups and publicly funded professors. The investigation by U.S. Right to Know uncovered some of the key documents described in this fact sheet.

Although the Guardian later added a disclosure that Dr. Fedoroff works at the lobby firm OFW Law, it did not disclose that OFW Law’s client at the time was the agrichemical industry trade group, whose member companies were a focus of the public records investigation. The former AAAS presidents argued in their op-ed that the investigation to uncover undisclosed industry-academic conflicts of interest was “taking a page out of the Climategate playbook” and involved “science denialism,” the same claims made by industry PR groups described in this fact sheet.

Using the AAAS to advance agrichemical industry policy objectives

During her tenure as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) from 2011-2012 and as Chair of the Board of Directors from 2012-2013, Dr. Fedoroff worked with agrichemical industry allies to advance key policy objectives: keeping genetically engineered foods unlabeled and defeating a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would have required additional data on the health and environmental impacts of genetically engineered crops that are classified as pesticides.

AAAS helped persuade voters to oppose GMO labeling

In 2012, the AAAS Board of Directors under Dr. Fedoroff’s chairmanship took the unusual step of taking a position on a contentious political issue just two weeks before voters in California went to the polls to decide on Proposition 37, a ballot initiative to label GMOs. A review of the many political statements made by AAAS found no other examples of the organization attempting to influence voters ahead of a state election. (The AAAS and Dr. Fedoroff did not respond to requests for comment. Also disclosure: the USRTK co-directors worked on the pro-labeling campaign.)

The AAAS board’s statement opposing GMO labeling was controversial. It contained inaccuracies, according to longtime AAAS members, several of whom denounced the anti-labeling statement as a “paternalistic” attack on consumer rights that misled the public by omitting important scientific and regulatory context. An AAAS spokeswoman at the time, Ginger Pinholster, called the criticisms “unfair and without merit.” She told a reporter she was in the room when the board passed the statement: “We are not an advocacy group. We make our statements based on scientific evidence,” Pinholster said. “I can tell you that our statement is not the work of nor was it influenced by any outside organization.”

Some observers noted the similarities in language used by the AAAS and the industry-funded campaign to defeat Proposition 37. “Is a major science group stumping for Monsanto?” Michele Simon asked in Grist. Simon described the board’s statement as “non-scientific but very quote-worthy,” and noted that the accompanying AAAS press release contained “talking points” that matched No on 37 campaign literature.

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

In a 2013 letter to Science magazine, another group of 11 scientists raised concerns that the AAAS board’s statement on GMO foods “could backfire.” They wrote, “we are concerned that AAA’s position represents a poorly informed approach to communicating science …  appearing to be less than transparent is a really bad idea for the scientific community.” 

Dr. Fedoroff was an early supporter of the industry-backed No on 37 campaign, which listed her on its website in June 2012 as one of four scientists representing the “scientific and academic community” who opposed GMO labeling. The campaign later asked Dr. Fedoroff to help recruit more academics to their cause, which she did according to an October 1, 2012 email to Meghan Callahan of BCF Public Affairs, “I’ve forwarded your [request for academic supporters] to an international group of biotechnology supporting academics. I suspect you’ll be hearing from many corners of the world,” Dr. Fedoroff wrote.

Helped kill data requirements for pesticide-producing plants

In 2011 while serving as AAAS president, Dr. Fedoroff worked with agrichemical industry allies and an industry lobbyist to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from requiring companies to provide additional health and safety data for genetically engineered foods that are classified as pesticides, according to emails described below.

The EPA proposal stemmed from a 2009 EPA Scientific Advisory Panel discussion about ways to improve the agency’s ability to make regulatory decisions about plants that are genetically engineered to produce or contain pesticides, which EPA refers to as “plant-incorporated protectants” (PIPs). Panel members were asked to evaluate current and proposed EPA data requirements for PIPs in the following areas: 

  • data to assess potential similarities between PIPs and allergens, toxins, anti-nutrients and other hazardous proteins; 
  • testing for synergistic effects on health and non-target organisms, when two or more GMO traits are combined (stacked trait GMOs);
  • potential impacts on microbial populations in soil ecosystems; and 
  • data to better address the impacts of gene flow. 

According to notes from an October 2009 EPA meeting, the proposed rules would “mostly codify existing data requirements that are currently applied on a case-by-case basis,” and would encompass five categories of data and information: product characterization, human health, non-target effects, environmental fate and resistance management. EPA announced the proposed rules in the Federal Register in March 2011.

Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know via public records requests show how industry allies mobilized to defeat the proposal.

The emails show conversations between Bruce Chassy, a University of Illinois professor at the time, Eric Sachs of Monsanto and other industry reps discussing activities and meetings that involved Dr. Fedoroff. Chassy described himself in the emails (page 66) as the liaison between industry and academics in the effort to oppose the EPA data requirements. Interspersed in his emails to Sachs were queries about whether Monsanto had sent a check to the University of Illinois Foundation in support of Chassy’s “biotechnology outreach and education activities.” (For more details about the undisclosed funds Chassy received from Monsanto for years as he promoted biotechnology, see reporting by Monica Eng in WBEZ and emails posted by the New York Times.)

On July 5, Dr. Chassy emailed Eric Sachs of Monsanto to report that Dr. Fedoroff had sent a letter to EPA over her signature co-signed by 60 members of the National Academy of Sciences. “Nina really picked up the ball and moved it down the field,” Chassy wrote. He described the EPA proposal as a “train wreck.”

The emails show that on August 19, industry trade group representatives were surprised and pleased (page 19) to see a New York Times op-ed from Dr. Fedoroff arguing against regulations for genetic engineering; “who got Nina’s op ed placed?” Adrienne Massey of BIO asked Dr. Chassy and two other industry allies, Henry Miller and Val Giddings. Chassy responded: 

Massey forwarded Dr. Chassy the letter BIO sent to the EPA “hoping to build on the academics’ letter and short-circuit any dismissive response of EPA to that letter.” Their efforts did not succeed as they hoped. On August 24, Dr. Chassy wrote to Eric Sachs (page 14) that Dr. Fedoroff “got a response from EPA that is an insult.” He described plans to ratchet up the pressure.

 

In September, Chassy organized a conference call with Fedoroff, Monsanto’s Eric Sachs, Adrienne Massey of BIO and their lobbyist Stanley Abramson, among others. According to Chassy’s notes from the call, “Finding a way to ensure that the EPA proposal never sees the light of day would be the best possible outcome we could hope for. Next best would be to make sure it is DOA, but if needs be we must be willing to continue the fight.” 

He also shared the problem that, “The EPA does not believe that the academic community can mount a sustained opposition to their proposed rule making; they believe that only a small handful are behind the petition and that most of the signatories are not committed to the issue.” The group decided they needed to “build a core of leading scientists who are in fact willing to speak out and devote time to this issue.” 

By October, the group was more hopeful. Chassy emailed Sachs to report on a “surprisingly productive” meeting he and Dr. Fedoroff attended with Steve Bradbury of EPA. The meeting had been set up by Massey and the lobbyist Abramson. The EPA proposal to require data for GMO PIPs never did see the light of day, according to Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union, who participated in the public meetings with the agency.

Full email chains, via the UCSF Industry Documents Library: 

Related reporting  

I Was Barred from a Nobel Laureate Press Conference by a PR Consultant with Monsanto Ties,” by Tim Schwab, Food & Water Watch (2016) 

The Puppetmasters of Academia,” by Jonathan Latham, PhD, Independent Science News (2015)

20 years later: the biotech brigade marches on,” Pesticide Action Network (2012) 

Engineering food for whom?” by Marcia Ishii-Eitemann, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America (2011) 

Sorry, NY Times: GMOs still won’t save the world,” by Anna Lappe, Grist (2011) 

In which I go toe to toe with H. Clinton’s science czar over GMOs,” by Tom Philpott, Grist (2009) 

Genetically Modified Diplomat: U.S. Foreign Policy GMO All the Way,” by Tom Philpott, Grist (2008)

Nina Fedoroff: Mobilizing the authority of American science to back Monsanto

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  • As a president and board chair of AAAS from 2011-2013, Dr. Fedoroff advanced agrichemical industry policy objectives. She now works for a lobbying firm.
  • Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show how public relations and lobbying efforts are coordinated behind the scenes among the agrichemical industry, front groups and academics who appear independent.

Nina Fedoroff, PhD, is one of the most influential scientists advocating for the proliferation and deregulation of genetically engineered foods. She is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011-2012) and former chair of the AAAS Board of Directors (2012-2013). She is a senior science advisor since 2015 at OFW Law, a lobbying firm whose clients have included Syngenta and the Council for Biotechnology Information, a trade group representing Bayer (which owns Monsanto), BASF, Corteva (a division of DowDuPont) and Syngenta.

From 2007-2010, Dr. Fedoroff served as science and technology advisor to the Secretary of State and the Administrator of USAID under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. Prior to that, she was a board member of the Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, a multinational chemical and biotech firm; and an advisory board member of Evogene, a biotechnology company that partnered with DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Monsanto.

A 2017 event to promote the American Council on Science and Health’s “junk science” book featured Dr. Fedoroff and two scientists affiliated with groups that deny climate science.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “science czar,” Dr. Fedoroff served as diplomat for the “GMO all the way” thrust of U.S. foreign policy, Tom Philpott reported in Grist in 2008 and 2009. Pesticide Action Network of North America has described Dr. Fedoroff as “literally the U.S. ambassador” for genetic engineering. According to Greenpeace, Dr. Fedoroff has been “a fervent advocate for the global proliferation of GM (genetically modified) foods throughout her career.”

During her tenure as president and chairman of AAAS, the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society, Dr. Fedoroff leveraged those roles to provide political aid to the agrichemical industry: for example, the AAAS Board of Directors under her chairmanship issued a politically timed statement to oppose GMO labeling in 2012. While president of the scientific organization in 2011, Dr. Fedoroff helped defeat a U.S. EPA proposal that would have required additional health and safety data for GMO crops, according to emails described below. See, Nina Fedoroff, AAAS and the agrichemical industry lobby. Dr. Fedoroff and AAAS have not responded to requests for response.

Affiliations with deceptive industry front groups and PR efforts

Dr. Fedoroff has promoted and helped to legitimize groups that claim to be independent voices for science but work behind the scenes with the agrichemical industry in ways that mislead the public − including two groups that helped Monsanto try to discredit the scientists who served on the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) expert panel that classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.

American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is funded by chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, according to leaked internal documents that document how the group pitches its services to corporations for product-defense campaigns. Emails released via court proceedings show that Monsanto agreed to fund ACSH in 2015, and asked the group to write about the IARC cancer report on glyphosate; ACSH later claimed the cancer report was a “scientific fraud.”     

Dr. Fedoroff helped promote this group as a legitimate science source in a 2017 National Press Club event to launch the ACSH’s “Little Black Book of Junk Science.” Appearing alongside Dr. Fedoroff at the press event were two scientists affiliated with groups that deny climate science and lobby for tobacco products:

Genetic Literacy Project: Dr. Fedoroff is listed as a board member on the website of the Genetic Literacy Project, a group that claims to be independent but partners with Monsanto on PR and lobbying projects, according to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know. Documents released in court filings show that Monsanto listed this group among the “industry partners” it planned to engage in a strategy to “orchestrate outcry” against IARC’s glyphosate assessment in order to “protect the reputation and FTO of Roundup.” Genetic Literacy Project has since posted more than 200 articles critical of the cancer research agency, including numerous personal attacks on the scientists involved in the glyphosate report, accusing them of conspiracy, fraud, lying, corruption, secrecy, and being motivated by “profit and vanity.”

In an award-winning series in Le Monde about Monsanto’s “effort to destroy the UN cancer agency by any means possible,” journalists Stéphane Foucart and Stéphane Horel described Genetic Literacy Project and ACSH as “well-known propaganda websites” and said GLP is “fed by PR people linked to the pesticides and biotechnology industries.” GLP was launched in 2011 by Jon Entine, who owns a public relations firm that had Monsanto as a client at that time.

Attacks on cancer researchers on the Genetic Literacy Project website that lists Dr. Fedoroff as a “board member”:

Academics Review: Dr. Fedoroff promoted Academics Review as a trustworthy science source in a 2012 article in Trends in Genetics and a 2016 interview with the Washington Examiner about poor science journalism. Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that Academics Review was set up as a front group with the help of Monsanto to discredit critics of genetic engineering and pesticides, while keeping corporate fingerprints hidden. The group, which claimed to be independent but was funded by agrichemical companies, attacked the organic industry as a “marketing scam.”

Biotech Literacy Boot Camp: Dr. Fedoroff was listed as a core faculty member of a Biotech Literacy Project “boot camp” held at UC Davis in 2015. The event was organized by two PR groups, Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review, and secretly funded by agrichemical companies to “train scientists and journalists to frame the debate over GMOs and the toxicity of glyphosate,” reported Paul Thacker in The Progressive. Speakers included a familiar list of industry PR allies including Jay Byrne, Jon Entine, Bruce Chassy, David Tribe, Hank Campbell of ACSH and a keynote by the “Sci Babe.”

AgBioWorld: In her 2012 Trends and Genetics article, Dr. Fedoroff promoted the website AgBioWorld as “another invaluable resource” to learn about science. In a 2002 article in the Guardian, George Monbiot described how Monsanto’s PR team used the AgBioWorld website and fake social media accounts to discredit scientists and environmentalists who raised concerns about GM crops. Monbiot reported: 

“At the end of last year, Jay Byrne, formerly [Monsanto’s] director of internet outreach, explained to a number of other firms the tactics he had used at Monsanto. He showed how, before he got to work, the top GM sites listed by an internet search engine were all critical of the technology. Following his intervention, the top sites were all supportive ones (four of them established by Monsanto’s PR firm Bivings). He told them to ‘think of the internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does, but somebody is going to get killed.’

While he was working for Monsanto, Byrne told the internet newsletter Wow that he ‘spends his time and effort participating’ in web discussions about biotech. He singled out the site AgBioWorld, where he ‘ensures his company gets proper play.’ AgBioWorld is the site on which [fake online personality Mary] Smetacek launched her campaign.”

Attack on Greenpeace: Dr. Fedoroff spoke at a 2016 press event for a group calling itself “Support Precision Agriculture,” which presented a letter signed by over 100 Nobel laureates criticizing Greenpeace for their opposition to GMOs. Agrichemical industry allies helped out with the campaign, including Monsanto’s former Communications Director Jay Byrne; former biotech trade group VP Val Giddings; and Matt Winkler, who funds the PR group Genetic Literacy Project and is listed as a board member along with Dr. Fedoroff on the group’s website. The .com version of the supposedly independent “Support Precision Agriculture” website redirected to the Genetic Literacy Project for years (it was delinked after we called attention to it in 2019). In emails from 2011, Byrne identified Greenpeace on a “targets” list he was developing for Monsanto with names of industry critics they could confront from behind the cover of an industry-funded academic group that appeared independent.

Friend of GMO Answers: Dr. Fedoroff is an independent expert for GMO Answers, a PR campaign developed by Ketchum public relations, which has a history of using deceptive tactics to influence the public. Although Ketchum claimed the GMO Answers campaign would “redefine transparency,” the group scripted answers for an “independent” expert and was listed among the “industry partners” in Monsanto’s PR plan to protect Roundup from cancer concerns. A “resources” section (page 4) pointed to GMO Answers and Monsanto links that communicate the company message that “Glyphosate is not carcinogenic.” In 2016, Dr. Fedoroff spoke on a panel sponsored by GMO Answers, Scientific American and the Cornell Alliance for Science about media coverage of science featuring industry-friendly journalists Keith Kloor and Tamar Haspel. See “Monsanto’s Media Machine Comes to Washington,” by Paul Thacker.

Opposed investigation to uncover industry-academic ties

In 2015, Dr. Fedoroff and two other former AAAS presidents, Peter Raven and Phillip Sharp, promoted their AAAS leadership roles, but failed to disclose any of their industry ties, in a Guardian op-ed opposing a public records investigation that sought to uncover undisclosed partnerships and financial arrangements between agrichemical companies, their PR groups and publicly funded professors. The investigation by U.S. Right to Know uncovered some of the key documents described in this fact sheet.

Although the Guardian later added a disclosure that Dr. Fedoroff works at the lobby firm OFW Law, it did not disclose that OFW Law’s client at the time was the agrichemical industry trade group, whose member companies were a focus of the public records investigation. The former AAAS presidents argued in their op-ed that the investigation to uncover undisclosed industry-academic conflicts of interest was “taking a page out of the Climategate playbook” and involved “science denialism,” the same claims made by industry PR groups described in this fact sheet.

Using the AAAS to advance agrichemical industry policy objectives

During her tenure as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) from 2011-2012 and as Chair of the Board of Directors from 2012-2013, Dr. Fedoroff worked with agrichemical industry allies to advance key policy objectives: keeping genetically engineered foods unlabeled and defeating a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would have required additional data on the health and environmental impacts of genetically engineered crops that are classified as pesticides.

AAAS helped persuade voters to oppose GMO labeling

In 2012, the AAAS Board of Directors under Dr. Fedoroff’s chairmanship took the unusual step of taking a position on a contentious political issue just two weeks before voters in California went to the polls to decide on Proposition 37, a ballot initiative to label GMOs. A review of the many political statements made by AAAS found no other examples of the organization attempting to influence voters ahead of a state election. (The AAAS and Dr. Fedoroff did not respond to requests for comment. Also disclosure: the USRTK co-directors worked on the pro-labeling campaign.)

The AAAS board’s statement opposing GMO labeling was controversial. It contained inaccuracies, according to longtime AAAS members, several of whom denounced the anti-labeling statement as a “paternalistic” attack on consumer rights that misled the public by omitting important scientific and regulatory context. An AAAS spokeswoman at the time, Ginger Pinholster, called the criticisms “unfair and without merit.” She told a reporter she was in the room when the board passed the statement: “We are not an advocacy group. We make our statements based on scientific evidence,” Pinholster said. “I can tell you that our statement is not the work of nor was it influenced by any outside organization.”

Some observers noted the similarities in language used by the AAAS and the industry-funded campaign to defeat Proposition 37. “Is a major science group stumping for Monsanto?” Michele Simon asked in Grist. Simon described the board’s statement as “non-scientific but very quote-worthy,” and noted that the accompanying AAAS press release contained “talking points” that matched No on 37 campaign literature.

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

In a 2013 letter to Science magazine, another group of 11 scientists raised concerns that the AAAS board’s statement on GMO foods “could backfire.” They wrote, “we are concerned that AAA’s position represents a poorly informed approach to communicating science …  appearing to be less than transparent is a really bad idea for the scientific community.”

Dr. Fedoroff was an early supporter of the industry-backed No on 37 campaign, which listed her on its website in June 2012 as one of four scientists representing the “scientific and academic community” who opposed GMO labeling. The campaign later asked Dr. Fedoroff to help recruit more academics to their cause, which she did according to an October 1, 2012 email to Meghan Callahan of BCF Public Affairs, “I’ve forwarded your [request for academic supporters] to an international group of biotechnology supporting academics. I suspect you’ll be hearing from many corners of the world,” Dr. Fedoroff wrote.

Helped kill data requirements for pesticide-producing plants

In 2011 while serving as AAAS president, Dr. Fedoroff worked with agrichemical industry allies and an industry lobbyist to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from requiring companies to provide additional health and safety data for genetically engineered foods that are classified as pesticides, according to emails described below.

The EPA proposal stemmed from a 2009 EPA Scientific Advisory Panel discussion about ways to improve the agency’s ability to make regulatory decisions about plants that are genetically engineered to produce or contain pesticides, which EPA refers to as “plant-incorporated protectants” (PIPs). Panel members were asked to evaluate current and proposed EPA data requirements for PIPs in the following areas:

  • data to assess potential similarities between PIPs and allergens, toxins, anti-nutrients and other hazardous proteins;
  • testing for synergistic effects on health and non-target organisms, when two or more GMO traits are combined (stacked trait GMOs);
  • potential impacts on microbial populations in soil ecosystems; and
  • data to better address the impacts of gene flow.

According to notes from an October 2009 EPA meeting, the proposed rules would “mostly codify existing data requirements that are currently applied on a case-by-case basis,” and would encompass five categories of data and information: product characterization, human health, non-target effects, environmental fate and resistance management. EPA announced the proposed rules in the Federal Register in March 2011.

Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know via public records requests show how industry allies mobilized to defeat the proposal.

The emails show conversations between Bruce Chassy, a University of Illinois professor at the time, Eric Sachs of Monsanto and other industry reps discussing activities and meetings that involved Dr. Fedoroff. Chassy described himself in the emails (page 66) as the liaison between industry and academics in the effort to oppose the EPA data requirements. Interspersed in his emails to Sachs were queries about whether Monsanto had sent a check to the University of Illinois Foundation in support of Chassy’s “biotechnology outreach and education activities.” (For more details about the undisclosed funds Chassy received from Monsanto for years as he promoted biotechnology, see reporting by Monica Eng in WBEZ and emails posted by the New York Times.)

On July 5, Dr. Chassy emailed Eric Sachs of Monsanto to report that Dr. Fedoroff had sent a letter to EPA over her signature co-signed by 60 members of the National Academy of Sciences. “Nina really picked up the ball and moved it down the field,” Chassy wrote. He described the EPA proposal as a “train wreck.”

The emails show that on August 19, industry trade group representatives were surprised and pleased (page 19) to see a New York Times op-ed from Dr. Fedoroff arguing against regulations for genetic engineering; “who got Nina’s op ed placed?” Adrienne Massey of BIO asked Dr. Chassy and two other industry allies, Henry Miller and Val Giddings. Chassy responded:

Massey forwarded Dr. Chassy the letter BIO sent to the EPA “hoping to build on the academics’ letter and short-circuit any dismissive response of EPA to that letter.” Their efforts did not succeed as they hoped. On August 24, Dr. Chassy wrote to Eric Sachs (page 14) that Dr. Fedoroff “got a response from EPA that is an insult.” He described plans to ratchet up the pressure.

 

In September, Chassy organized a conference call with Fedoroff, Monsanto’s Eric Sachs, Adrienne Massey of BIO and their lobbyist Stanley Abramson, among others. According to Chassy’s notes from the call, “Finding a way to ensure that the EPA proposal never sees the light of day would be the best possible outcome we could hope for. Next best would be to make sure it is DOA, but if needs be we must be willing to continue the fight.”

He also shared the problem that, “The EPA does not believe that the academic community can mount a sustained opposition to their proposed rule making; they believe that only a small handful are behind the petition and that most of the signatories are not committed to the issue.” The group decided they needed to “build a core of leading scientists who are in fact willing to speak out and devote time to this issue.”

By October, the group was more hopeful. Chassy emailed Sachs to report on a “surprisingly productive” meeting he and Dr. Fedoroff attended with Steve Bradbury of EPA. The meeting had been set up by Massey and the lobbyist Abramson. The EPA proposal to require data for GMO PIPs never did see the light of day, according to Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union, who participated in the public meetings with the agency.

Full email chains, via the UCSF Industry Documents Library:

Related reporting 

I Was Barred from a Nobel Laureate Press Conference by a PR Consultant with Monsanto Ties,” by Tim Schwab, Food & Water Watch (2016)

The Puppetmasters of Academia,” by Jonathan Latham, PhD, Independent Science News (2015)

20 years later: the biotech brigade marches on,” Pesticide Action Network (2012)

Engineering food for whom?” by Marcia Ishii-Eitemann, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America (2011)

Sorry, NY Times: GMOs still won’t save the world,” by Anna Lappe, Grist (2011)

In which I go toe to toe with H. Clinton’s science czar over GMOs,” by Tom Philpott, Grist (2009)

Genetically Modified Diplomat: U.S. Foreign Policy GMO All the Way,” by Tom Philpott, Grist (2008)

Bayer Internal Emails Says Seeks to “Regain Public Trust” Amid Monsanto Mess

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With legal and shareholder pressure mounting, Bayer AG on Thursday was preparing to launch an initiative to “regain public trust” after its acquisition last year of Monsanto Co. brought Bayer thousands of lawsuits filed by cancer victims and damning revelations of corporate deception surrounding years of health concerns about Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides.

The plan calls for seeking a new alternative for glyphosate, the chemical herbicide introduced by Monsanto in 1974. Monsanto pushed the chemical to such pervasive use that glyphosate is considered the most widely used herbicide in history and residues of the weed killer are commonly found now in food, water, and human urine. Despite Monsanto denials of adverse human health and environmental impacts, scientific studies have tied Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products to a range of disease and illness and have documented weed resistance problems, pollinator declines, soil degradation and water contamination issues, among other concerns.

According to an email dated June 13 authored by Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, Bayer plans to publish an advertisement on Friday that outlines “an initial set of commitments” pertaining to glyphosate, agriculture and global sustainability. The email was obtained and publicized by Friends of the Earth- Canada and could not immediately be authenticated by US Right to Know.

“Glyphosate will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in our portfolio. But nature is far from one-size-fits-all. With the global success of glyphosate came widespread use, weed resistance, and in some instances unintended misapplication.  Farmers deserve more choice. That’s why we will invest approximately 5 billion Euros in additional methods for combating weeds over the next decade. We are committed to equipping the world’s farmers with the best in agricultural technology and locally informed training on how to use it,” the email states.

The email states that Bayer will be working to “elevate our efforts in transparency…” and sustainability and engagement with shareholders.

“As the new leader in agriculture, we aim to set standards that not only align with the norms of our industries, but push all of us to be better,” the email states.

Bayer shares have dropped 44 percent since it acquired Monsanto last year, shortly before the first of three trial losses to cancer victims claiming exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. More than 13,000 people are suing with similar claims and so far juries have awarded more than $2 billion in damages, including punitive damages as punishment for what plaintiffs’ attorneys have characterized as malicious tactics aimed at suppressing scientific evidence that Monsanto’s herbicides can cause cancer.

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada, said that she is skeptical about the sincerity of the effort. “The charm campaign is a waste of shareholder money,” she said. “This seems like more of their same tactics.”

Bayer’s Raymond Kerins,  senior vice president for communications and government, did not respond to a request for comment about the email, but has stated previously that the company’s goal is professional, transparent and honest engagement surrounding the Monsanto issues.

See link to Bayer email here. 

Monsanto, Bayer Struggle to Keep Up with Growing Roundup Cancer Litigation

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Turmoil both in and outside courtrooms appears to be growing for Monsanto, a unit of German owner Bayer AG, as the company works to meet overlapping deadlines for appeal actions in the three Roundup cancer trials Monsanto has lost so far at the same time that the company must prepare for new trials at the end of this summer.

The weight of the litigation burden was laid out by a Monsanto/Bayer attorney in a recent California Court of Appeal filing seeking more time to file a brief in Monsanto’s appeal of the first case it lost last summer.

That plaintiff in that case, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, was awarded $289 million by a San Francisco jury who determined that Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma was caused by his exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides. As part of the $289 million, the jury ordered $250 million in punitive damages after Johnson’s attorneys presented evidence that Monsanto suppressed the evidence of the risks of its herbicides.

The trial judge lowered the damage award to $78 million, and Johnson is cross-appealing to reinstate the full verdict.

Monsanto’s appeal argues, among other things, that if the court refuses to reverse the judgment there should be no punitive damage award at all, even if Johnson is awarded a small amount for compensatory damages.

In the recent filing, Bryan Cave attorney K. Lee Marshall told the court he needs an extension of time to prepare the next brief that is due in the Johnson appeal because of the various deadlines in the multiple cases Monsanto is defending against. He cited post-trial motion deadlines in Pilliod v. Monsanto, in which a jury ordered Monsanto pay more than $2 billion in damages, and deadlines in Hardeman v. Monsanto, in which a jury ordered the company to pay roughly $80 million in damages. Monsanto is seeking to overturn both those verdicts as well.

Last week, Monsanto filed notice in federal court that it – along with insurer Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. – had posted a $100 million bond as it plans to appeal the Hardeman verdict. The company has a July 2 hearing on its request for the trial judge to set aside the verdict and order a new trial.

“In light of the imminent post-trial motion briefing deadlines in Hardeman and Pilliod, I am, and will be, devoting a significant amount of time over the next several weeks to the post-trial motions that challenge the enormous verdicts in those cases. These time-sensitive commitments will substantially impair my ability to devote time to prepare… in this appeal,” Marshall told the court.

As well, he wrote, the Johnson case is “unusually complex and presents numerous complicated issues.” In-house counsel at Bayer wants to review, comment on and edit the reply brief before it is filed, he added.

The Johnson appeal is being handled on an expedited basis due to Johnson’s declining health and terminal cancer diagnosis. Johnson’s attorneys have said they expect oral arguments to be set for the appeals by September or October, with a final ruling expected within 90 days following oral arguments, possibly by Thanksgiving.

If Monsanto loses its bid for a new trial in the Hardeman case the company is expected to file an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a process that would likely drag into next spring, attorneys involved in the litigation said.

Meanwhile, the next trial is set to get underway Aug. 19 in St. Louis, the longtime hometown for Monsanto before it was acquired by Bayer in June 2018. The case involves plaintiff Sharlean Gordon, a cancer-stricken woman in her 50s.  The case was filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs and Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

More than 13,000 plaintiffs have filed suit against Monsanto in the United States alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killers, such as Roundup.

As the litigation proceeds, Bayer investors grow more restless and many are pushing Bayer to seriously consider a global settlement, sources say. Various analysts put a potential settlement number between $2 billion to $3 billion on the low side, up to $10 billion or slightly more as the high end of a range.

Bayer’s shares have fallen 44 percent since the Johnson verdict was handed down last August.

An internal Bayer email dated June 13 revealed that the company is launching a new marketing effort aimed at distancing itself from Monsanto’s questionable conduct.

The email sent from Bayer CEO Werner Baumann stated: “We are currently facing questions of public trust. This challenge is also an opportunity for us to demonstrate what we stand for. That’s why we are
raising the bar as we are setting off on a journey to elevate our efforts in transparency,
sustainability and how we engage with our stakeholders. As the new leader in agriculture, we
aim to set standards that not only align with the norms of our industries, but push all of us to be
better.”

“Transparency is our foundation. We will evolve our engagement policies that ground all of our
interactions with scientists, journalists, regulators and the political sphere in transparency,
integrity and respect,” the internal Bayer email states.

A Matter of Fact – Professor Refuses to Correct Errors in New Scientific Paper Finding Problems with Glyphosate

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(UPDATED June 5 with comment from Scientific Reports)

The authors of a newly published paper examining the impacts of exposure to the world’s most widely used herbicide declared some shocking news.

The team from Washington State University found that descendants of rats exposed to the chemical glyphosate developed prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities. The findings, published in April in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, added to the global debate about the safety of glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers.

But perhaps more stunning than that news, the research team also stated in their paper that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist scientific arm of the World Health Organization, had “retracted” its finding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen.

The error is one of many in the paper reported to the authors over a month ago that has yet to be corrected. But none, perhaps, is more glaring than the one about IARC.

IARC had issued a lengthy paper in 2015 that concluded by classifying glyphosate as a 2A human carcinogen. That IARC classification sparked thousands of lawsuits against Monsanto, the longtime purveyor of Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides and fueled debate around the globe. The IARC classification also helped prompt many European countries to start moving to limit or ban glyphosate use. Cities, school districts and retailers across the United States have also stopped using or selling glyphosate products. Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG has lost 40 percent of its shareholder value due to the persistent concerns about Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides.

But according to the WSU team, the IARC classification that triggered it all was retracted in 2016. They wrote:

“In March 2015 the International Agency of Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a Grade 2a carcinogen based on prevalence of liver and kidney tumors in chronic feeding studies. Shortly after, this statement was retracted in 2016.”

A retraction by IARC of its finding would be highly significant. Indeed, Monsanto in 2015 did seek a retraction but IARC has defended its work, as have numerous independent scientists from multiple countries. And notably, IARC has never retracted its finding of glyphosate as a 2A probable carcinogen.

“The classification has not been changed and is still valid,” said IARC spokeswoman Veronique Terrasse.

The Washington State research team was led by Michael Skinner, professor of the WSU School of Biological Sciences. Seemingly the error would be easy to correct. But when contacted about the error, Skinner said he had no intention of correcting the statement because no correction was needed. He said that he has told scientists who have raised the issue with him to write a letter to the editor of the journal.

“The Definition of Retract includes to “Draw or be drawn back or back in” or “withdraw or go back” or “reconsider or drawn back”, so this is why the word was used in this context,” Skinner said in an emailed response.

Scientific Reports is part of Nature, a weekly international journal that bills itself as “publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology…”

A spokesperson for Scientific Reports, said: “When any issues are raised with Scientific Reports about papers we have published, we investigate them carefully and we will take action where appropriate.”

He pointed out that Scientific Reports is an online, open-access journal in the “Nature Research family of journals” but is editorially independent of Nature.

Several outside scientists have identified other factual errors in the paper, and said they threaten to undermine the credibility of the findings overall.

“This is supposed to be picked up by the peer review,” said Chuck Benbrook, an agricultural economist and glyphosate expert whose own scientific research was cited incorrectly by the Skinner team in their paper. Benbrook contacted Skinner in April immediately after the paper was published laying out several errors that need correcting. Benbrook noted that all of the problems he is aware of were in the introduction to the paper and had nothing to do with the scientific conclusions.

“Why he didn’t quickly correct the factual errors… is hard to understand,” said Benbrook.

Among the other factual errors:

*The paper stated that glyphosate accounts for nearly 72 percent of global pesticide usage, citing Benbrook’s research. Benbrook’s research does not say that, but says that 72 percent of glyphosate sprayed globally has been applied in the last decade.

* The Skinner paper states that IARC’s classification of glyphosate was based on the prevalence of liver and kidney tumors in chronic feeding studies. In fact, the IARC classification, as detailed in IARC’s paper, states the classification was based on data from animal studies, epidemiology studies, and “strong evidence” of genotoxic mechanisms of action.

* As well, the paper cited in a footnote a paper that contradicted IARC’s finding of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen that was exposed nearly two years ago as the ghost-written work of Monsanto scientists. Skinner’s paper did not note that this paper, titled  “Genotoxicity Expert Panel review: weight of evidence evaluation of the genotoxicity of glyphosate, glyphosate-based formulations, and aminomethylphosphonic acid,” was so problematic for its lack of disclosure of Monsanto’s involvement that the journal that published it – Critical Reviews in Toxicology – issued an “expression of concern” and a correction statement.

Skinner’s research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. He and his colleagues exposed pregnant rats to glyphosate between their eighth and 14th days of gestation. The dose, which they said was half the amount expected to show no adverse effect, produced no apparent ill effects on either the parents or the first generation of offspring. But the researchers saw dramatic increases in “several pathologies affecting the second and third generations,” according to a press release promoting the study.

The study has garnered quite a bit of attention. Several news outlets have reported on the study, quoting Skinner. Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto last year, has said Skinner’s study is not credible. But Skinner has defended the accuracy of the study, citing the fact it was peer-reviewed and published in an accredited scientific journal.

(Article first appeared on EcoWatch.)

Carey Gillam is a journalist and author, and a public interest researcher for US Right to Know, a not-for-profit food industry research group. Follow her on Twitter at @careygillam.

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

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

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

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

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

In the wake of the “Monsanto File” revelations in France, Bayer apologized and said it suspended its relationship with the firms involved, including FleishmanHillard and Publicis Consultants, pending an investigation. “Our highest priority is to create transparency,” Bayer said. “We do not tolerate unethical behavior in our company.” However the PR companies Bayer relies upon, including FleishmanHillard and PR firms under the same corporate ownership, have histories of using underhanded tactics to promote and defend their clients – and they have done the same for Bayer.

Ketchum and FleishmanHillard hired to rehab image of GMOs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omnicom’s FleishmanHillard and Ketchum: histories of deception

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

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

Documents leaked to Mother Jones indicate that Ketchum worked with a private security firm that “spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from the late 1990s through at least 2000, pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings.” FleishmanHillard was also caught using unethical espionage tactics against public health and tobacco control advocates on behalf of the tobacco company R. J. Reynolds, according to a study by Ruth Malone in the American Journal of Public Health. The PR firm even secretly audiotaped tobacco control meetings and conferences.

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

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

FTI Consulting: climate deception and more tobacco ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on Bayer’s recent PR scandals

Coverage in French:

Coverage in English:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEDIATION MEETING MAY 22

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

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

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

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

“THE QUEEN OF ROUNDUP”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Published first in Environmental Health News)

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Monsanto Ordered to Pay $2 Billion to Cancer Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the many revelations that have emerged from the trials:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The damage award breaks down as follows:

Alva Pilliod

Compensatory:

Past economic – $47,296.01

Past non-economic loss – $8 million

Future non-economic loss – $10 million

Punitive damages – $1 billion

Alberta Pilliod

Compensatory:

Past economic – $201,166.76

Past non-economic – $8 million

Future economic  – $2,957,710

Future non-economic – $26 million

Punitive damages – $1 billion

TOTAL – $2.055 billion  

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

For more updates follow Carey Gillam on Twitter @careygillam 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE COURT: I understand what you’re saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See transcript of closing arguments here. 

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

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