U.S. regulators relied for years on flawed pesticide data provided by Dow Chemical

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For years, U.S. regulators relied on falsified data provided by Dow Chemical to allow unsafe levels of the chemical chlorpyrifos into American homes, according to a new analysis from University of Washington researchers.

The analysis reexamines work from the 1970s sponsored by Dow and submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to guide the agency in establishing what scientists refer to as a “no-observed-adverse-effect-level” or NOAEL. Such thresholds are used to determine what types of use and at what level a chemical exposure can be allowed and still be considered “safe.”

According to the new analysis, published online July 3 in the journal Environmental International, the inaccurate findings were the result of a chlorpyrifos dosing study conducted by researcher Frederick Coulston and colleagues from the Albany Medical College in the early 1970s for Dow.

The authors of the new paper reexamining that prior work are Lianne Sheppard, Seth McGrew and Richard Fenske of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, School of Public Health at the University of Washington.

While the study was authored by the Coulston group, the analysis was completed by a Dow statistician and concluded that 0.03 mg/kg-day was the chronic NOAEL level for chlorpyrifos in humans. But the new analysis by the University of Washington researchers found that wildly overstated the margin of safety. Had the data been properly analyzed a lower NOAEL of 0.014 mg/kg-day would have been found, they said.

The Coulston study did not undergo peer review but still was used by the EPA for risk assessments throughout much of the 1980′s and 1990′s, the University of Washington researchers reported.

The researchers concluded: “During that period, EPA allowed chlorpyrifos to be registered for multiple residential uses that were later cancelled to reduce potential health impacts to children and infants. Had appropriate analyses been employed in the evaluation of this study, it is likely that many of those registered uses of chlorpyrifos would not have been authorized by EPA. This work demonstrates that reliance by pesticide regulators on research results that have not been properly peer-reviewed may needlessly endanger the public.”

Widely used

Commonly known as the active ingredient in the brand name Lorsban, chlorpyrifos insecticides were introduced by Dow Chemical in 1965 and have been used widely in agricultural settings. The largest agricultural market for chlorpyrifos is corn but the pesticide is also used by farmers growing soybeans, fruit and nut trees, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, and cauliflower, as well as other row crops. Residues of the chemical are commonly found in food. Non-agricultural uses include golf courses, turf, green houses, and utilities.

Despite the science promoted by Dow, independent scientific research has shown mounting evidence of the dangers of chlorpyrifos, particularly to young children. Scientists have found that prenatal exposures to chlorpyrifos are associated with lower birth weight, reduced IQ, the loss of working memory, attention disorders, and delayed motor development.

The American Academy for Pediatrics, which represents more than 66,000 pediatricians and pediatric surgeons, has warned that continued use of the chemical puts developing fetuses, infants, children and pregnant women at great risk.

Chlorpyrifos is so dangerous that the European Food Safety Authority has stated that there is no safe exposure level.

The EPA reached an agreement with Dow in 2000 to phase out all residential uses of the chemical because of research showing the chemical is dangerous to the developing brains of babies and young children. In 2012, chlorpyrifos was banned from use around schools.

In February 2020, after pressure from consumer, medical, scientific groups and in face of growing calls for bans around the world, Corteva AgriScience, a successor corporation to a merger of Dow and DuPont, said it would phase out production of chlorpyrifos. The chemical, however, remains legal for other companies to make and sell.

Human subjects

The study that is the subject of the new paper by the University of Washington researchers was overseen in 1971 by the Albany Medical College’s Institute of Experimental Pathology and Toxicology. The study included 16 healthy adult male inmates from a pool of volunteers at Clinton Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Dannemora, New York.

The volunteers were randomized into four experimental groups, including one control group, whose members received a daily placebo. The members of the three other groups received daily chlorpyrifos treatments at three different doses.  The study took place over 63 days.

The new analysis found several problems with the study, including the omission of eight valid baseline measurements for one of the three treatment groups.

“Such an omission of valid data without justification is a form of data falsification that violates all standard codes of ethical research practice and is classified as outright research misconduct,” the University of Washington researchers concluded.

The researchers said that chlorpyrifos “passed through the regulatory process without much debate,” even though there was “growing evidence that it might pose a health hazard in residential environments.”

“The Coulston Study misled regulators by omitting valid data,” and “may have adversely impacted public health” for several years, the University of Washington paper concludes.

The Dicamba Papers: Key Documents and Analysis

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

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

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

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

FEDERAL ACTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uproar in Farm Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPA thumbs nose at court order, says farmers can still use illegal dicamba herbicides

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(UPDATES with comment from BASF)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday declared it would not immediately honor a court ruling handed down last week that banned certain herbicides made by three of the world’s largest chemical companies.

The move by the EPA amounts to a generous gift to BASF, Bayer and Corteva Agrisciences whose dicamba herbicides were deemed by the court to have been approved by the EPA illegally. The court specifically said in its order issued last week that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

But the EPA announced Monday that it was issuing a “cancellation order” that would give farmers until July 31 to use existing stocks of Bayer’s Xtendimax, BASF’s Engenia, and Corteva’s FeXapan.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA made multiple errors in approving the dicamba products and came in response to a petition brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), whose lawyers argued the case for petitioners, said in a statement that the EPA’s action was “disingenuous” and “ignores the well-documented and overwhelming evidence of substantial drift harm to farmers from another disastrous spraying season.” The EPA action also ignores the risks dicamba poses to hundreds of endangered species, CFS said.

“The Trump administration is again showing it has no regard for the rule of law. All users that continue to not seek alternatives should be on notice that they are using a harmful, defective, and unlawful product. We will bring the EPA’s failure to abide by the Court’s order to the Court as expeditiously as possible,” CFS said.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue last week urged the EPA to figure out a way around the court ruling, echoing comments by Bayer, BASF and Corteva that called dicamba herbicides important “tools” for farmers growing genetically engineered soybean and cotton.

The EPA said in deciding to allow farmers to continue to use dicamba through the end of July it was responding to “numerous unsolicited phone calls and emails” telling the agency “there is a real concern and potential for devastation to cotton and soybean crops that could result in a crisis for the industry.”

The EPA did not acknowledge the scores of farmers growing crops other than dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton who have suffered crop losses from dicamba drift and fear another summer of crop damage.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create the dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

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

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

In a statement issued after the EPA announcement, BASF  said it supported the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of existing stocks of BASF’s Engenia herbicide through July 31, but said “additional clarity and flexibility” was required.  The company said it had immediately suspended selling and shipping Engenia herbicide after last week’s ruling. 

The company said it  will continue to pursue re-registration of Engenia with the EPA and is assessing its options to pursue legal remedies to challenge the court order.

UPDATED -Court overturns EPA approval of Bayer dicamba herbicide; says regulator “understated the risks”

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(UPDATES with statement from BASF)

In a stunning rebuke of the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal court on Wednesday overturned the agency’s approval of popular dicamba-based herbicides made by chemical giants Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agrisciences. The ruling effectively makes it illegal for farmers to continue to use the product.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

“The EPA made multiple errors in granting the conditional registrations,” the court ruling states.

Monsanto and the EPA had asked the court, if it did agree with the plaintiffs, not to immediately overturn the approvals of the weed killing products. The court said simply: “We decline to do so.”

The lawsuit was brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The plaintiffs accused the EPA of breaking the law in evaluating the impacts of a system designed by Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, that has triggered “widespread” crop damage over the last few summers and continues to threaten farms across the country.

“Today’s decision is a massive win for farmers and the environment,” said George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, lead counsel in the case. “It is good to be reminded that corporations like Monsanto and the Trump Administration cannot escape the rule of law, particularly at a time of crisis like this. Their day of reckoning has arrived.”

The court found that among other problems, the EPA “refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as ‘potential’ and ‘alleged,’ when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage.”

The court also found that the EPA failed to acknowledge that restrictions it placed on the use of the dicamba herbicides would not be followed,  and it determined that the EPA “entirely failed to acknowledge the substantial risk that the registrations would have anticompetitive economic effects in the soybean and cotton industries.”

Finally, the court said, the EPA entirely failed to acknowledge the risk that the new use of dicamba herbicides set up by Monsanto, BASF and Corteva would “tear the social fabric of farming communities.”

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

Despite the warnings, Monsanto, along with BASF and Corteva AgriScience all gained approval from the EPA to market new formulations of dicamba herbicides for this widespread type of spraying. The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances have proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage since the introduction of the new dicamba-tolerant crops and the new dicamba herbicides. More than one million acres of crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

As predicted, there have been thousands of dicamba damage complaints recorded in multiple states. In its ruling, the court noted that in 2018, out of 103 million acres of soybeans and cotton planted in the United States, about 56 million acres were planted with seeds with Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerance trait, up from 27 million acres the year before in 2017.

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

Bayer issued a statement following the ruling saying it strongly disagreed with the court ruling and was assessing its options.

“The EPA’s informed science-based decision reaffirms that this tool is vital for growers and does not pose any unreasonable risks of off-target movement when used according to label directions,” the company said. “If the ruling stands, we will work quickly to minimize any impact on our customers this season.”

Corteva also said its dicamba herbicides were needed farmer tools and that it was assessing its options.

BASF called the court order “unprecedented” and said it “has the potential to be devastating to tens of thousands of farmers.”

Farmers could lose “significant revenue” if they are not able to kill weeds in their soybean and cotton fields with the dicamba herbicides, the company said.

“We will use all legal remedies available to challenge this Order,” BASF said.

An EPA spokesman said the agency was currently reviewing the court decision and “will move promptly to address the Court’s directive.”

The court acknowledged the decision could be costly for farmers who have already purchased and/or planted dicamba-tolerant seeds for this season and planned to use the dicamba herbicides on them because the ruling disallows that herbicide use.

“We acknowledge the difficulties these growers may have in finding effective and legal herbicides to protect their (dicamba-tolerant) crops…” the ruling states. “They have been placed in this situation through no fault of their own. However, the absence of substantial evidence to support the EPA’s decision compels us to vacate the registrations.”

Dicamba: Farmers fear another season of crop damage; court ruling awaited

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With the turn of the calendar to June, farmers in the U.S. Midwest are wrapping up the planting of new soybean crops and tending to growing fields of young corn plants and vegetable plots. But many are also bracing to be hit by an invisible enemy that has wreaked havoc in farm country the last few summers – the chemical weed killer dicamba.

Jack Geiger, a certified organic farmer in Robinson, Kansas, describes the last few summer growing seasons as characterized by “chaos,” and said he partially lost certification for one field of organic crops due to contamination with dicamba sprayed from afar. Now he is pleading with neighbors who spray the weed killer on their fields to make sure the chemical stays off his property.

“There is dicamba everywhere,” Geiger said.

Geiger is only one of hundreds of farmers around the U.S. Midwest and several southern states who have reported crop damages and losses they claim were caused by drifting dicamba over the last few years.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas.

That restraint was reversed after Monsanto launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds to encourage farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops. Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer AG, along with BASF and Corteva AgriScience all gained approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to market new formulations of dicamba herbicides for spraying over the tops of growing dicamba-tolerant crops. The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do.

But those assurances have proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage since the introduction of the new dicamba-tolerant crops and the new dicamba herbicides.

A consortium of farmer and consumer groups sued the EPA over its backing of the over-the-top use of the dicamba herbicides and is now awaiting a ruling by the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco regarding their demand that the court overturn the EPA’s approval of the three company’s herbicides. Oral arguments were held in April.

The consumer and environmental groups allege the EPA broke the law by failing to analyze the “significant socioeconomic and agronomic costs to farmers” leading to “catastrophic” levels of crop damage.

The groups say the EPA seems more interested in protecting the business interests of Monsanto and the other companies than in protecting farmers.

Lawyers for Monsanto, representing the company as a unit of Bayer, said the plaintiffs have no credible argument. The company’s new dicamba herbicide, called XtendiMax, “has assisted growers in addressing a significant nationwide weed resistance problem, and soybean and cotton yields have hit record highs nationwide during this litigation,” according to a brief filed by the company’s lawyers on May 29.

“Petitioners’ request for an order immediately halting all sales and uses of the pesticide invites legal error and potentially disastrous real-world impacts,” the company said.

As they await the federal court’s decision, farmers are hoping that new restrictions put in place by some states will protect them. The Illinois Department of Agriculture has advised applicators that they can’t spray after June 20, that they should not spray dicamba products if the temperature is over 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and that they should only apply dicamba when the wind is blowing away from “sensitive” areas. Minnesota, Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota are among other states putting in place cut-off dates for spraying dicamba.

Steve Smith, director of agriculture at Red Gold Inc, the world’s largest canned tomato processor, said even with the state restrictions he is “extremely concerned” about the upcoming season. More acres of being planting with the dicamba-tolerant soybeans developed by Monsanto so it is likely there will be more dicamba being sprayed, he said.

“We’ve worked hard to keep the message out there of not to get close to us, but someone, sometime, is going to make a mistake that could seriously cost us our business,”  he said.

Smith said he is hopeful the court will overturn the EPA approval and “stop this insanity of a system.”

Separately from the potential dicamba damage to crops, new research was recently published showing that farmers exposed to high levels of dicamba appear to have elevated risks of liver and other types of cancer.  Researchers said the new data showed that an association previously seen in the data between dicamba and lung and colon cancers was “no longer apparent” with the updated data.

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’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:

CropLife International — key facts

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Summary

CropLife International (CLI) is a trade association founded in 2001 representing the manufacturers of the world’s largest manufacturers of genetically engineered seeds and pesticides. Members include BASF, Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta, Corteva (formerly DowDuPont), Sumitomo Chemical and FMC.

The trade group also has 15 member associations: AfricaBio; AgroBio Brazil; AgroBio Mexico; ArgenBio; Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Food & Ag; CBI Japan; CIB Brazil; CropLife Africa Middle East; CropLife America; CropLife Asia, CropLife Canada; CropLife Latin America; European Crop Protection Association (ECPA); EuropaBio; and Japan Crop Protection Association.

Related USRTK posts:
May 31, 2018, “Monsanto Relied on These Partners to Attack Top Cancer Scientists

CLI Members