The American Council on Science and Health is a front group for the tobacco, agrichemical, fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and other industries.
A leaked ACSH financial summary, released in 2013 by Mother Jones, revealed that the American Council on Science and Health has received funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the science messaging ACSH promotes. The document further revealed that ACSH solicits corporate donations for quid pro quo product-defense campaigns; for example it outlines:
- Plans to pitch the Vinyl Institute which “previously supported chlorine and health report”;
- Plans to pitch food companies for a messaging campaign to oppose GMO labeling;
- Plans to pitch cosmetic companies to counter “reformulation pressures” from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics;
- Efforts to court tobacco and e-cigarette companies.
Ties to Monsanto
August 8, 2017: In litigation against Monsanto, as an example of how the corporation relies on front groups to push its science messaging, plaintiff’s attorneys released this email about ACSH from Daniel Goldstein, Monsanto’s senior science lead: “I can assure you I am not all starry eyed about ACSH- they have PLENTY of warts- but: You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH.”
July 11, 2017: Paul Thacker reported in the Progressive: “Monsanto ignored repeated questions about their financial support for the American Council on Science and Health.” ACSH Director Hank Campbell responded in a post: “I don’t care. If a large food corporation, like Whole Foods, or a smaller one, like Monsanto, wants to buy an ad here, they can. We will cash that check.”
June 1, 2017: Le Monde investigation into Monsanto’s “war on science” described ACSH as a key player in Monsanto’s communication and lobbying network (see English translation).
May 2017: Plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns stated in a brief:
“Monsanto quietly funnels money to ‘think tanks’ such as the ‘Genetic Literacy Project’ and the ‘American Council on Science and Health,’ organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.”
August 2013: Emails reveal that Monsanto tapped ACSH to publish a series of pro-GMO papers assigned to professors by Monsanto and merchandized by a PR firm:
Monsanto executive Eric Sachs wrote to the professors: “To ensure that the papers have the greatest impact, the American Council for Science and Health is partnering with CMA Consulting to drive the project. The completed policy briefs will be offered on the ACSH website … CMA and ACSH also will merchandize the policy briefs, including the development of media specific materials, such as op-eds, blog postings, speaking engagements, events, webinars, etc.”
Ties to Syngenta
In 2011, ACSH published a book about “chemophobia” written by Jon Entine, who also has many close ties to Monsanto. Entine’s book defended atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, which was funding ACSH.
A 2012 Mother Jones article describes the circumstances leading up to the publication. The article by Tom Philpott is based in part on internal company documents, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, describing Syngenta’s PR efforts to get third-party allies to spin media coverage of atrazine.
In one email from 2009, ACSH staff asked Syngenta for an additional $100,000 – “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years” – to produce an atrazine-friendly paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” to help educate media and scientists.
Email from ASCH staffer Gil Ross to Syngenta seeking funding for science project on atrazine “controversy” to include a peer reviewed paper and accompanying “consumer friendly booklet”:
A year and a half later, ACSH published Entine’s book with this release: “The American Council on Science and Health is pleased to announce a new book and companion friendly, abbreviated position paper … authored by Jon Entine.” Entine denied any relationship with Syngenta and told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.
- ACSH’s longtime “Medical/Executive Director” Dr. Gilbert Ross was convicted in a scheme to defraud the Medicaid system prior to joining ACSH. See court documents about Dr. Ross’ multiple fraud convictions and sentencing, and article in Mother Jones “Paging Dr. Ross” (2005). Dr. Ross was found to be a “highly untrustworthy individual” by a judge who sustained the exclusion of Dr. Ross from Medicaid for 10 years (see additional references and court document).
- In June 2015, Hank Campbell took over ACSH leadership from acting president (and convicted felon) Dr. Gilbert Ross. Campbell worked for software development companies before starting the website Science 2.0 in 2006. In his 2012 book, “Science Left Behind: Feel Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti Science Left,” Campbell describes his background: “six years ago… I decided I wanted to write science on the Internet … with nothing but enthusiasm and a concept, I approached world famous people about helping me reshape how science could be done, and they did it for free.”
ACSH has often billed itself as an “independent” group, and has been referred to as “independent” in the press. However, according to the ACSH financial documents obtained by Mother Jones and reported by Andy Kroll and Jeremy Schulman:
- “ACSH’s donors and the potential backers the group has been targeting comprise a who’s-who of energy, agriculture, cosmetics, food, soda, chemical, pharmaceutical, and tobacco corporations.”
- ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron, Coca-Cola, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Bayer Cropscience, Procter and Gamble, Syngenta, 3M, McDonald’s, and tobacco conglomerate Altria. Among the corporations and foundations that ACSH pursued for financial support were Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, the Bradley Foundation and Searle Freedom Trust.
- “ACSH planned to receive a total of $338,200 from tobacco companies between July 2012 and June 2013.” The two largest donors listed in the ACSH documents were Reynolds American and Phillip Morris International.
Incorrect statements about science
- Claimed that “There is no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke involves heart attacks or cardiac arrest.” Winston-Salem Journal, 2012
- Argued that “there is no scientific consensus concerning global warming.” ACSH, 1998
- Argued that fracking “doesn’t pollute water or air.” Daily Caller, 2013
- Claimed that “There has never been a case of ill health linked to the regulated, approved use of pesticides in this country.” Tobacco Documents Library, UCSF, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition document page 9, 1995
- Declared that “There is no evidence that BPA [bisphenol A] in consumer products of any type, including cash register receipts, are harmful to health.” ACSH, 2012
- Argued that the exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, “in conventional seafood causes no harm in humans.” ACSH, 2010.
Recent ACSH messaging continues in the same theme, denying risk from products that are important to the chemical, tobacco and other industries, and making frequent attacks on scientists, journalists and others who raise concerns.
- A 2016 “top junk science” post by ACSH denies that chemicals can cause endocrine disruption; defends e-cigarettes, vaping and soda; and attacks journalists and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
USA Today gives ACSH a platform
USA Today continues to publish columns by ACSH president Hank Campbell and senior fellow Alex Berezow, who is also member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors, without disclosing their funding ties to corporations whose interests they defend.
In February 2017, 30 health, environmental, labor and public interest groups wrote to the editors of USA Today asking the paper to stop providing a platform of legitimacy to ACSH or at least provide full disclosures about who funds the group.
The letter states:
- “We are writing to express our concern that USA Today continues to publish columns written by members of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a corporate-funded group with a long history of promoting corporate agendas that are at odds with mainstream science. USA Today should not be helping this group promote its false identity as a credible, independent source on science. Your readers deserve accurate information about what and whom this group represents, as they reflect on the content of the columns.”
- “These are no idle allegations. Many of the undersigned health, environmental, labor and public interest groups have been tracking ACSH’s work over the years. We have documented instances in which the group has worked to undermine climate change science, and deny the health threats associated with various products, including second-hand smoke, fracking, pesticides and industrial chemicals – all without being transparent about its corporate backers.”
- We note that financial documents obtained by Mother Jones show that ACSH has received funding from tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical and oil corporations. Public interest groups have reported that ACSH received funding from the Koch Foundations between 2005-2011, and released internal documents showing that ACSH solicited $100,000 from Syngenta in 2009 to write favorably about its product atrazine – a donation that was to be “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years.”
- “At a time when the public is questioning the legitimacy of the news media, we believe it is vital for publications such as USA Today to follow the highest standards of journalistic ethics and serve the public with as much truth and transparency as possible. We respectfully ask you to refrain from publishing further columns authored by members of the American Council on Science and Health, or at the very least require that the individuals identify the organization accurately as a corporate-funded advocacy group.”
As of December 2017, USA Today editorial page editor Bill Sternberg has declined to stop publishing ACSH columns and the paper has repeatedly provided inaccurate or incomplete disclosures for the columns, and failed to notify its readers about ACSH’s funding from corporations whose agenda they promote.
Kevin Folta, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Horticulture Sciences Department at University of Florida, has provided inaccurate information and engaged in misleading activities in his efforts to promote genetically engineered foods and pesticides.
His recent lawsuit against The New York Times is the latest in a long line of examples of Dr. Folta’s misleading and deceptive communications.
Dr. Folta sues NY Times and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner for reporting his ties to Monsanto
On Sept. 1, 2017, Dr. Folta filed a lawsuit against The New York Times and Eric Lipton, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, claiming they defamed him with a 2015 front-page article that described how Monsanto enlisted academics to oppose the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Amended complaint (10/5/2017)
NYT motion to dismiss (10/19/2017)
Federal judge denied Folta’s motions to compel discovery, calling some of the requests “downright silly” and “laughable” (5/11/2018)
NYT and Eric Lipton motion for final summary judgment (7/25/18)
Dr. Folta’s lawsuit claims the defendants “misrepresented him as a covertly paid operative of one of the largest and most controversial companies in America, Monsanto,” and that they did so in order to “to further their own ‘anti GMO’ agenda.” According to Dr. Folta’s lawsuit, Lipton “has almost singlehandedly silenced the scientific community from teaching scientists how to communicate.”
The lawsuit claims that Dr. Folta “never received” an “unrestricted grant” from Monsanto and that he “never received any form of grant, and never received support for him to ‘travel around the country and defend genetically modified foods.’” However, documents show that Monsanto provided Dr. Folta with, in their words, “an unrestricted grant in the amount of $25,000 which may be used at your discretion in support of your research and outreach projects.”
Emails indicate that Monsanto donated the money in response to a 9-page proposal from Dr. Folta, in which he asked Monsanto for $25,000 to fund his “three tiered solution” to the “biotech communications problem.” Proposed activities included traveling each month to a major domestic university to promote GMOs. The money was donated to a food bank after the documents became public.
Dr. Folta’s lawsuit also claims (point 67), “Dr. Folta does not discuss industry products of any sort, he teaches broadly about technology.” Yet he has vouched for the supposed safety of Monsanto’s RoundUp, going so far as to drink the product “to demonstrate harmlessness.” He has also said he “will do it again.”
In a Sept. 29, 2015 email to a colleague, University of Florida Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Janine Sikes wrote about Lipton’s story: “for the record I thought the story was fair.”
Quotes from NYT and Eric Lipton’s response to Folta’s lawsuit, from July 2018 motion for final summary judgement:
Mr. Lipton relied on Plaintiff’s own email communications, which were provided to him by UF in response to a public records request. While it may be that Plaintiff, a self-described “public” scientist, would rather not have his associations with industry giants like Monsanto examined, accurate reporting on the records documenting those associations cannot form the basis for a defamation lawsuit. (Page 1)
Among other things, (Folta’s) UF records documented: (1) Plaintiff’s actions in securing a $25,000 “unrestricted grant” from Monsanto—that Plaintiff told Monsanto would not have to be publicly disclosed—to fund talks about GMO science, including the discussion of industry products; (2) Plaintiff’s testifying before governmental bodies in favor of pro-GMO policies; (3) Plaintiff’s interactions with industry, including numerous email communications with industry representatives providing his thoughts about lobbying strategy and describing his efforts to communicate GMO science to the public; (4) his posts for GMOAnswers, an industry-sponsored website; and (5) travel expenses paid by industry, including expenses related to his trip to Monsanto headquarters. (Page 7)
Dr. Folta has repeatedly claimed no association with Monsanto despite his close collaboration with Monsanto
Dr. Folta stated numerous times that he had no connection to Monsanto. Yet emails reported by The New York Times established that he was in frequent contact with Monsanto and their public relations allies to collaborate on activities to promote genetically engineered foods.
The emails indicate that Monsanto and allies set up media opportunities and lobbying activities for Dr. Folta and worked with him on messaging. In August 2014, Monsanto informed Dr. Folta that he would receive $25,000 to further his promotional activities. The email exchanges suggest a close collaboration:
- In July 2014, a Monsanto executive praised Dr. Folta’s grant proposal and asked four other Monsanto executives to provide feedback to improve it. He wrote, “This is a great 3rd-party approach to developing the advocacy that we’re looking to develop.”
- In August 2014, Dr. Folta responded to the acceptance letter for his grant, “I’m grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on the investment.”
- In October 2014, Dr. Folta wrote to a Monsanto executive, “I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like.”
Just weeks after the grant details were worked out, Dr. Folta asserted that he had “no formal connection to Monsanto.” He later said he received “no research or personal funding” from “Big Ag,” had “no financial ties to any of the Big Ag companies that make transgenic crops, including Monsanto,” and had “nothing to do with MON.”
11/17 Update: Dr. Folta does now receive and disclosed receiving research funding from Bayer AG (which is in the process of acquiring Monsanto). According to a document obtained by US Right to Know via FOIA, Bayer sent an award letter to Dr. Folta on May 23, 2017 for a grant for 50,000 Euros (approximately $58,000), for his proposal on “New Herbicide Chemistries Discovered in Functional Randomness.”
Dr. Folta proposed hiding the Monsanto money from public scrutiny
“My funding is all transparent,” Dr. Folta wrote in his blog, but his proposal to Monsanto to fund his GMO promotional activities concluded with a paragraph advising Monsanto how to donate the money to avoid public disclosure:
“If funded directly to the program as a SHARE contribution (essentially unrestricted funds) it is not subject to IDC and is not in a ‘conflict-of-interest’ account. In other words, SHARE contributions are not publicly noted. This eliminates the potential concern of the funding organization influencing the message.”
Monsanto sent the $25,000 donation as an unrestricted grant for Dr. Folta.
Dr. Folta allowed an industry PR firm to ghostwrite for him, then denied it
An August 2015 story in Inside Higher Ed described allegations that the agrichemical industry’s PR firm, Ketchum, had provided Dr. Folta with “canned answers to questions about GMOs” for the agrichemical industry’s public relations website, GMO Answers.
Dr. Folta denied using the ghostwritten text, according to the story:
“Regarding the canned answers, he said he was ‘pissed off’ when he received them and never used them.”
Dr. Folta later admitted using the ghostwritten text. The New York Times reported in September 2015:
“But Ketchum did more than provide questions (for GMO Answers). On several occasions, it also gave Dr. Folta draft answers, which he then used nearly verbatim, a step that he now says was a mistake.”
In an October 2015 BuzzFeed story, Dr. Folta justified his decision to use Ketchum’s ghostwritten text:
“They gave me extremely good answers that were spot on,” Folta told me. “I’m inundated with work. Maybe it was lazy, but I don’t know that it was lazy. When someone says, ‘We’ve thought about this and here’s what we have’ — there are people who work in academia who have speechwriters who take the words of other people and present them as their own. That’s OK.”
Dr. Folta posted false information about agrichemical industry funding to the University of Florida
In October 2014, Dr. Folta posted inaccurate information about his own university’s funding on GMO Answers. When asked, “How much have the biotech companies donated to the Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida?” Dr. Folta responded:
“There are zero ‘donations.’ At least during the last five years (all I checked), there are not even any grants or research agreements between the Horticultural Sciences Department at U.F. and any company selling biotech seeds …
During the last five years, at the whole university, there were a total of $21,000 in Monsanto grants to one faculty member in the panhandle who studies weeds. That’s it for the whole university. Our records are all public, so anyone could have found this information.”
In fact, biotech companies donated more than $12 million to the University of Florida in fiscal year 2013/2014 alone, according to University of Florida Foundation documents posted by NYT. Monsanto was listed as a “Gold” donor that year, meaning the company had donated at least $1 million. Syngenta was a “Diamond” donor with “Cumulative Giving of $10 Million+” while BASF donated at least $1 million and Pioneer Hi-Bred gave at least $100,000.
University of Florida has a ‘stance’ on GMOs that is ‘harmonious’ with Monsanto, and Dr. Folta is in charge of promoting it
Leaders at the University of Florida believe it is the university’s role to educate the masses about GMOs and they share a “stance” with Monsanto, according to an email obtained by the US Right to Know investigation.
David Clark, professor of horticultural biotechnology & genetics and director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Plant Innovation Program (UF/IFAS), wrote to Monsanto executive Robb Fraley on July 21, 2014:
“I thought your talk was excellent and very timely for our community, and it is harmonious with the stance we are taking on GMOs at the University of Florida. Also, thank you for taking a few minutes to chat with me afterward about how we should be educating the 80% of the consumer population who know very little about the technology.
After returning to Gainesville, I communicated with Drs. Kevin Folta and Jack Payne about our discussion. Kevin is our lead spokesperson at UF on the GMO topic and he has taken on the charge of doing just what we discussed – educating the masses. Jack is our Senior VP for IFAS, and just last week he released a video showing just where UF/IFAS stands on the GMO issue: http://www.floridatrend.com/article/17361/jack-payne-of-uf-on-gmos-and-climate-change Both of them are extremely passionate about this issue, and together they are ramping up their efforts to spread the good word.”
In the video, Dr. Payne claims, “there is no science that agrees with these folks that are afraid of GMOs.” In fact, many scientists and studies have raised concerns about GMOs.
Dr. Folta partnered with two groups that mislead journalists and scientists about their industry funding
A June 2014 conference to promote GMOs called the “Biotech Literacy Project Boot Camp” was billed as a partnership between University of Florida, Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review.
The co-sponsors of the 2014 Florida boot camp and a 2015 boot camp at UC Davis – Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review – told scientists and journalists that the events were funded by a combination of government, academia and industry.
In 2015, journalist Brooke Borel reported in Popular Science:
“The conference in question was called the Biotech Literacy Project Boot Camp. I was invited to attend and to speak on some panels, although it wasn’t initially clear what that would involve. I was offered a $2,000 honorarium, as well as expenses. I wrote back and asked who would provide the honorarium and was told it’d be a combination of funds from UC Davis, USDA, state money, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).”
In a 2016 email to scientists, Bruce Chassy of Academics Review claimed industry was “indirectly a sponsor” of the Biotech Literacy Project Boot Camps:
“The 3-day bootcamp is relatively expensive since we pay everyone’s travel and lodging as well as honoraria. Participants received $250 and presenters as much as $2,500 (journalists aren’t inexpensive) … I need to be clear up front that our support comes from BIO, USDA, state-USAID and some foundation money, so industry is indirectly a sponsor. We are 100% transparent about sponsorship.”
However, those government and academic sources denied giving any funds to the Biotech Literacy Project Boot Camps, according to reporting by Paul Thacker in The Progressive. Thacker wrote, “the only traceable money source is the biotech industry.”
“When contacted, BIO confirmed that it gave Academics Review $175,000 for the 2014 conference at the University of Florida and $165,000 for the 2015 conference at UC-Davis. But BIO added that the money was cycled through a nonprofit it operates called the Council on Biotechnology Information (CBI). In fact, the tax forms for CBI state that it gave a total of $300,000 to Academics Review in both 2014 and 2015. And tax forms for Academics Review, which Chassy runs with his wife, note that the group spent more than $160,000 on the UC-Davis conference in 2015.”
Both Academics Review and Genetic Literacy Project have a history of misleading the public about their funding and activities to defend the agrichemical industry.
- Academics Review has claimed many times to be an independent group, yet emails obtained by US Right to Know revealed that Academics Review was set up as a front group with the help of Monsanto, while “keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information.”
- The “financial transparency” note on the Genetic Literacy Project website is inaccurate, changes often and has at times contradicted itself. GLP director Jon Entine also has many close ties to Monsanto
Dr. Folta described the food movement as a “terrorist faction”
Dr. Folta wrote the forward for a 2015 book called “Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House.” The forward describes the food movement as a terrorist faction, which Folta names “Al Quesadilla”:
“Al Quesadilla is a moniker ascribed to a modern day elite and well financed terrorist faction sworn to use fear to force political change around food. Al Quesadilla has a central mission – to impose their beliefs about food and food production on the broader society. Their beliefs are religious in nature. They are deeply heartfelt and internalized. Their beliefs are grounded in a misinterpretation of nature, a mistrust of corporate culture and a skepticism of modern science …
Al Quesadilla is an agile and sneaky terrorist group. Like all terrorists, they achieve their objectives through the implementation of fear and coercion. They plan careful strikes on vulnerable targets – American consumers…”
The book, published by Senapath Press, was authored by Mark Alsip, a blogger for Bad Science Debunked, Marc Draco, a “veteran member” of the Banned by Food Babe Facebook page, and Kavin Senapathy, a Forbes contributor who had some of her articles deleted by Forbes.
The book promotes GMOs, claims MSG and aspartame are “harmless” and purports to describe “the facts behind those pesticide scares.”
Dr. Folta promotes pesticide propaganda
Dr. Folta dismisses concerns about pesticide exposure with propaganda claims, not science. For example, he made and failed to correct his guest on many dubious statements about the safety of pesticides in this 2015 podcast interview with Yvette d’Entremont, the “SciBabe.” Folta claimed:
- If someone is concerned about pesticide exposures, “ask them if they have symptoms of pesticide poisoning. Unless they have symptoms of pesticide poisoning, there’s probably nothing to worry about.”
- “Your risk from any kind of, especially, pesticide exposure from consumption is probably somewhere between 10,000 and a million times lower than a car accident.”
Dr. Folta’s deceptive communication tactics
Another example of misleading communication associated with Dr. Folta is documented in a 2015 BuzzFeed story by Brooke Borel. The story recounts Borel’s discovery that Dr. Folta used a false identity to interview scientists and even himself on a podcast called the “The Vern Blazek Science Power Hour.”
For further reading:
New York Times, “Food Industry Enlisted Academics in GMO Lobbying War, Emails Show,” by Eric Lipton (9/6/2015)
Emails posted by The New York Times
The Progressive, “Flacking for GMOs: How the Biotech Industry Cultivates Positive Media,” by Paul Thacker (7/21/2017)
Huffington Post, “Keith Kloor’s Enduring Love Affair with GMOs,” by Paul Thacker (7/19/2017)
Global News, “Documents Reveal Canadian Teenager Target of GMO Lobby,” by Allison Vuchnich (12/22/2015)
Nature Biotechnology, “Standing up for Transparency,” by Stacy Malkan (1/2016)
Mother Jones, “These Emails Show Monsanto Leaning on Professors to Fight the GMO War,” by Tom Philpott (10/2/2015)
BuzzFeed, “Seed Money: Confessions of a GMO Defender,” by Brooke Borel (10/19/2015)
USRTK Short Report, “Journalists Failed to Disclose Sources’ Funding from Monsanto”
Independent Science News, “The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NYT Left Out),” by Jonathan Latham (9/8/2015)
USRTK letter to Dr. Folta about our FOIA requests
By Stacy Malkan and Carey Gillam
“Food companies can’t figure out what Americans want to eat,” according to a June Wall Street Journal article.
Food industry CEOs are “rushing for the exits,” WSJ reported in October, and the food lobby is “splintering,” Politico explained, as food companies disagree about how to respond to shifting consumer tastes.
But it’s no mystery what Americans want to eat — or why the food industry is struggling.
Consumers are demanding foods free of artificial colors, faked flavors, pesticides, preservatives, growth hormones, antibiotics and GMOs, as Fortune magazine reported in 2015 — these trends led by millennials are driving an “$18 billion food revolution.”
But rather than provide what customers want, some food industry players strive to confuse rather than comply with market demands.
Among the tactics in the toolbox, they use front groups and friendly academics to push propaganda to promote their products, and denigrate those who advocate for honest information.
One recent and blatant example appeared here in Investor’s Business Daily, in two opinion articles authored by Henry I. Miller, a Hoover Institution fellow. Miller’s resume certainly makes him appear authoritative and impressive — someone consumers could trust.
But in using the IBD forum to rail against the small non-profit consumer group we work for, U.S. Right to Know, he revealed his allegiance to certain industry interests who seek to keep consumers in the dark.
Our organization advocates for truth and transparency in the food system. We spend most of our time filing information requests for data and documents from state and federal agencies and institutions to share with consumers about food policy matters.
Miller has become fairly well known for putting science and public health second to corporate interests. He was listed in a 1994 memo as a “key supporter” of Philip Morris’ campaign to fight tobacco regulations.
He was also named in an internal Monsanto Company document as a resource who could help discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research panel after it declared Monsanto’s key herbicide to be a “probable” human carcinogen. That weed killer, glyphosate, is widely used globally in agricultural food production.
The Monsanto plan to protect its weed killer could not have been more clear: “Engage Henry Miller” it states. Documents reported by The New York Times revealed that an article posted by Miller in Forbes criticizing the cancer panel “largely mirrored” a draft provided by a Monsanto executive. Forbes severed its relationship with Miller as a result and deleted all his articles from the site.
Miller’s move now to discredit U.S. Right to Know seems driven by the same industry forces that led him to try to discredit the global cancer science group. Offering no evidence whatsoever, he insinuated that U.S. Right to Know is somehow in cahoots with the Russian government.
The slanderous missives are ironic, considering that the public relations firm hired by the agrichemical industry to salvage the reputation of their embattled GMO and pesticide products was Ketchum – the firm that pushed Russia’s interests in the United States for a decade until 2015.
So why would certain corporate food industry interests want or need a front man to attack our little nonprofit? The answer is easy: Investigations by U.S. Right to Know have turned up hidden documents — many of them now posted in the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Archive — that have sparked multiple media investigations into the lobbying and propaganda operations of the food and agrichemical industries.
Articles about secretive food industry strategies to mislead consumers, lawmakers and investors have been published in the New York Times, BMJ, the Guardian, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Boston Globe, CBC, public health journals and many other outlets.
Along with Miller, Monsanto tapped many other “industry partners” to try to discredit the scientists who warned about Monsanto’s herbicide, including the Genetic Literacy Project, Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food-industry funded groups.
These are the sorts of public relations shenanigans the food brands should shun if they hope to gain consumer trust.
For the record, we have no ties whatsoever to Russia. We are a food industry watchdog group. We examine how the food and agri-chemical industries operate behind the scenes to influence lawmakers, regulators, academics and others. And we share that information with the public.
Truth and transparency are scary concepts for certain corporate interests, to be sure. But these corporate players and their investors would be wise to listen to, and appreciate, consumer calls for honest advertising and open information about the risks as well as the rewards that come with a modern food system.
The articles by Dr. Henry I. Miller discussed here can be found at:
This story originally appeared in Investor’s Business Daily.
- Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Cancer Danger of Weedkiller for Decades, by Carey Gillam in The Guardian
- First Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial Jury Selection, Carey Gillam’s blog
By Carey Gillam
Let the battle begin. Opening statements are slated for Monday in the landmark legal case that for the first time puts Monsanto and its Roundup herbicide on trial over allegations that the company’s widely used weed killer can cause cancer.
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a San Francisco-area school groundskeeper who used a form of Roundup regularly at his job, will face off against the global seed and chemical giant in a trial expected to extend into August. Johnson hopes to persuade a jury that Monsanto, which last month became a subsidiary of Bayer AG, is to blame for the non-Hodgkin lymphoma that doctors have said leaves him only weeks or months left to live.
Hints of the courtroom drama to come unfolded over the last week of June as jury selection dragged on for days, with Monsanto claiming widespread bias among prospective jurors. A number of the members of the jury pool, Monsanto’s attorney said, revealed in jury questionnaires that they view Monsanto as “evil.” Some even said they believe the company has “killed people,” a Monsanto attorney lawyer told San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos.
Monsanto’s attorneys cited similar issues in seeking to quell media coverage of the trial, telling the judge that she should not allow news cameras to televise the events because the publicity would “create a significant safety risk” for Monsanto’s employees and attorneys who have been targeted with “multiple threats and disturbing communications,” related to the litigation. Monsanto said employees have received threatening phone calls as well as ominous postcards sent to their homes. One postcard displayed a skull and crossbones along with a photo of the recipient, Monsanto said in a court filing.
Judge Bolanos ruled that some parts of the trial will be allowed to be broadcast, including opening statements, closing arguments and the announcement of a verdict. The trial is expected to be closely followed by people around the world; the French news outlet Agence France Presse is among the contingent of media who sought permission to cover the case.
Heated debates over the safety of Roundup and the active ingredient glyphosate have spanned the globe for years. Concerns mounted after internal Monsanto documents came to light through court-ordered discovery, showing conversations among Monsanto employees about “ghost” writing certain scientific papers to help influence regulatory and public opinion about Monsanto products.
Many of those internal corporate records are expected to be a key part of Johnson’s case. Johnson’s attorneys say they have evidence that Monsanto has long known that glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup are carcinogenic and have hidden that information from consumers and regulators. They allege Monsanto has manipulated the scientific record and regulatory assessments of glyphosate in order to protect corporate glyphosate-related revenues. Monsanto knew of the dangers and “made conscious decisions not to redesign, warn or inform the unsuspecting public,” the Johnson lawsuit claims.
If they can convince a jury of the allegations, the lawyers say they plan to ask for potentially “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Johnson’s lawsuit against Monsanto makes him one of roughly 4,000 plaintiffs who sued the company after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in March 2015. The IARC classification was based on a review of more than a decade of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies analyzing glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides. Johnson’s case is the first to go to trial. Another is scheduled for trial in October in St. Louis, Missouri.
Monsanto argues there is no justification for any of the claims, and asserts it has decades of regulatory findings of safety and hundreds of research studies to back its defense. “Glyphosate is the most tested herbicide in history,” Monsanto stated in its trial brief.
The company says it plans to introduce expert testimony demonstrating that the science is firmly on its side—”the entire body of epidemiology literature shows no causal association” between its glyphosate-based herbicides and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the company states. As well, the animal testing database “is most consistent with glyphosate not being a human carcinogen,” according to Monsanto.
The company’s attorneys also plan to show that Johnson’s exposure was minimal, and notably, that development of his type of cancer—a disease called mycosis fungoides that causes lesions on the skin—takes many years to form and could not have developed in the short period between Johnson’s exposure and his diagnosis.
Monsanto’s attorneys argue in court filings that Johnson’s claims are so weak the judge should instruct the jury to provide a directed verdict in Monsanto’s favor.
But Johnson’s attorneys plan to tell jury members that Johnson began to experience a skin rash not long after being accidentally doused in a Monsanto glyphosate-based herbicide called Ranger Pro. He saw the rash—which turned to lesions and then invaded lymph nodes—worsen after he would use the chemical, which was frequently as he treated school grounds. Johnson’s attorneys plan to tell jurors that Johnson was so worried that the herbicide was to blame that he called Monsanto’s offices as well as a poison hotline number listed on the herbicide label. Monsanto employees recorded his outreach and his concerns, internal Monsanto documents show. But even after the IARC classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, Monsanto did not inform him of any risk, according to evidence to be presented at the trial.
As part of their case, Johnson’s attorneys intend to present video depositions of 10 former or current Monsanto employees, and of former Environmental Protection Agency official Jess Rowland, whose relationship with Monsanto has sparked allegations of collusion and an inquiry from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General. They also will call to the stand Johnson himself, his wife, his doctors, and several scientists as expert witnesses.
The Monsanto witness list includes 11 expert witnesses who will testify both about the necessity of herbicides, including glyphosate-based herbicides; certain scientific literature; the plaintiff’s type of cancer and potential causes; and other evidence that Monsanto says discredits Johnson’s claims.
Johnson’s attorneys will start the opening statements on Monday, and have projected that initial explanation of their case to the jury will take roughly 1-1/2 hours. Monsanto’s attorneys have told the court they expect their opening statements to take roughly 1-1/4 hours.
This story originally appeared in EcoWatch.
Mark Lynas is a former journalist turned promotional advocate for genetically engineered foods and pesticides who makes inaccurate claims about those products, and argues for developing countries to open their markets to those products, from his perch at the Cornell Alliance for Science and in his new book, “Seeds of Science.”
Scientists and food experts say Lynas is wrong on science
Scientists and food experts have sharply criticized Lynas for his inaccurate and unscientific promotional efforts for GMOs and pesticides. See articles by (emphases ours):
David Schubert, PhD, Head, Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory & Professor at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies (San Diego Union Tribune letter):
“Unlike Mark Lynas, who is not a scientist and whose words (Michael) Gerson is parroting (in his review of “Seeds of Science”), I can unequivocally state that there is no scientific consensus about GMO safety and that most of his statements are false. The statement that GMO foods are safe to eat because there is no evidence for harm is not valid because there are no studies on human safety.”
“In contrast, there is evidence for the toxicity of both GMO plants and the chemicals required for their production in animals.”
“GMO crops have produced no benefits for society as a whole, but have resulted in an enormous increase in human exposure to agricultural chemicals.”
Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, former senior scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists:
“Here are some of the incorrect or misleading points that Lynas makes about the science or development of GE.” … “Instead of debating or discussing the actual science, Lynas casts aspersions and resorts to relying on authority rather than data or research.”
Lynas’ claim about the certainty of GMO safety is “unscientific, illogical and absurd.”
Eric Holt-Giménez, PhD, Director Food First/Institute of Food Policy and Development (Huffington Post):
John Vandermeer, PhD, Professor, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan (Food First):
Mark Lynas “has discovered high school biology. Now it’s time to go to college. The things he might discover are, for example, the endocrine system.”
Pesticide messaging based on industry talking points, not science
An example of how Mark Lynas promotes agrichemical industry talking points – rather than honest science reporting – is his article attacking the scientists of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for classifying glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
A Monsanto public relations document reveals the corporation’s plan to discredit the IARC cancer scientists by engaging “industry partners” (including Sense About Science, where Lynas served on the advisory board) to orchestrate “outcry” and “outrage” against the “politically charged” cancer report.
Lynas’ messaging follows right along. He declared glyphosate to be the “most benign chemical in world farming” and described the expert panel’s cancer report as a “witch hunt” orchestrated by people overcome with “hysteria and emotion” who went out and got a “flaky offshoot of the World Health Organization” to declare glyphosate carcinogenic.
In reality, IARC panels are comprised of leading experts from multiple fields in cancer research who conduct comprehensive science reviews to identify cancer hazards to inform global policies to prevent cancer – a role that has made IARC a target of food and chemical industry propaganda campaigns.
In pushing his case that “activist groups abused science and sidelined evidence-based policy in the glyphosate saga,” Lynas ignored substantial evidence, widely reported throughout the world, that Monsanto manipulated the science and regulatory reviews on glyphosate for decades using covert tactics including ghostwriting studies and articles, killing studies, pushing dubious science, attacking scientists and strong-arming regulatory agencies.
Lynas sidestepped all that hard evidence and focused instead (as Monsanto’s partner spin groups did) on promoting the misleading reporting of Kate Kelland, a Reuters reporter with close ties to the corporate-funded Science Media Centre, the sister organization of Sense About Science, as a central source.
In a recent ABC interview, Lynas admitted, “I wasn’t interested in the science. I didn’t read a single scientific paper when I was an activist.” Despite his current platform at Cornell Alliance for Science, Lynas’ work continues to display little interest or scholarship in science. His communications for Cornell – such as his most recent argument that “the environmental movement is causing hunger and poverty”– follow the same pattern as his glyphosate defense post: misleading narratives that ignore data to push the talking points and commercial interests of the agrichemical industry.
Promoted by, tied to pesticide industry propaganda network
Agrichemical companies and their public relations operatives frequently promote Mark Lynas and his work. See for example Monsanto’s website, many promotional tweets by pesticide industry trade groups, lobby groups, pro-industry academics and writers, and various Monsanto employees, and the dozens of Lynas’ articles promoted by Genetic Literacy Project, a propaganda group that partners with Monsanto.
Lynas and Cornell Alliance for Science also collaborate with other key players in the agrichemical industry’s lobbying and propaganda network.
Partnered with Monsanto “partner” groups
A confidential Monsanto PR plan dated February 2015 named four tiers of “industry partners” company executives planned to engage in their efforts to discredit the world’s leading cancer research agency in order to protect the reputation of Roundup weed killer. Two of the groups named in the Monsanto PR plan – Sense About Science and Biofortified – have partnered with the Cornell Alliance for Science.
Sense About Science – Lynas has served for several years on their advisory council – is listed in the Monsanto Plan as a “Tier 2″ “industry partner,” and as a possibility to “lead industry response” in the media to “orchestrate outcry” about the cancer risk report. The co-founder (and current “patron”) of Sense About Science is Lord Dick Taverne, an English politician who learned about science communication in part from his work promoting and defending the tobacco industry in the 1990s, according to The Intercept and documents from the UCSF Tobacco Industry Archive.
Sense About Science USA partners with the Cornell Alliance for Science to offer “statistical consultation for journalists” via the group’s director Trevor Butterworth, who built his career defending toxic products for the chemical, soda and drug industries.
Another group listed as a “partner” in the Monsanto PR plan, Biofortified, partnered with Cornell Alliance for Science on a petition to oppose the use of the Freedom of Information Act to investigate the links between publicly funded academics and the agrichemical industry. Fellows trained by Cornell Alliance for Science worked with Biofortified/MAMyths to protest Indian environmentalist and author Vandana Shiva.
Aligned with climate science skeptic to launch pro-fracking, pro-nuke, GMO “movement”
Lynas calls himself a co-founder of the “movement” of “ecomodernism,” a corporate-aligned strain of “environmentalism” that writer George Monbiot describes as “take no political action to protect the natural world.” The group promotes fracking, nuclear power, and agrichemical products as ecological solutions. According to its leaders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, energy technologies favored by the oil billionaire Koch brothers “are doing far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the ones favored by the climate-apocalyptic Left.” Nordhaus is also a board member (along with Jon Entine and Drew Kershen) of the Science Literacy Project, the parent organization of Genetic Literacy Project, a propaganda group that partners with Monsanto.
At a failed launch event for ecomodernism in September 2015, Lynas aligned himself with Owen Paterson, a prominent climate science denialist who slashed funding for efforts to prepare the UK for global warming during his stint as environment secretary there.
That same month, Paterson spoke at Cornell Alliance for Science, where he promoted GMOs in a hyperbolic speech filled with unsupportable claims, and accused environmentalists of allowing children to die in Africa. Paterson’s speech at Cornell won praise from the industry-funded front group American Council on Science and Health in a blog titled “Billion dollar green campaigns kill poor children,” written by ACSH’s former acting director Gil Ross, a physician who went to jail for Medicaid fraud.
Mark Lynas background
Lynas authored several books on climate change (one of which was recognized by the Royal Society) before he attracted worldwide attention with his “conversion” from an anti-GMO activist to a promoter of the technology with a widely-covered speech at Oxford in the spring of 2013.
Later that year Lynas became a fellow at Cornell University Office of International Programs at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and began working for the Cornell Alliance for Science, a communications campaign developed in 2014 to promote GMOs with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Lynas identified himself as the “political director” for Cornell Alliance for Science in a 2015 New York Times op-ed. The Cornell Alliance for Science does not explain what its political agenda is, but the group’s messaging and goals closely track the agrichemical industry’s commercial agenda: to increase acceptance of genetically engineered crops and pesticides around the world, particularly in Africa.
Mysterious Lynas PR push, and leaked EuropaBio memo
The massive media coverage of Lynas’ pro-GMO conversion in 2013 raised suspicions that an industry PR campaign was helping to elevate him behind the scenes. A leaked 2011 memo from an industry PR firm — describing plans to recruit high profile “ambassadors” to lobby for GMO acceptance, and naming Lynas – heightened suspicions of industry backing. Lynas denied the link and said the industry group never approached him.
According to a Guardian report, EuropaBio, a trade group whose members include Monsanto and Bayer, planned to recruit PR ambassadors to help decision makers “rethink Europe’s position on GM crops.” The ambassadors would not be paid directly but would receive travel expenses and “dedicated communications support” from industry funding. The PR firm’s operative rep claimed to “have interest from” Lynas, among others, in the ambassador role. Lynas denied having any contact with them. “I have not been asked to be an ambassador, nor would I accept such a request if asked,” he told the Guardian.
Gates Foundation, GMOs & Monsanto
The Gates Foundation – the principal funder for the Cornell Alliance for Science — has been sharply criticized for its agricultural development funding strategies, specifically for spending most of its funds “to feed the poor in Africa” on scientists in wealthy nations (see 2014 GRAIN analysis), and for colonialist strategies that are “exacerbating global inequality and entrenching corporate power globally” (see 2016 report by Global Justice Now).
The Gates Foundation massively expanded its funding for agricultural projects about a decade ago, after Monsanto’s former head of international development, Rob Horsch, joined the foundation’s agricultural development leadership team.
Lynas’ new book “Seeds of Science” spends a chapter (“The True History of Monsanto”) trying to explain some of the corporation’s past sins and lauding Rob Horsch at length. It spends another chapter (“Africa: Let Them Eat Organic Baby Corn”) arguing that Africans need agrichemical industry products to feed themselves.
Criticisms of the Gates Foundation’s colonialist approach to Africa
Seeds of Neo-Colonialism: Why the GMO Promoters Get it So Wrong About Africa, statement by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, 5/7/2018
Are Gates and Rockefeller using their influence to set agenda in poor states? “Study identifies Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations among rich donors that are close to government and may be skewing priorities,” by John Vidal, The Guardian, 1/15/2016
Philanthropic Power and Development. Who shapes the agenda? by Jens Martens and Karolin Seitz, 2015 report (page 48).
Philanthrocapitalism: The Gates Foundation’s African programmes are not charity, by Philip L Bereano, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, Third World Resurgence, 2017
How Bill Gates is Helping KFC Take Over Africa, by Alex Park, Mother Jones, 1/10/2014
Gates Foundation’s Seed Agenda in Africa ‘Another Form of Colonialism,’ Warns Protesters, by Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams, 3/23/2015
Gates Foundation is spearheading neoliberal plunder of African agriculture, by Colin Todhunter, The Ecologist, 1/21/2016
How does the Gates Foundation spend its money to feed the world? GRAIN report, 2014
Bill Gates is on a mission to sell GMOs to Africa, but he’s not telling the whole truth, by Stacy Malkan, Alternet, 3/24/2016
By Carey Gillam
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson has led what many might call an unremarkable life. The 46-year-old father and husband spent several years working as a school groundskeeper and spending free time teaching his two young sons to play football. But this week he takes center stage in a global debate over the safety of one of the world’s most widely used pesticides as he takes Monsanto to court on claims that repeated exposure to the company’s popular Roundup herbicide left him with terminal cancer.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos was assigned Monday to oversee the trial, and jury selection is tentatively expected to begin Thursday, June 21, with opening statements possible by June 27. The courtroom showdown could last three to four weeks, lawyers involved estimate, and will shine a spotlight on decades of scientific research and internal Monsanto documents that relate to the testing and marketing of Monsanto’s flagship herbicide and the active ingredient, a chemical called glyphosate.
Though Johnson is the lone plaintiff in the lawsuit, his case is considered a bellwether for roughly 4,000 other plaintiffs also suing Monsanto over allegations that exposure to Roundup caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled to go to trial in October in St. Louis, Missouri.
Johnson worked as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District for many years.
The lawsuits, which have been piling up in court dockets around the U.S., not only challenge Monsanto’s position that its widely used herbicides are proven safe, but they also assert that the company has intentionally suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products, misleading both regulators and consumers in a dangerous deception.
The litigation, proceeding both in federal and state courts, began after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—as a probable human carcinogen in March 2015. The IARC classification was based on years of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies analyzing glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides.
Monsanto and allies in the agrochemical industry have blasted the litigation and the IARC classification as lacking in validity, countering that decades of safety studies prove that glyphosate does not cause cancer when used as designed. Monsanto has cited findings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory authorities as backing its defense. The company can also point to an EPA draft risk assessment of glyphosate on its side, which concluded that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic.
“Glyphosate-based herbicides are supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health and environmental effects databases ever compiled for a pesticide product,” Monsanto states on its website. “Comprehensive toxicological and environmental fate studies conducted over the last 40 years have time and again demonstrated the strong safety profile of this widely used herbicide.”
Glyphosate represents billions of dollars in annual revenues for Monsanto, which became a subsidiary of German-based Bayer AG on June 8, and several other companies selling glyphosate-based herbicides. Monsanto brought the pesticide to market in 1974 and the weed killer has been used prominently for decades by farmers in food production and by municipalities to eradicate weeds in public parks and playgrounds, and by homeowners on residential lawns.
Monsanto had sought to delay the Johnson case, just as it has sought to delay and/or dismiss the others brought against it. But the trial was expedited because he is not expected to live much longer after being diagnosed in 2014 with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called mycosis fungoides.
A Death Sentence
According to court records, Johnson worked as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District for many years and applied multiple treatments of Monsanto’s herbicides to the San Francisco-area school properties from 2012 until at least late 2015, including after he was diagnosed with cancer in August 2014. His job entailed mixing and spraying hundreds of gallons of glyphosate-based herbicides around school properties. He used various Roundup products, but mostly Roundup PRO, a highly concentrated version of the weed killer. After developing a skin rash in the summer of 2014 he reported to doctors that it seemed to worsen after he sprayed the herbicide. In August of that year he was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma but continued his work until 2015 when he underwent several rounds of chemotherapy only to learn in September 2015 that he likely had but 18 months to live.
In a deposition taken in January, Johnson’s treating physician testified that more than 80 percent of his body was covered by lesions and his diagnosis continued to be terminal. Still, Johnson has improved since starting a new drug treatment and plans to attend some of the trial if possible, his attorneys said.
Johnson has not led an unblemished life; Monsanto uncovered an aggravated assault charge against him from the early 1990s, along with a misdemeanor weapons charge and a domestic abuse complaint against the mother of his oldest child. The company elicited deposition testimony from Johnson that he failed tests for pesticide applicators three times, and sprayed the pesticide without a certified applicator license. Johnson wore proper protective gear over his clothing but was accidentally drenched in the pesticide at least once when mixing it.
Monsanto’s lawyers will argue other factors could be to blame for Johnson’s cancer, and that its weed killer played no role.
Johnson’s attorneys have shrugged off any issues regarding Johnson’s personal behavior or other potential causes for his disease, and say in court filings they will offer evidence at trial that Monsanto “for decades, engaged in a shocking degree of scientific fraud and manipulation of the scientific literature with respect to Roundup” to cover up the evidence that it does cause cancer.
The trial evidence will include information that Monsanto ghostwrote articles relied on by the EPA, IARC and California’s environmental regulators; rewarded employees for ghostwriting; and actively suppressed the publication of information that revealed the harm associated with glyphosate and Roundup. Johnson’s attorneys say internal Monsanto documents show extensive “manipulation” of the scientific record, and clearly improper and fraudulent interactions with regulators.
Johnson’s attorneys intend to call 10 current and former Monsanto employees to the stand.
“We’re going to get them here. We have the goods,” said Brent Wisner, who is one of three attorneys representing Johnson at trial. “If the evidence we have is allowed in, Monsanto is in trouble.”
Lead Lawyer Out
Wisner was only brought in to help try to case within the last few weeks after lead attorney Mike Miller suffered a near-fatal accident while kite surfing and remains too severely injured to try the case. Wisner’s role is key as he is set to deliver both the opening and closing statements for Johnson’s case in Miller’s absence.
Monsanto filed a motion on June 18 seeking to exclude Wisner from trying the case, however, claiming he has been acting as a “PR man,” and lobbyist against glyphosate, particularly in Europe, where glyphosate has been under intense regulatory scrutiny. Monsanto also cited Wisner’s release in August 2017 of hundreds of pages of internal Monsanto documents turned over in discovery that the company had wanted to keep sealed, a tactic that earned Wisner a rebuke from the judge in the federal multidistrict litigation pending against Monsanto. Monsanto’s lawyers argue that the internal corporate communications have been intentionally presented out of context by Wisner and other plaintiff’s attorneys to make it appear as though the company engaged in deceptive practices when it did not.
Wisner’s activities put him in violation of a California “advocate-witness” rule, Monsanto contended in its filing.
In addition to trying to exclude the lawyer, Monsanto is seeking to exclude reams of evidence, including internal emails written by its scientists, arguments that it deceived the EPA, evidence of fraud committed by laboratories, and testimony from Johnson’s expert witnesses.
Judge Bolanos will hear arguments on Wednesday regarding that motion and more than a dozen others regarding what evidence will and will not be allowed at trial.
Both sides say the case and the outcome are important in a larger sense. If the jury finds in favor of Johnson it could encourage additional litigation and damage claims some of the lawyers involved estimate could run into hundreds of millions of dollars. If the jury sides with Monsanto, other cases could be in jeopardy. Additionally, a victory for Monsanto in this first case could ease regulatory questions dogging the company.
As for Johnson, he will try to attend some of the trial, and will testify, but will not likely be there for it all, said Wisner. Johnson’s wife, Araceli Johnson, will be called to testify, as will two of his co-workers and his doctors.
“Right now he’s on borrowed time. He’s not going to come to most of the trial,” said Wisner. “The guy is going to die and there is nothing he can do about it. It’s unbelievably horrible.”
This fact sheet describes the contents of Monsanto’s confidential public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research unit, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in order to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, the international group of experts on the IARC panel judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.
The Monsanto plan names more than a dozen “industry partner” groups that company executives planned to “inform / inoculate / engage” in their efforts to protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent the “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies.” Partners included academics as well as chemical and food industry front groups, trade groups and lobby groups — follow the links below to fact sheets that provide more information about the partner groups.
Together these fact sheets provide a sense of the depth and breadth of the corporate attack on the IARC cancer experts in defense of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide.
A key document released in 2017 in legal proceedings against Monsanto describes the corporation’s “preparedness and engagement plan” for the IARC cancer classification for glyphosate, the world’s most widely used agrichemical. The internal Monsanto document — dated Feb. 23, 2015 — assigns more than 20 Monsanto staffers to objectives including “neutralize impact of decision,” “regulator outreach,” “ensure MON POV” and “lead voice in ‘who is IARC’ plus 2B outrage.” On March 20, 2015, IARC announced its decision to classify glyphosate as Group 2A carcinogen, “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
For more background, see: “How Monsanto Manufactured Outrage at Chemical Cancer Classification it Expected,” by Carey Gillam, Huffington Post (9/19/2017)
Monsanto’s Tier 1-4 “Industry Partners”
Page 5 of the Monsanto document identifies four tiers of “industry partners” that Monsanto executives planned to engage in its IARC preparedness plan. These groups together have a broad reach and influence in pushing a narrative about cancer risk that protects corporate profits.
Tier 1 industry partners are agrichemical industry-funded lobby and PR groups.
- CropLife International / European Crop Protection Association are pesticide industry trade groups
- GMO Answers is a crisis management marketing website funded by Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta and run by Ketchum public relations firm
- Biotechnology Innovation Organization is a biotech industry trade group
Tier 2 industry partners are front groups that are often cited as independent sources, but work with the chemical industry behind the scenes on public relations and lobbying campaigns.
Tier 3 industry partners are food-industry funded nonprofit and trade groups. These groups were tapped to, “Alert food companies via Stakeholder Engagement team (IFIC, GMA, CFI) for ‘inoculation strategy’ to provide early education on glyphosate residue levels, describe science-based studies versus agenda-driven hypotheses” of the independent cancer panel.
- International Food Information Council (IFIC) is a food industry-funded spin group that leads a coalition of 130 groups that coordinate messaging about GMOs and pesticides.
- Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is the leading trade group for junk food companies.
- The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) is a food industry-funded spin group.
Tier 4 industry partners are “key grower’s associations.” These are the various trade groups representing corn, soy and other industrial growers and food manufacturers.
Plan suggests Sense About Science to “lead industry response”
The “post-IARC” section details Monsanto’s plans to conduct robust media and social media outreach to “orchestrate outcry with the IARC decision.” The plan suggests the front group Sense About Science (in brackets with a question mark) as the group that “leads industry response and provides platform for IARC observers and industry spokesperson.”
Sense About Science describes itself as a public charity that “promotes public understanding of science,” but that occurs in ways that “tip the scales toward industry,” as The Intercept reported in 2016. The group was founded in London in 2001 by Dick Taverne, an English politician with ties to the tobacco industry and other industries Sense About Science defends.
For more information:
- Exposé in The Intercept about Sense About Science: “Seeding Doubt: How Self Appointed Guardians of ‘Sound Science’ Tip the Scales Toward Industry,” by Liza Gross (11/15/2016)
- USRTK fact sheet about Sense About Science USA, which launched in 2014 under the direction of Trevor Butterworth, who has a long history of manufacturing doubt about science that raises health concerns about toxic chemicals.
The sister group of Sense About Science, the Science Media Centre, is a nonprofit public relations group in London that receives industry funding and has sparked controversy for pushing corporate science. The Science Media Centre has close ties to Kate Kelland, a Reuters’ reporter who has written inaccurate articles about IARC that have been heavily promoted by the “industry partner” groups named in Monsanto’s PR plan, and used as the basis for political attacks against IARC.
For more information:
- IARC responds, “IARC rejects false claims in Reuters article” (3/1/18)
- USRTK, “Reuters’ Kate Kelland IARC Story Promotes False Narrative,” by Carey Gillam (7/24/2017)
- Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “Reuters vs. UN Cancer Agency,” by Stacy Malkan (7/24/2017)
- USRTK, “Reuters’ Kate Kelland Again Promotes False Narrative About IARC and Glyphosate Cancer Concerns” (10/20/2017)
“Engage Henry Miller”
Page 2 of the Monsanto PR document identifies the first external deliverable for planning and preparation: “Engage Henry Miller” to “inoculate / establish public perspective on IARC and reviews.”
“I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.”
Henry I. Miller, MD, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, has a long documented history of working with corporations to defend hazardous products. The Monsanto plan identifies the “MON owner” of the task as Eric Sachs, Monsanto’s science, technology and outreach lead.
Documents later reported by The New York Times reveal that Sachs emailed Miller a week before the IARC glyphosate report to ask if Miller was interested in writing about the “controversial decision.” Miller responded, “I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.” On March 23, Miller posted an article on Forbes that “largely mirrored” the draft provided by Monsanto, according to the Times. Forbes severed its relationship with Miller in the wake of the ghostwriting scandal and deleted his articles from the site.
Follow the findings of U.S. Right to Know and media coverage about collaborations between food industry groups and academics on our investigations page. U.S. Right to Know documents are also available in the Chemical Industry Documents Library hosted by the University of California, San Francisco.