A California appeals court has set a June hearing for cross appeals resulting from the first-ever trial over allegations that Monsanto’s herbicides cause cancer.
The United States Court of Appeal First Appellate District said Thursday that it was setting a hearing for June 2 in the case of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v. Monsanto. The hearing will take place nearly two years after the start of the Johnson trial and also two years after Bayer AG bought Monsanto.
A unanimous jury awarded Johnson $289 million in August 2018, including $250 million in punitive damages, finding that not only did Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but that the company knew of the cancer risks and failed to warn Johnson.
The trial judge lowered the total verdict to $78 million but Monsanto appealed the reduced amount. Johnson cross appealed to reinstate the $289 million verdict.
In preparing for oral arguments on the Johnson appeal, the appellate court said it was rejecting an application by the California Attorney General to file an amicus brief on Johnson’s side.
The Johnson trial was covered by media outlets around the world and put a spotlight on questionable Monsanto conduct. Lawyers for Johnson presented jurors with internal company emails and other records showing Monsanto scientists discussing ghostwriting scientific papers to try to shore up support for the safety of the company’s products, along with communications detailing plans to discredit critics, and to quash a government evaluation of the toxicity of glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s products.
Internal documents also showed that Monsanto expected the International Agency for Research on Cancer would classify glyphosate as a probable or possible human carcinogen in March of 2015 (the classification was as a probable carcinogen) and worked out a plan in advance to discredit the cancer scientists.
Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have filed suit against Monsanto making claims similar to Johnson’s, and two additional trials have taken place since the Johnson trial. Both those trials also resulted in large verdicts against Monsanto.
In setting Johnson’s appeal date, the appellate court said it “recognizes the time-sensitive nature of these consolidated cases and has continued to give them its highest priority despite current emergency conditions” created by the spread of coronavirus.
The appellate court movement on the Johnson case comes as Bayer is reportedly trying to renege on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing many of those plaintiffs.
Bayer said to be reneging on Roundup settlement deals as virus closes courthouses
Bayer AG is reneging on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs who claim exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, sources involved in the litigation said on Friday.
The reversal comes as U.S. courts are closed to the public because of the spreading coronavirus, eliminating the specter of another Roundup cancer trial in the near future.
Bayer, which bought Monsanto in June of 2018, has been engaged in settlement talks for close to a year, seeking to put an end to mass litigation that has driven down the company’s stock, spurred investor unrest, and thrust questionable corporate conduct into a public spotlight. The first three trials led to three losses for Bayer and jury awards of more than $2 billion, though trial judges later reduced the awards.
Bayer made a public statement this week saying that settlement talks have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but multiple plaintiffs’ lawyers said that was not true.
According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Bayer has been going back to law firms that had already completed negotiations for specified settlements for their clients, saying the company will not honor the agreed-upon amounts.
“A lot of lawyers around the country thought they had tentative deals,” said Virginia attorney Mike Miller, whose firm represents roughly 6,000 clients and won two of the three Roundup trials to date. Bayer is now demanding a “hair cut” on those deals, Miller said.
Whether or not the various firms will take the reduced offers remains to be seen. “These are uncertain economic times,” Miller said. “People have to consider what’s best for their clients.”
In response to a request for comment, a Bayer spokesman provided the following statement: “We’ve made progress in the Roundup mediation discussions, but the COVID-19 dynamics, including restrictions imposed in recent weeks, have caused meeting cancellations and delayed this process… As a result, the mediation process has significantly slowed, and realistically, we expect this will continue to be the case for the immediate future. During this time, we will continue to do whatever we can to help combat the global COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with our vision of ‘health for all, hunger for none.’ We cannot speculate about potential outcomes from the negotiations or timing, given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and the confidentiality of this process, but we remain committed to engaging in mediation in good faith.”
US Right to Know reported in early January that the parties were working on a settlement of roughly $8 billion to $10 billion. Bayer has acknowledged facing claims from more than 40,000 plaintiffs, but plaintiffs’ attorneys have said the total number of claims is much higher.
Among the firms who had negotiated settlements for their clients are the Andrus Wagstaff firm from Denver, Colorado and the Los Angeles firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. Both reached agreements last year with Bayer.
In addition, the Weitz & Luxenberg firm from New York and Mike Miller’s firm recently reached what they thought were agreements on terms. Each of the firms represents thousands of plaintiffs.
The primary leverage plaintiffs’ attorneys had been using in the settlement negotiations was the threat of another public trial. In the first three trials, damning internal Monsanto documents laid bare evidence that the company knew of the cancer risks of its glyphosate-based herbicides but failed to warn consumers; ghost-wrote scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides; worked with certain regulatory officials to quash a government review of glyphosate toxicity; and engineered efforts to discredit critics.
The revelations have triggered outrage around the world and prompted moves to ban the glyphosate-based herbicides.
Several trials that were to have been held over the last several months were cancelled shortly before they were scheduled to begin when Bayer agreed to individual settlements for those specific trial plaintiffs. Two of those cases involved children stricken with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a third was brought by a woman suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Those plaintiffs, and others who have agreed to settlements in lieu of trials in recent months, are protected and are not part of the current rollback effort by Bayer, according to multiple sources involved.
Bayer is slated to hold its annual shareholders’ meeting on April 28. For the first time in the company’s history, the meeting will be held entirely online.
The first three plaintiffs to win jury awards against Monsanto have yet to receive any money as Bayer appeals the verdicts.
10 Revelations from the U.S. Right to Know Investigations
Since our launch in 2015, U.S. Right to Know has obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of internal corporate and regulatory documents that reveal how food and pesticide corporations work behind the scenes to manipulate science, academia and policy to increase their profits at the expense of public health and the environment. Our work has contributed to threeNew York Timesinvestigations, eight academic papers about corporate influence over our food system, and worldwide news coverage documenting how a handful of junk food and pesticide companies use a variety of unethical and unfair tactics to prop up an unhealthy, unsustainable food system.Here are some of our top findings so far.
1. Monsanto funded “independent” academics to promote and lobby for pesticide products
U.S. Right to Know has documented numerous examples of how pesticide companies rely heavily on publicly funded academics to assist with their PR and lobbying. A September 2015 front-page New York Times article revealed that Monsanto enlisted academics, and paid them secretly, to oppose GMO labeling laws. WBEZ later reported on one example; how a University of Illinois professor received tens of thousands of dollars from Monsanto to promote and lobby for GMOs and pesticides, and his university received millions; none of those funds were disclosed to the public.
Documents reported in the Boston Globe, Bloomberg and Mother Jones describe how Monsanto assigned, scripted and promoted pro-GMO papers from professors at Harvard, Cornell and other universities — papers published with no mention of Monsanto’s role. At the University of Saskatchewan, Monsanto coached a professor and edited his academic articles, according to documents reported by the CBC.At the request of the pesticide industry’s PR firm, a University of Florida professor produced a video that aimed to discredit a Canadian teenager who criticized GMOs, according to documents reported by Global News.
2. The nonprofit science group ILSI is a lobby group for food and pesticide companies
In September 2019, the New York Times reported on the “shadowy industry group” International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) that is shaping food policy around the world. The Times article cites a 2019 study co-authored by Gary Ruskin of USRTK reporting how ILSI operates as a lobby group that promotes the interest of its food and pesticide industry funders. See coverage of our study in the BMJ and The Guardian, and read more about the organization the Times described as “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of” in our ILSI fact sheet.
In 2017, Ruskin co-authored a journal article reporting on emails showing food industry leaders discussing how they “have to use external organizations” when dealing with controversies over the health risks of their products. The emails show senior leaders in the food industry advocating for a coordinated approach to influencing scientific evidence, expert opinion and regulators across the world. See Bloomberg coverage, “Emails show how the food industry uses ‘science’ to push soda.”
The USRTK investigation also spurred a 2016 story in The Guardian reporting that the leaders of a Joint FAO/WHO panel that cleared glyphosate of cancer concerns also held leadership positions at ILSI, which received large donations from the pesticide industry.
3. Breaking news about the Monsanto Roundup and Dicamba trials
U.S. Right to Know frequently breaks news about the Roundup cancer trials via Carey Gillam’s Roundup and Dicamba Trial Tracker, which provides a first look at discovery documents, interviews and news tips about the trials. More than 42,000 people have filed suit against the Monsanto Company (now owned by Bayer) alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks.
As part of the discovery process, Monsanto has turned over millions of pages of its internal records. USRTK is posting many of these documents and court records free of charge on our Monsanto Papers pages.
Dozens of farmers around the United States are also now suing the former Monsanto Co. 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. In 2020, we also began posting the Dicamba Papers: Key documents and analysis from the trials.
4. Top CDC officials collaborated with Coca-Cola to shape the obesity debate, and advised Coca-Cola on how to stop WHO from cracking down on added sugars
Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know led to another front-page New York Times story in 2017 reporting that the newly appointed director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Brenda Fitzgerald, saw Coca-Cola as an ally on obesity issues (Fitzgerald has since resigned).
USRTK was also first to report in 2016 that another high-ranking CDC official had cozy ties to Coke, and tried to assist the company in steering the World Health Organization away from its efforts to discourage consumption of added sugars; see reporting by Carey Gillam, research director of U.S. Right to Know. Our work also contributed to a study in the Milbank Quarterly co-authored by Gary Ruskin detailing conversations between the CDC and Coca-Cola executives. Two articles in the BMJ based on USRTK documents, and articles in the Washington Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution, San Diego Union Tribune, Forbes, CNN, Politico and The Intercept provide more details about Coke’s influence at the U.S. public health agency that is supposed to help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and other diseases.
5. The U.S. FDA found glyphosate residues in honey, infant cereals, and other common foods, and then stopped testing for the chemical
FDA did not release the information, so USRTK did.
Carey Gillam broke news in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and USRTK about internal government documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests showing that the U.S. FDA conducted tests that found the weed-killer glyphosate in an array of commonly consumed foods including granola, crackers, infant cereal and in very high levels in honey.The FDA did not release the information, so USRTK did. The government then suspended its testing program for glyphosate residues in food, Gillam reported.
FDA did resume testing and in late 2018 and issued a report that showed very limited testing and reported no worrisome levels of glyphosate. The report did not include any of the information USRTK turned up through FOIAs.
6. Pesticide companies secretly funded an academic group that attacked the organic industry
A group calling itself Academics Review made headlines in 2014 with a report attacking the organic industry as a marketing scam. The group claimed it was run by independent academics, and accepted no corporate contributions; however, documents obtained by USRTK and reported in the Huffington Post revealed the group was set up with the help of Monsanto to be an industry-funded front group that could discredit critics of GMOs and pesticides.
Tax records show that Academics Review received most of its funding from the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), a trade group funded by the world’s largest pesticide companies.
7. Universities hosted conferences funded by the pesticide industry to train scientists and journalists how to promote GMOs and pesticides
Two industry front groups, Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review, organized the messaging-training events, and claimed the funding came from government, academic and industry sources; however, according to reporting in The Progressive, non-industry sources denied funding the events and the only traceable source of funds was the pesticide industry trade group CBI, which spent more than $300,000 on the two conferences.
8. Coca-Cola secretly tried to influence medical and science journalists
Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and reported in the BMJ show how Coca-Cola funded journalism conferences at a U.S. university in an attempt to create favorable press coverage of sugar-sweetened drinks. When challenged about funding of the series of conferences, the academics involved weren’t truthful about industry involvement.
9. Coca Cola saw itself at “war” with the public health community over obesity
Another journal article co-authored by USRTK’s Gary Ruskin in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health revealed how Coca-Cola saw itself at “war” with the “public health community.” The emails also reveal the company’s thoughts on how to deal with issues surrounding obesity and responsibility for this public health crisis; for more see Ruskin’s article in Environmental Health News and more journal articles co-authored by USRTK on our Academic Work page.
10. Dozens of academics and other industry allies coordinate their messaging with agrichemical companies and their PR operatives
Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know reveal never-before-reported facts about the front groups, academics, and other third party allies the pesticide and food companies rely on to promote their public relations and lobbying agendas. USRTK provides detailed fact sheets about more than two dozen leading third party allies who appear to be independent, but work closely with companies and their PR firms on coordinated pro-industry messages. See our fact sheet, Tracking the Agrichemical Industry Propaganda Network.
The CFS and CBD brief states that Monsanto and the EPA are both wrong to assert that the EPA’s approval of glyphosate herbicides preempts challenges to the safety of the products:
“Contrary to Monsanto’s claims, Mr. Hardeman’s case is not preempted by EPA’s conclusion relative to glyphosate because Roundup is a glyphosate formulation that EPA has never evaluated for carcinogenicity. Moreover, significant flaws and biases undermined EPA’s evaluation of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and the district court was correct in allowing testimony to that effect,” the brief states.
“Monsanto wants this Court to believe that “glyphosate” is synonymous with ‘Roundup.’ The reason is simple: if the terms are interchangeable, then, they argue, EPA’s finding that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic” would apply to Roundup and might preempt Mr. Hardeman’s case. However as the evidence presented at trial demonstrated, “glyphosate” and “Roundup” are very much not synonymous, and Roundup is far more toxic than glyphosate. Moreover, EPA has never evaluated Roundup for carcinogenicity. Glyphosate formulations, like Roundup, contain additional ingredients (co-formulants) to improve performance in some way. EPA understands these formulations are more toxic than glyphosate alone, yet nevertheless focused its cancer evaluation on pure glyphosate…”
Separate lawsuit names EPA
In a separate legal action, last week the Center for Food Safety filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA over its continued support of glyphosate. The claim, made on behalf of a coalition of farm workers, farmers, and conservationists, alleges the EPA is violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act as well as the Endangered Species Act by continuing to allow widespread use of glyphosate herbicides.
“While EPA defends glyphosate, juries in several cases have found it to cause cancer, ruling in favor of those impacted by exposure,” CFS said in a press release. “Glyphosate formulations like Roundup are also well-established as having numerous damaging environmental impacts. After a registration review process spanning over a decade, EPA allowed the continued marketing of the pesticide despite the agency’s failure to fully assess glyphosate’s hormone-disrupting potential or its effects on threatened and endangered species.”
Bill Freese, science policy analyst at CFS said: “Far from consulting the ‘best available science,’ as EPA claims, the agency has relied almost entirely on Monsanto studies, cherry-picking the data that suits its purpose and dismissing the rest.”
Virus-related court disruptions
Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG have been working to try to settle a large number of the tens of thousands of Roundup cancer claims brought in U.S. courts. That effort continues, and specific settlements have already been reached for some individual plaintiffs, according to sources involved in the talks. US Right to Know reported in early January that the parties were working on a settlement of roughly $8 billion to $10 billion.
However, many other cases continue to work their way through the court system, including the appeal of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the first plaintiff to win against Monsanto in the Roundup litigation. Johnson’s attorneys had hoped the California Court of Appeal would hold oral arguments in Monsanto’s appeal of Johnson’s win sometime in April. But that now appears extremely unlikely as other cases scheduled for March have now been pushed into April.
As well, all in-person sessions for oral arguments in the appeals court are currently suspended. Counsel who choose to present oral argument must do so over the telephone, the court states.
Meanwhile, courts in multiple California counties are closed and jury trials have been suspended to try to protect people from the spread of the virus. The federal court in San Francisco, where the multidistrict Roundup litigation is centralized, is closed to the public, including a suspension of trials, until May 1. Judges can still issue rulings, however, and hold hearings by teleconference.
In Missouri, where most of the state court Roundup cases are based, all in-person court proceedings (with a few exceptions) are suspended through April 17, according to a Missouri Supreme Court order.
One Missouri case that had been set to go to trial in March 30 in St. Louis City Court now has a trial date set for April 27. The case is Seitz v Monsanto #1722-CC11325.
In ordering the change, Judge Michael Mullen wrote: “DUE TO THE NATIONAL PANDEMIC OF THE COVID-19 VIRUS AND THE UNAVAILABILITY OF JURORS IN THIS CIRCUIT THE COURT HEREBY REMOVES THIS CASE FROM THE MARCH 30, 2020 TRIAL DOCKET. CAUSE IS RESET FOR A TRIAL SETTING CONFERENCE ON MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2020 @ 9:00 AM.”
Dicamba litigation against Bayer, BASF poised to explode, lawyers say
Thousands of farmers from multiple states are expected to join mass tort litigation pending in federal court over claims that weed-killing products developed by the former Monsanto Co. and other chemical companies are destroying and contaminating crops, including organic production, a group of lawyers and farmers said on Wednesday.
The number of farmers seeking legal representation to file suit against Monsanto and BASF has surged over the last week and a half after a staggering $265 million jury award to a Missouri peach farmer who alleged the two companies were to blame for the loss of his livelihood, according to Joseph Peiffer of the Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane law firm. Peiffer said more than 2,000 farmers are likely to become plaintiffs.
There are already over 100 farmers making claims against the companies that have been combined in multidistrict litigation in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Earlier this month the bellwether trial for that litigation ended with a unanimous jury awarding the family-owned Bader Farms $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, to be paid by Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto in 2018, and by BASF. 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.
“We now have the road map to get justice for dicamba victims. The Bader verdict in Missouri sent a clear signal that you can’t profit off of hurting innocent farmers and get away with it,” said Peiffer. “The crop damage research and increasing farmer complaints forecast a much bigger problem than Monsanto/Bayer and BASF want to admit.”
U.S. Right to Know asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which approved the dicamba herbicides despite scientific evidence of the risks, to provide a national tally for the total number of dicamba drift complaints. But while the EPA said it was taking the reports “very seriously,” it declined to provide a tally and said it was up to state agencies to handle such complaints.
The EPA also indicated it was not certain the damage reported by farmers was, in fact, due to dicamba.
“The underlying causes of the various damage incidents are not yet clear, as on-going investigations have yet to be concluded,” said an EPA spokesperson. “But EPA is reviewing all available information carefully.
“Ticking Time Bomb”
Just as Monsanto and Bayer have been confronted with damning internal documents in losing three trials over claims Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, there are many internal corporate documents discovered in the dicamba litigation that helped convince the jury of the company’s guilt, according to Bader Farms attorney Bill Randles.
Randles has obtained hundreds of internal Monsanto and BASF corporate records demonstrating the companies were aware of the harm their products would create even as they publicly professed the opposite. He said one BASF document referred to dicamba damage complaints as a “ticking time bomb” that “has finally exploded.”
Bader and the other farmers allege that Monsanto was negligent in rolling out genetically engineered cotton and soybeans that could survive being sprayed with dicamba herbicides because it was known that using the crops and chemicals as designed would lead to damage.
Dicamba has been used by farmers since the 1960s but with limits that took into account the chemical’s propensity to drift 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, according to Monsanto, which announced a dicamba 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. But they refused to allow for independent scientific testing.
The EPA 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.
DuPont also introduced a dicamba herbicide and could also face multiple farmer lawsuits, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
In their legal claims, farmers allege that they have experienced damage both from the drift of old versions of dicamba and drifting newer versions as well. The farmers claim that the companies hoped fears of drift damage would force farmers to buy the special GMO dicamba-tolerant seeds in order to protect their cotton and soybean fields.
Farmers growing other types of crops have been without any means to protect their fields.
North Carolina farmer Marty Harper, who grows about 4,000 acres of tobacco as well as peanuts, cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, and sweet potatoes, said dicamba-related damage to his tobacco fields exceeds $200,000. He said part of his peanut crop has also been damaged.
More than 2,700 farms have suffered dicamba damage, according to University of Missouri crop science professor Kevin Bradley.
Independent Women’s Forum: Koch-Funded Group Defends Pesticide, Oil, Tobacco Industries
The Independent Women’s Forum is a nonprofit organization that partners with Monsanto, defends toxic chemicals in food and consumer products, and argues against laws that would curb the power of corporations. Funded largely by right-wing foundations that push climate science denial, IWF began in 1991 as an effort to defend now Supreme Court Justice (and former Monsanto attorney) Clarence Thomas as he faced sexual harassment charges. In 2018, the group also defended Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the face of sexual assault allegations, and described Kavanaugh as a “champion of women.“
With a budget of roughly $2 million a year, the Independent Women ‘s Forum now says it works for policies that “enhance freedom.” Its programs include lobbying and advocating for the deregulation of toxic products, and deflecting blame for health and environmental harms away from polluting corporations and toward personal responsibility. In 2017, the group’s annual gala in Washington DC, which celebrated IWF board member Kellyanne Conway as a champion of women, was sponsored by chemical and tobacco companies.
Kellyanne Conway, White House advisor and former Trump campaign manager, is an IWF board member. Directors Emeritae includeLynne V.Cheney, wife of Dick Cheney and Kimberly O.Dennis, president of the board of directors of Donors Trust and president and CEO of Searle Freedom Trust.
Nancy M. Pfotenhauer, a former Koch Industries lobbyist, left Koch Industries to become president of IWF in 2001 and she later served as Vice Chairman of IWF’s Board of Directors. She has a long history of promoting dirty energy and pushing for deregulation of polluting industries.
IWF’s agenda closely follows the lobbying and messaging agenda of tobacco, oil and chemical industry interests. Following are some examples:
Denies climate science
A 2019 tweet and article from the Independent Women’s Forum praises President Trump’s “pragmatism” in not acting to curb climate change.
Jane Mayer reported in The New Yorker in 2010: “The (Koch) brothers have given money to more obscure groups, too, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, which opposes the presentation of global warming as a scientific fact in American public schools. Until 2008, the group was run by Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Mary Beth Jarvis, a vice-president of a Koch subsidiary, is on the group’s board.”
Opposes teaching climate science in schools
The Denver Post reported in 2010 that IWF “thinks global warming is ‘junk science’ and that teaching it is unnecessarily scaring schoolchildren.” Through a campaign called “Balanced Education for Everyone,” IWF opposed climate science education in schools, which the group described as “alarmist global warming indoctrination.”
IWF President Carrie Lucas writes about the “growing skepticism about climate change” and argues “the public could pay dearly for the hysteria.”
Partners with Monsanto
In an April 21, 2016 proposal to Monsanto, IWF asked Monsanto to contribute $43,300 for “Super Women of Science” events designed to undercut political support for Proposition 65, a California law that prohibits companies from discharging hazardous chemicals in waterways and requires them to notify consumers about toxic chemical exposures. The proposed events were part of IWF’s “Culture of Alarmism” project that was created “to debunk media hype about the risks Americans face from the products we use, the foods we eat and the environment surrounding our families.”
In February 2017, Monsanto partnered with IWF on an event titled “Food and Fear: How to Find Facts in Today’s Culture of Alarmism,” and an IWF podcast that month discussed “How Monsanto is Vilified by Activists.”
IWF pushes the talking points of Monsanto and the chemical industry: promoting GMOs and pesticides, attacking the organic industry and moms who choose organic food, and opposing transparency in food labels. Examples include:
Sinister GMO labeling will cause grocery costs to skyrocket. (IWF)
Anti-GMO hype is the real threat to the well being of families. (National Review)
Reasonable moms need to push back on the mom shaming and guilt tripping organic food narrative. (IWF podcast)
GMO critics are cruel, vain, elite and seek to deny those in need. (New York Post)
The “Culture of Alarmism” project, since renamed the “Project for Progress and Innovation,” is run by Julie Gunlock, who writes frequent blogs arguing against public health protections and defending corporations. She has described “FDA’s refusal to promote e-cigarettes” as “a public health crisis.”
Argues ‘Philips Morris PR’
In August 2017, IWF lobbied FDA to approve Philip Morris’ IQOS e-cigarettes, arguing that women need the products for various biological reasons to help them quit smoking regular cigarettes.
“Clearly, the FDA doesn’t intend to punish women, simply for their gender. Yet, that’s precisely what’s going to happen if women are limited to smoking cessation products that biologically cannot provide them with the help they need to quit traditional cigarettes,” IWF wrote.
In response to the IWF letter, Stanton Glantz, PhD, Professor of Medicine at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said: “This is standard Philip Morris PR. There is no independent confirmation that IQOS are safer than cigarettes or that they help people quit smoking.”
A June 2017 IWF event tried to stoke fears about public health guidance
In 2012, IWF launched a “Women for Food Freedom” project to “push back on the nanny state and encourage personal responsibility” for food choices. The agenda included opposing “food regulations, soda and snack food taxes, junk science and food and home-product scares, misinformation about obesity and hunger, and other federal food programs, including school lunches.”
On obesity, IWF tries to shift attention away from corporate accountability and toward personal choices. In this interview with Thom Hartmann, IWF’s Julie Gunlock argues that corporations are not to blame for America’s obesity problem but rather “people are making bad choices and I think parents are completely checking out.” The solution, she said, is for parents to cook more, especially poor parents since they have a worse problem with obesity.
Attacks moms for trying to reduce pesticide exposures
IWF pushes industry messaging, using covert tactics, in attempt to ostracize moms who are concerned about pesticides; a prime example is this 2014 New York Post article, “Tyranny of the Organic Mommy Mafia” by Naomi Schafer Riley. Under the guise of complaining about “mom shaming,” Riley – who is an IWF fellow but did not disclose that to readers – attempts to shame and blame moms who choose organic food. Riley’s article was sourced entirely by industry front groups and sources that she falsely presented as independent, including Academics Review, a Monsanto front group; the Alliance for Food and Farming and Julie Gunlock of the IWF’s “Culture of Alarmism Project,” who was also not identified in the article as an employee of IWF. For more on this topic, see the “Assault on Organic: Ignoring science to make the case for chemical farming” (FAIR, 2014).
Center for Media and Democracy, “Confirmation: the Not-so-Independent Women’s Forum was Born in Defense of Clarence Thomas and the Far Right,” by Lisa Graves and Calvin Sloan (4/21/2016)
Slate,“Confirmation Bias: How ‘Women for Judge Thomas’ turned into a conservative powerhouse,” by Barbara Spindel (4/7/2016)
Truthout, “Independent Women’s Forum Uses Misleading Branding to Push Right Wing Agenda,” by Lisa Graves, Calvin Sloan and Kim Haddow (8/19/2016)
Inside Philanthropy,“The Money Behind the Conservative Women’s Groups Still Fighting the Culture War,”by Philip Rojc (9/13/2016)
The Nation,”Guess Which Women’s Group Rush Limbaugh has Donated Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to? Hint: it’s the one that defends him whenever he launches into a sexist tirade,” by Eli Clifton (6/12/2014)
The New Yorker,”The Koch Brothers Covert Operations,” by Jane Mayer (8/30/2010)
Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know and other sources shine light on the inner workings of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a trade group funded by large food and agrichemical companies, and its nonprofit “public education arm” the IFIC Foundation. The IFIC groups conduct research and training programs, produce marketing materials and coordinate other industry groups to communicate industry spin about food safety and nutrition. Messaging includes promoting and defending sugar, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, food additives, pesticides and genetically engineered foods.
How IFIC tries to communicate its message to women.
The groups were identified as part of a “Stakeholder Engagement team” that could alert the food companies to Monsanto’s “inoculation strategy” for the glyphosate cancer report.
Blogs later posted on the IFIC website illustrate the group’s patronizing “don’t worry, trust us” messaging to women. Entries include, “8 crazy ways they’re trying to scare you about fruits and vegetables,” “Cutting through the clutter on glyphosate,” and “Before we freak out, let’s ask the experts … the real experts.”
IFIC spent over $22 million in the five-year period from 2013-2017, while the IFIC Foundation spent over $5 million in those five years, according to tax forms filed with the IRS. Corporations and industry groups that support IFIC, according to public disclosures, include the American Beverage Association, American Meat Science Association, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bayer CropScience, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Dannon, DowDuPont, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Perdue Farms and PepsiCo.
Draft tax records for the IFIC Foundation, obtained via state records requests, list the corporations that funded the group in 2011,2013 or both: Grocery Manufacturers Association, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever. The US Department of Agriculture gave IFIC Foundation $177,480 of taxpayer money in 2013 to produce a “communicator’s guide” for promoting genetically engineered foods.
IFIC also solicits money from corporations for specific product-defense campaigns. This April 28, 2014 email from an IFIC executive to a long list of corporate board members asks for $10,000 contributions to update the “Understanding our Food” initiative to improve consumer views of processed foods. The email notes previous financial supporters: Bayer, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo and DuPont.
A series of documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know provide a sense of how IFIC operates behind the scenes to spin bad news and defend the products of its corporate sponsors.
Connects reporters to industry-funded scientists
May 5, 2014 email from Matt Raymond, senior director of communications, alerted IFIC leadership and “media dialogue group” to “high profile stories in which IFIC is currently involved” to help spin negative news coverage, including responding to the movie Fed Up. He noted they had connected a New York Times reporter with “Dr. John Sievenpiper, our noted expert in the field of sugars.” Sievenpiper “is among a small group of Canadian academic scientists who have received hundreds of thousands in funding from soft-drink makers, packaged-food trade associations and the sugar industry, turning out studies and opinion articles that often coincide with those businesses’ interests,” according to the National Post.
Emails from 2010 and 2012 suggest that IFIC relies on a small group of industry-connected scientists to confront studies that raise concerns about GMOs. In both emails, Bruce Chassy, a University of Illinois professor who received undisclosed funds from Monsanto to promote and defend GMOs, advises IFIC on how to respond to studies raising concerns about GMOs.
DuPont executive suggests stealth strategy to confront Consumer Reports
In a February 3, 2013 email, IFIC staff alerted its “media relations group” that Consumer Reports reported concerns about the safety and environmental impact of GMOs. Doyle Karr, DuPont’s director of biotechnology policy and vice president of the board of Center for Food Integrity, forwarded the email to a scientist with a query for response ideas, and suggested confronting Consumer Reports with this stealth tactic: “Maybe create a letter to the editor signed by 1,000 scientists who have no affiliation with the biotech seed companies stating that they take issue with (Consumer Reports’) statements on the safety and environmental impact. ??”
Other PR services IFIC provides to industry
Disseminates misleading industry talking points: April 25, 2012 mail to the 130 members of the Alliance to Feed the Future “on behalf of Alliance member Grocery Manufacturers Association” claimed that the California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods “would effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of grocery products in California unless they contain special labels.”
Confronts books critical of processed foods: A February 20, 2013 email describes IFIC’s strategy to spin two books critical of the food industry, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss, and “Pandora’s Lunchbox” by Melanie Warner. Plans included writing book reviews, disseminating talking points and “exploring additional options to enhance engagement in the digital media measured by the extent of coverage.” In a February 22, 2013 email, an IFIC executive reached out to three academics — Roger Clemens of the University of Southern California, Mario Ferruzzi of Purdue University and Joanne Slavin of University of Minnesota — to ask them to be available for media interviews about the books. The email provided the academics with summaries of the two books and IFIC’s talking points defending processed foods. “We will appreciate you sharing any specific talking points about specific science issues that are raised in the books,” states the email from Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC’s senior vice president of nutrition and food safety.
Research and surveysto support industry positions; one example is a 2012 survey that found 76% of consumers “can’t think of anything additional they would like to see on the label” that was used by industry groups to oppose GMO labeling.
“Don’t worry, trust us” marketing brochures, such as this one explaining that food additives and colors are nothing to worry about. The chemicals and dyes “have played an important role in reducing serious nutritional deficiencies among consumers,” according to the IFIC Foundation brochure that was “prepared under a partnering agreement with the US Food and Drug Administration.”
Continuing to lack a resolution in the massive nationwide Roundup cancer litigation, a leading U.S. plaintiffs’ law firm is pressing ahead with preparations for a California trial involving a critically ill cancer patient and his wife who are suing the former Monsanto company claiming the man’s disease is due to years of his use of Roundup herbicide.
The Miller Firm, which has about 6,000 Roundup plaintiffs, is now preparing to go to trial against Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG on May 5 in Marin County Superior Court in California. The case has been granted preference status – meaning a quick trial date – because plaintiff Victor Berliant is critically ill. A deposition of Berliant is being scheduled for next week.
Berliant, a man in his 70s, has been diagnosed with Stage IV T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is planning to undergo a bone marrow transplant in March after multiple rounds of chemotherapy failed. His lawyers say it is necessary to take his deposition before the transplant as there is a risk he may not survive the procedure or may be otherwise unable to participate at the May trial.
Berliant used Roundup from approximately 1989 to 2017, according to his lawsuit. His wife, Linda Berliant, is also named as a plaintiff, asserting loss of consortium and other damages.
Other cases with trial dates are pending in the St. Louis, Missouri area and in Kansas City, Missouri, including one case with more than 80 plaintiffs scheduled for trial March 30 in St. Louis City Court. A hearing was supposed to be held today in that case, Seitz v. Monsanto, but was cancelled.
The Miller firm is one of the primary plaintiffs’ firms in the Roundup litigation and caused a stir last month by canceling a St. Louis trial shortly before opening statements were to begin in order to facilitate settlement talks.
The fact that the Miller firm is pressing ahead with more trials underscores the lack of agreement between Bayer and the attorneys for a pool of plaintiffs that some sources say now numbers above 100,000.
Both the Miller firm and the firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, which have close to 20,000 plaintiffs combined, have been at the forefront of negotiations, sources close to the litigation say.
Certain plaintiffs who have agreed to cancel their trials have secured agreements on specific settlement amounts, sources involved in the litigation said, while other parties are said to be discussing deals that are contingent upon the successful completion of a larger overall settlement of the U.S. litigation.
But a comprehensive settlement to put the Roundup claims to rest for the long term remains challenging, sources said. Settling with the current pool of plaintiffs will not protect Bayer from future litigation over Roundup cancer causation claims.
Many Bayer investors are hoping for a resolution no later than Bayer’s annual meeting on April 28 in Bonn, Germany.
Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto in June of 2018 for $63 billion.
The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal but the company’s share prices has been sharply depressed by the repeated trial losses.
The trials have turned a public spotlight on internal Monsanto record that showed how Monsanto engineered scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.
“The last thing Bayer wants is another bad headline on the Roundup litigation” said Marine Chriqui, a London-based market analyst. “I think it is really important for them not to be in a difficult situation at the time of the meeting. “
Some industry observers suggest that Bayer may continue to settle each case just before trial for many months as appeals play out.
Lawyers for both sides are currently awaiting a date for oral arguments before the appeals court in the case of Johnson v. Monsanto, which was the first to go to trial in the summer of 2018.
Some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys are contemplating making an appearance in Bonn the week of the shareholders’ meeting if a settlement is not achieved, litigation sources said.
St. Louis Roundup cancer trial “will not resume;” settlement news expected
A Roundup cancer trial in St. Louis, Missouri, will not open on Wednesday as expected, a court spokesman said Monday, fueling fresh speculation that a global settlement of tens of thousands of lawsuits brought by cancer victims against the former Monsanto Co. may be near.
St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Hogan issued the notification Monday afternoon, reversing guidance provided to jurors and media last week that they should plan for opening statements in the case to begin Wednesday. Broadcasters waiting to air the proceedings of the highly anticipated trial were told to pack up their equipment.
The St. Louis case, titled Wade v. Monsanto, involves four plaintiffs, including one woman whose husband died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Opening statements were initially expected Jan. 24, but were postponed to allow for lawyers for Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG and lawyers for the plaintiffs to discuss settlement terms. The court then said the trial would open on Feb. 5. Now, it is off indefinitely.
The plaintiffs in the Wade case allege that they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma because of exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including the popular Roundup brand. More than 50,000 people are making similar allegations against the company, and are additionally claiming that Monsanto knew about the risks but failed to warn its customers.
Several trials have been pulled off the docket over the last several weeks as Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has drawn closer to a global settlement of the litigation. Bayer is looking to pay out roughly $10 billion in total to settle most, if not all, of the claims, according to sources close to the negotiations.
Last week, a California Roundup trial titled Caballero v. Monsanto was officially postponed after more than a week of jury selection activities and the seating of 16 jurors. Sources close to the litigation said settlement terms have now been agreed to in Caballero.
Sources also said the plaintiffs in a Roundup trial scheduled to start February 24th in federal court in San Francisco – Stevick v. Monsanto – are being told their case is unlikely to go forward.
Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings. Bayer’s lawyers have reportedly negotiated settlement payout for the clients of several large plaintiffs’ firms, but had been unable to reach agreement with two – The Miller Firm of Virginia and Weitz & Luxenberg of New York.
The Miller firm represents the plaintiffs in the Caballero, Wade and Stevick cases. The fact that those cases are now also being postponed or called off indicates Bayer and the Miller firm likely have come to an agreement, or are near one, observers said.
The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.
Reuters reported that Bayer is considering a settlement provision that would bar plaintiffs’ lawyers involved in the litigation from advertising for new clients.
Mediator Ken Feinberg declined to comment. Feinberg was appointed last May by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria to facilitate the settlement process. Last month, Feinberg said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a “national all-in” settlement of the U.S. lawsuits was near.
St. Louis Roundup cancer trial reset for Wednesday as California trial called off
The drama continues in the closely watched battle between lawyers defending the former Monsanto Co. and those representing thousands of cancer victims who claim exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide gave them or a family member non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
On Friday, a California trial was officially postponed after more than a week of jury selection activities and the seating of 16 jurors. Instead of proceeding with opening statements, that trial has now been postponed indefinitely, with a case management conference set for March 31.
Meanwhile, the multi-plaintiff trial that was postponed just before opening statements last week in St. Louis has been rescheduled to open next Wednesday, sources close to the litigation said.
The St. Louis trial is particularly problematic for Monsanto because it involves four plaintiffs, including one woman whose husband died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and because the judge has ruled that the trial can be broadcast over the Courtroom View Network and through feeds to television and radio stations. Lawyers for Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG argued against broadcasting the trial, saying the publicity endangers its executives and witnesses.
Several trials have been pulled off the docket over the last several weeks as Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has drawn closer to a global settlement of what amounts to well more than 50,000 claims – some estimates are more than 100,000. Bayer is looking to pay out roughly $10 billion in total to settle the claims, according to sources close to the negotiations.
The lawsuits all allege that the Monsanto was well aware of scientific research demonstrating there were human health risks tied to its glyphosate-based herbicides but did nothing to warn consumers, working instead to manipulate the scientific record to protect company sales.
Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings. Bayer’s lawyers have reportedly negotiated settlement payout for the clients of several large firms, but have been unable to reach agreement with two large plaintiffs’ firms – The Miller Firm of Virginia and Weitz & Luxenberg of New York. The Miller firm represents the plaintiffs in both the California case just pulled from the docket and in the St. Louis case just put back on.
Shares rose last week when the St. Louis trial was abruptly postponed as lead attorneys from the two plaintiffs’ firms – Mike Miller and Perry Weitz – left the courthouse just before opening statements were scheduled to begin in order to continue last-minute talks with Bayer attorneys.
The postponement has frustrated onlookers, including the crew from Courtroom View Network, which remained at the courthouse this week awaiting news of when the trial might resume. They were told Friday morning only that the trial would not resume on Monday. They learned later it would resume Wednesday instead.
The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.
Those trials turned a public spotlight on internal Monsanto records that show how Monsanto engineered scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.