The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is a front group for the tobacco, agrichemical, fossil fuel, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Emails released from lawsuits against Monsanto in 2018 and leaked financial documents from 2012 reveal the ACSH’s corporate funding and its strategies to spin science in defense of corporate products to secure financial support from corporations.
Ties to Monsanto
August 2017: A series of emails about the American Council on Science and Health released via lawsuits against Monsanto reveal that Monsanto paid ACSH on an ongoing basis to help defend its embattled products. Monsanto executives described ACSH’s materials promoting and defending agrichemical products as “EXTREMELY USEFUL” [sic] and noted that ACSH was working with Monsanto to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer panel report about the cancer risk of glyphosate (read more about Monsanto PR strategy to discredit IARC here).
The emails show that ACSH staff wrote to Monsanto requesting “Monsanto’s continued, and much needed, support in 2015.” Some Monsanto staffers were uncomfortable working with ACSH but decided to pay them anyway, according to the emails. Monsanto’s senior science lead Daniel Goldstein wrote to colleagues: “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.”
Leaked ACSH docs reveal corporate-defense funding strategy
A leaked 2012 ACSH financial summary reported by Mother Jones revealed that ACSH has received funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the science messaging ACSH promotes — and showed how ACSH solicits corporate donations for quid pro quo product-defense campaigns. For example, the document 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
Mother Jones reported, “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.” Funding details:
- 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. ACSH also pursued financial support from 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.
- Reynolds American and Phillip Morris International were the two largest donors listed in the documents.
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.”
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.