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Daily News Blog

16
Dec

Denying Science, Manufacturing Doubt: Monsanto/Bayer’s Promotion and Defense of Glyphosate/Roundup

(Beyond Pesticides, December 16, 2022) A report released last week — Merchants of Poison: How Monsanto Sold the World on a Toxic Pesticide — exposes not only Bayer/Monsanto malfeasance in its “promotion” of its glyphosate-based herbicide products, including the notorious Roundup®, but also, the broader landscape of corporate efforts to white- or green-wash products that companies know are harmful to people and the environment. The report was issued by U.S. Right to Know (USRTK, a nonprofit investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health), Friends of the Earth (FOE), and Real Food Media. It carries the pithy subtitle, “A case study in disinformation, corrupted science, and manufactured doubt about glyphosate,” a description cited by the Friends of the Earth press release as “at the core of the pesticide industry’s public relations playbook.” Beyond Pesticides welcomes this report, which comports with much of our previous coverage of the pesticide industry’s egregious misbehavior, and of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.

FOE calls the report the “first comprehensive review” of the Bayer/Monsanto “defense strategy” employed in attempts to deny science, manufacture doubt, and discredit critics who have researched, reported on, and/or advocated against the company’s flagship glyphosate products because of the harms they cause. Merchants of Poison focuses on the swirl of bad actors and activity around glyphosate, including disinformation strategies used to manipulate the science of glyphosate, and disparage journalists and scientists who dared to publicize concerns about the compound’s damage. According to FOE, it also “reveals the astroturf operations, as well as front groups, professors, journalists, and others that [Bayer/]Monsanto relied on to protect its profits from glyphosate despite decades of science linking the toxic chemical to cancer, reproductive impacts, and other serious health concerns.” (See this recent Beyond Pesticides summary of the health risks of pesticide exposures, and a deeper dive on glyphosate’s and pesticides’ broad environmental harms, pp. 9 and 17, respectively.)

The report, produced by lead author, journalist, and founder of USRTK Stacy Malkan, and co-authors Anna Lappé and Kendra Klein, PhD also places those activities in the historical context of the campaigns of Big Tobacco and Big Oil. Indeed, the tactics used by those industries show up at nearly every turn in the corporate pro-pesticide campaigns, which have even involved some of the same people and groups as the earlier efforts. Public “spin” operations by pesticide companies were especially robust after the 2015 release, by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), of findings concluding that there was “sufficient evidence of [glyphosate’s] carcinogenicity.”

As the report pointedly says, “Big Tobacco’s spin tactics arguably cost millions of lives as regulations emerged long after it was evident that cigarettes cause cancer — and continue to cost lives. (The WHO estimates 8 million people die annually from tobacco use). The fossil fuel sector’s spin pushed science denialism and political inaction that has led to a warming world and is associated with millions of deaths per year, with few clear pathways to averting catastrophic climate change.”

Ms. Malkan commented, “The pesticide industry is not just following in the footsteps of Big Tobacco and Big Oil, they co-wrote the playbook — from their attacks on Silent Spring author Rachel Carson 60 years ago to the recent Monsanto-led assault on the cancer researchers of the World Health Organization.” The pesticide industry similarly indulges in deceptive and unethical public relations strategies in order to keep its so-called “freedom to operate” — essentially, with few or no restrictions — even while its products have dangerous consequences for public health and the environment.

The industry has, for decades, engaged in knowingly deceptive and aggressive tactics to (1) persuade the public that pesticides are not only “safe,” but also, somehow “critical” to producing enough food for the world’s population. Both claims are demonstrably false. Beyond Pesticides has frequently written about the impressive capacity of organic, regenerative, agroecological agriculture to produce high-quality and sufficient food supplies and improve the lot of producers — as well as being key to turning around the public health, biodiversity, and climate crises. Merchants of Poison asserts: “In recent years, groundbreaking global studies have shown the grave threat agricultural chemicals pose to biodiversity and public health and how they fail to deliver on their promises for greater agricultural productivity, leading to crop loss and weed and pest resistance. Yet despite the mounting evidence, the pesticide industry has doubled down on deceptive messaging.”

Merchants of Poison is the result of a years-long USRTK investigation, starting in 2015, which analyzed documents from all levels of government, universities, and industry, as well as from the work of investigative journalists, such as Cary Gillam, author of the groundbreaking Monsanto Papers. The tens of thousands of pages of documents reviewed were secured through a combination of publicly available information, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and state-level public records requests, and proceedings from litigation — sometimes obtained as a result of judicial enforcement of public records laws — brought by groundskeepers, farmers, and just plain gardeners who (often successfully) sued Monsanto over claims that exposure to its glyphosate herbicide, Roundup®, caused their subsequent cancers, often non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Many of those documents can be accessed here.

The report sets out several key points:

  • “Monsanto employees ghostwrote scientific papers on the safety of glyphosate and strategized how to discredit journalists raising concerns about the pesticide.
  • Major universities, including UC Davis and University of Florida, played a significant role in legitimizing and amplifying pesticide industry product-defense efforts. 
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cornell University, and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the world’s most prestigious scientific organizations, also provided essential aid and cover for pesticide industry propaganda.
  • Key Monsanto-connected front groups that led attacks on scientists and journalists (Genetic Literacy Project and American Council on Science and Health) frequently push industry messaging to the top of the Google News search. 
  • Pesticide industry propaganda is a huge business: 
    • Seven of the front groups named in Monsanto’s documents spent $76 million over a five-year period to push corporate disinformation, including attacks on scientists.
    • Six industry trade groups named in Monsanto’s PR documents spent more than $1.3 billion over the same five year period, including for PR and lobbying to influence regulation over glyphosate.”

The unsavory, unethical, and sometimes corrupt activity has also extended, as Beyond Pesticides has covered, to federal agency staff, including managers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees pesticide registration and regulation. Indeed, unholy “alliances” between industry lobbyists and EPA staff exacerbate the toxic pesticide problem, as we have reported here and here.

Dr. Klein has commented, “Pesticide companies fight tooth and nail to keep their toxic products on the market, and the public pays for their deceit with our health and our lives. . . . Meanwhile, the rampant use of toxic pesticides is unraveling the web of life as bees, birds, and other critical biodiversity face increasing threats of extinction. The ‘silent spring’ that Rachel Carson warned of six decades ago is here.”

David Michaels, PhD, epidemiologist and long-time head of OSHA (the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration), wrote in 2020 a trenchant summary in the Boston Review of the denial, obfuscation, and outright unethical behavior that seems to characterize some corners of the scientific, corporate, academic, and even governmental, worlds: “Science is supposed to be constant, apolitical, and above the fray. This commonsense view misses the rise of science-for-sale specialists over the last several decades and a ‘product defense industry’ that sustains them — a cabal of apparent experts, PR flaks, and political lobbyists who use bad science to produce whatever results their sponsors want.”

The U.S. needs to get off the toxic pesticide treadmill in agriculture and land management, and adopt organic regenerative approaches that obviate the use of these compounds. What we wrote in 2018 still holds: “Beyond Pesticides has strategically sought to transform our country’s approach to pest management, both agricultural and residential/structural, by eliminating a reliance on pesticides and advancing organic management practices that do not rely on toxic inputs. In this context, pesticides like glyphosate become an example of chemical industry influence resulting in inadequate underlying law and regulations. . . . [W]e must teach that these chemicals are not only dangerous to environmental health, but are unnecessary to prevent pests and achieve pest management goals.”

Among Beyond Pesticides’ hopes is that exposure of these behaviors — as Merchants of Poison has so comprehensively done — by industry, as well as by some in government, academia, and media across the “pesticide landscape,” will inform and encourage the public to learn more, speak up in opposition, and support science. Please do so via the Daily News Blog and Take Action features on the website homepage, and by joining Beyond Pesticides and/or donating to support our campaign to end the use of toxic pesticides, such as glyphosate, in the next decade.

Sources: https://foe.org/news/merchants-of-poison/ and https://foe.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Merchants_of_Poison_Report_final_113022.pdf

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Denying Science, Manufacturing Doubt: Monsanto/Bayer’s Promotion and Defense of Glyphosate/Roundup”

  1. 1
    David Says:

    Maybe Monsanto’s radioactive waste piles from manufacturing roundup should manufacture doubt. Especially since you have intentionally made town’s radioactive in Idaho with it by mixing radioactive waste with cement. That’s beyond pesticides.

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