Carey Gillam on Monsanto Cancer and the Corruption of Science

Fifty-five years after Rachel Carson in Silent Spring warned about the dangers of DDT and unchecked pesticide use, a former Reuters reporter is raising the red flag about the pesticide treadmill we can’t get off of.

In Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science (Island Press, 2017) investigative journalist Carey Gillam lays bare details about the 40-year push to prominence of the world’s most popular pesticide: glyphosate, known commonly as Monsanto’s Roundup.

Gillam is currently research director at US Right to Know.

Gillam says that glyphosate is the most widely used agrichemical in history – a pesticide so pervasive it’s in our air, our water, our food, and even our own bodies.

In Whitewash, Gillam explores the legal claims of thousands of Americans who believe Roundup caused their cancers, and exposes the influence of a multi-billion-dollar industry that has worked for decades to keep consumers in the dark and regulators in check.

Gillam unveils industry communications and regulatory documents that reveal corporate ties to a cast of players, from journalists and regulators to mommy bloggers and scientists at public universities.

Carey Gillam

Gillam traces what she calls the “corruption of science,” uncovering stories of how agribusiness has taken advantage of “useful” government employees and censored or discredited scientists to bury evidence of harm.

Gillam shows how political influence has been at work for years in regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Adminnistration (FDA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – the very agency created as a result of Carson’s findings in her book Silent Spring.

Both the EPA and the European Commission are currently analyzing whether to keep glyphosate on the market or limit its use, and U.S. cancer claims are moving closer to trial amid rising global interest in the truth about this deeply pervasive pesticide.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer – part of the World Health Organization – came to the conclusion that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic.

What do you mean by the corruption of science?

“We have dug up documents through the Freedom of Information Act and state record requests. And we have documents that have come to light in litigation that is now pending against Monsanto,” Gillam told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “It’s an eye opening, jaw dropping trove of evidence that Monsanto has been working very hard over many years to bury evidence of harm from this chemical and trumpet their own research.”

“The documents show that Monsanto has put together an army of surrogates and soldiers –   professors, academics – people who appear to be independent of Monsanto, but who in fact, behind the curtains, are having money funneled to their organizations, to their universities, to their research programs. In exchange, some of them are having Monsanto write the presentations that they deliver. They are taking drafts that Monsanto will put together and their name will be put on an independent positive review of glyphosate. In fact, Monsanto wrote it. That is not disclosed anywhere. The documents show that Monsanto used the term ghostwriting for certain research papers. They essentially bring scientists on, pay them money, and put their names on research reports. But Monsanto does the writing and the editing. Monsanto lays this out in internal documents.”

“You could go on and on. One that sticks with me is a case where Monsanto wanted to set up an organization that would appear to be independent of Monsanto that would write reports or stories that would criticize scientists or journalists or others who were writing things not positive about glyphosate or GMOs.”

“In their emails, they say – you can’t let anybody know Monsanto is behind this, we have to keep Monsanto in the background.”

“And they formed that organization and it has been up and running and doing what they want it to do – attacking the credibility of scientists and others who raise questions about Monsanto and glyphosate.”

What about reporters?

“Monsanto has made a concerted effort to train reporters on how to report on the industry. They are holding boot camps and bringing in these supposedly independent professors and others to train these reporters and others how to think about the science and the issues. They are trying to influence press coverage.”

“When they realized that I wasn’t going to follow the corporate narrative, they tried to pressure and bully me. They will offer exclusives and lure in journalists that will give them stories that will make the journalists look good in the eyes of their editors. As long as the reporter sticks to a certain narrative, they are fine. They bully reporters who don’t follow the narrative. I was told more than once or twice that there were no facts wrong in my story. They said that the problem with my stories was something called false balance. I should not be presenting two sides to a story. I should only be presenting their side.”

Who told you that?

“I heard that from Monsanto PR people. I heard it from the industry public relations people at BIO. I heard it from numerous players for Monsanto and the chemical industry. They wrote about this in one of the documents. They called it Carey Gillam and false balance.”

They accused me of presenting both sides when only one side was valid.

When did you leave Reuters?

“Late 2015.”

Why did you leave?

“The industry pressure was part of the reason. It became increasingly difficult to convince editors that the stories were valid. During the first twelve to thirteen years, I had a solid editor who wasn’t afraid of industry criticism, who wasn’t afraid of pressure. The editorial management changed in the last couple of years before I left. It was just different. I had an editor who didn’t have a background in agriculture, didn’t know the industry at all, who told me for instance that glyphosate wasn’t a big story, wasn’t going to be a story, nobody was concerned about glyphosate. That was shortly before 2015 when the International Agency on Research on Cancer classification became top news all around the world. It was becoming difficult to do my job. So I went somewhere where I could do my job.”

You use the term corruption of science. But what about corruption in government? Why hasn’t the government acted forcefully and moved against glyphosate?

“There is a long history within the Environmental Protection Agency of protecting corporate interests. Of course, it all comes back to money. And in some of the documents, Monsanto is clear – we want the EPA to do this one thing.”

“And Monsanto spends a lot of money on lobbying and campaign contributions. And we are going to lean on these lawmakers. And they are going to lean on these publically appointed officials within EPA. And they are going to tell the EPA –  we want this to happen. And you see that in these internal documents.”

“There is also the revolving door. When officials leave the EPA, they can get lucrative jobs within the chemical industry – if they are friendly, if they are useful. There was an EPA official overseeing the glyphosate cancer review. He left the EPA and almost immediately started getting work with the chemical industry. And Monsanto loved this guy. They talked about it in their internal documents, how useful he could be. And how they wanted him to be the one they were dealing with, instead of somebody else on the glyphosate issue.”

“There were three top EPA officials that Monsanto went to to try and kill a glyphosate review by another federal agency. They didn’t want it. They said they were worried that this other federal agency would agree with the International Agency for Research on Cancer and find problems with glyphosate. And they asked the three top people at EPA to help kill the review. And those guys jumped right on it and killed it.”

“I don’t know. Is that corruption? Is that collusion? Is that collaboration? Is that just good buddies? I don’t know, but it seems to have served the corporation better than it served the public.”

What is the status of the private litigation against Monsanto?

“There are about 3,000 plaintiffs around the United States who are suing Monsanto alleging that Monsanto knew and covered up the evidence that its glyphosate gave them or their loved ones cancer. Obviously, some of these people have died, so their family members have sued. Some of them are alive and suffering from cancer right now. Several hundred of those lawsuits have been consolidated in federal court in California. And that’s where we have seen the bulk of these discovery documents come to light. And Monsanto has been fighting tooth and nail to keep them secret and keep them sealed. And it has been a real battle in the courts. But they have gotten several hundred pages of documents unsealed.”

Have any of these cases been settled or gone to trial?

“No. The first trials are set for June 2018.”

When was the first case filed?

“The first cases were filed in 2015, after the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic. The lawsuits have been mounting rapidly. There have been cases filed almost every week. The International Agency for Research on Cancer found the most positive link between glyphosate and non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. All of these plaintiffs are suing over non Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

I see on your web site that you will appear before the European Parliament next month. What will you be saying?

“The agenda has changed a couple of times. Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant was invited to be on a panel discussion with me before the European Parliament members. And he declined to attend. They are changing the discussion a bit. The discussion is supposed to be about EPA regulations and how the science has been handled and how the regulation has been handled. I will be addressing that topic, what we have uncovered – the arm twisting and the influence that Monsanto has brought to bear upon the agency that makes determinations about the safety of the chemical.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Carey Gillam, see 31 Corporate Crime Reporter 37(10), September 25, 2017, print edition only.]


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