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Book Exposes Stealth Campaign To Whitewash The Cancer Risk Of Weed Killer

Island Press

The home-made looking video is popular on YouTube, with hundreds of thousands of views. It was produced by a group called the “Science Moms,” who say they’re just regular mothers with PhD’s who want to set the record straight.  In a seemingly casual and candid way, they mock the concept that natural things are better, and tell their viewers not to buy organic produce.

“The marketing behind organic farming has really convinced people that organic is more environmentally friendly, and doesn’t use pesticides and is healthier – and the data does not support any of those claims,” one of the Science Moms proclaims.  “There’s no health benefits from eating an organic diet.  There’s nothing really to be gained. It’s just more expensive.”

What the Science Moms do not tell the viewers is that the group has ties to the Monsanto chemical company and its owner, Bayer pharmaceuticals.  One of the main Science Moms is actually policy director for Biology Fortified Inc., which Monsanto has described in internal memos as a ‘partner’ in its public relations battle to dispute the cancer-causing properties of one of its products, glyphosate, the world’s most popular weed killer.

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in RoundUp, is sprayed on millions of acres of non-organic crops around the world.

Biologists have concluded that glyphosate has contributed to the 80 percent decline – and possible future extinction – of Monarch butterflies. The World Health Organization in 2015 classified glyphosate as a “probable” human carcinogen, triggering more than 100,000 lawsuits – and so far, three court judgments – against Bayer for allegedly causing their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers.

Journalist Carey Gillam is author of a book, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science.”  Gillam documents how the manufacturer of glyphosate has engaged in an influential, vast, and complex communications and lobbying campaign to obscure the damages caused by its billion-dollar weed killer.  That campaign involves not only collaboration with PR front groups like the Science Moms, but – more disturbingly – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“That’s what’s just so outrageous, frustrating, and saddening,” said Gillam, a former Reuters reporter who now works as Research Director for U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit that investigates the food industry.  “Our Environmental Protection Agency – what you see in the documents and the historic archives of the EPA – is not necessarily protecting the environment.  What it’s really been doing is orchestrating a protection of corporate profits.”

In the case of glyphosate, Gillam’s research showed that EPA scientists, back in 1985, characterized the weed killer as a possible human carcinogen in internal documents. But then the agency backed off of that classification when the politically-influential Monsanto protested. That allowed the company to market RoundUp for years as safe and environmentally benign.

Internal emails examined by Gillam show that one EPA scientist quietly coordinated with Monsanto to push back against the World Health Organization when it concluded in 2015 that scientific evidence shows that glyphosate is more dangerous than EPA and Monsanto had portrayed.

EPA became an agent of sorts for Monsanto. The company also secretly paid scientists and public relations firms.

“Through these deceptive tactics, Monsanto was able to push forward a lot of science that it funded, and in many cases, that it ghost wrote,” Gillam said. “They were able to get academics on their payroll, secretly, to help promote their products without people knowing they were connected to Monsanto.”

Among others, the Trump Administration has been actively working to promote RoundUp and Monsanto’s genetically-modified crops to other countries around the world.

One internal memo that Gillam unearthed quotes a Trump White House policy adviser as writing in July 2018: “We have Monsanto’s back on pesticides regulation…. Monsanto need not fear any additional regulation from this administration.”

Gillam said: “You do see our U.S. government, the State Department, working on behalf of these big agrochemical companies to help them sell more product.”

So what is the answer?  First, consumers need to be more critical of increasingly sophisticated social media and YouTube campaigns – like the ones sponsored by Monsanto and the Science Moms.

More importantly, voters need to change not only their product selection—but also to change their government, to weed out corporate influence, from the White House to their own house.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.