Monsanto’s Fingerprints All Over Newsweek’s Opinion Piece, a Hit on Organic Food
By Stacy Malkan
If that name sounds familiar—Henry I. Miller—it may be because the New York Times recently revealed a scandal involving Miller: that he had been caught publishing an article ghostwritten by Monsanto under his own name in Forbes. The article, which largely mirrored a draft provided to him by Monsanto, attacked the scientists of the World Health Organization's cancer panel (IARC) for their decision to list Monsanto's top-selling chemical, glyphosate, as a probable human carcinogen.
"Monsanto asked Mr. Miller if he would be interested in writing an article on the topic, and he said, 'I would be if I could start from a high-quality draft.'
The article appeared under Mr. Miller's name, and with the assertion that 'opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.' The magazine did not mention any involvement by Monsanto in preparing the article …
Forbes removed the story from its website on Wednesday and said that it ended its relationship with Mr. Miller amid the revelations."
The opinion wire Project Syndicate followed suit, after first adding a disclaimer to Miller's commentaries noting that they would have been rejected if his collaboration with Monsanto had been known.
Desperate to Disparage Organic
The ghostwriting scandal has hardly slowed Miller down; he has continued to spin promotional content for the agrichemical industry from outlets such as Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, without disclosing to readers his relationship with Monsanto.
Yet the corporate collaboration seems clear; Miller's Newsweek hit on organic food has Monsanto's fingerprints in plain sight all over it.
For starters, Miller uses pesticide industry sources to make unsubstantiated (and ludicrous) claims about organic agriculture—for example, that organic farming is "actually more harmful to the environment" than conventional agriculture, or that organic allies spent $2.5 billion in a year campaigning against genetically engineered foods in North America.
The source on the latter inaccurate claim is Jay Byrne, a former director of corporate communications for Monsanto (not identified as such in the Newsweek article), who now directs a PR firm called v-Fluence Interactive.
Email exchanges reveal how Monsanto works with people like Jay Byrne—and with Byrne specifically—to push exactly this type of attack against Monsanto's foes while keeping corporate involvement a secret.
According to emails obtained by my group U.S. Right to Know, Byrne played a key role in helping Monsanto set up a corporate front group called Academics Review that published a report attacking the organic industry as a marketing scam—the exact theme in Miller's Newsweek article.
The concept of the front group—explained in the emails I reported here—was to create a credible-sounding platform from which academics could attack critics of the agrichemical industry, while secretly receiving funds from industry groups, and also claiming to be independent. Wink, wink, ha, ha.
"The key will be keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information," wrote a Monsanto executive involved in the plan.
Jay Byrne discusses plans to set up a corporate front group of academics with Monsanto's help.
Byrne's role, according to the emails, was to serve as a "commercial vehicle" to help obtain corporate funding. Byrne also said he was compiling an "opportunities" list of targets—critics of the agrichemical industry who could be "inoculated" from the academics' platform.
Several people on Byrne's "opportunities" list, or later attacked by Academics Review, were targets in Miller's Newsweek article, too.
Miller's Newsweek piece also tried to discredit the work of New York Times' reporter Danny Hakim, without disclosing that it was Hakim who exposed Miller's Monsanto ghostwriting scandal.
As with other recent attacks on the organic industry, all fingers point back to the agrichemical corporations that will lose the most if consumer demand continues to rise for foods free of GMOs and pesticides.
Monsanto's 'Independent Academic' Ruse
And Monsanto relies heavily on people with scientific credentials or neutral-sounding groups to make those arguments—people who are willing to communicate the company script, while claiming to be independent actors. This fact has been established by reporting in the New York Times, Le Monde, WBEZ, the Progressive and many other outlets in recent years.
A newly released Monsanto document provides more details about how Monsanto's propaganda and lobbying operation works, and the key role Henry Miller plays within it.
This 2015 "preparedness plan"—released by lawyers in the glyphosate cancer lawsuits—lays out Monsanto's PR strategy to "orchestrate outcry" against the IARC cancer scientists for their report on glyphosate. The first external deliverable: "Engage Henry Miller."
The plan goes on to name four tiers of "industry partners"—a dozen trade groups, academic groups and independent-seeming front groups such as the Genetic Literacy Project—that could help "inoculate" against the cancer report and "protect the reputation" of Roundup.
Miller delivered for Monsanto with a March 2015 article in Forbes—the article later revealed as Monsanto's writing—attacking the IARC scientists. The industry partners have been pushing the same arguments through various channels again and again, ever since, to try to discredit the cancer scientists.
Much of this criticism has appeared to the public as a spontaneous uprising of concern, with no mention of Monsanto's role as the composer and conductor of the narrative: a classic corporate PR hoodwink.
As more documents tumble into the public realm—via the Monsanto Papers and public records investigations—the "independent academic" ruse will become harder to maintain for industry PR writers such as Henry I. Miller, and for editors, journalists and policy makers to ignore.
For now, Newsweek is not backing down. Even after reviewing the documents that substantiate the facts in this article, Newsweek opinion editor Nicholas Wapshott wrote in an email, "I understand that you and Miller have a long history of dispute on this topic. He flatly denies your assertions."
Neither Miller nor Wapshott have responded to further questions.
Stacy Malkan is co-director of the consumer watchdog and transparency group, U.S. Right to Know. Disclosure: U.S. Right to Know is funded in part by the Organic Consumers Association which is mentioned in Miller's article and on Byrne's hit list.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
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