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Monsanto’s Fingerprints All Over Newsweek’s Opinion Piece, a Hit on Organic Food

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Retail Retell / Flickr

By Stacy Malkan

"The campaign for organic food is a deceitful, expensive scam," according to a Jan. 19 Newsweek article authored by Dr. Henry I. Miller of the Hoover Institution.

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.


Reporting on an email exchange released in litigation with Monsanto over cancer concerns, the Times' Danny Hakim wrote:

"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.

usrtk.org

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

Henry Miller has a long history of partnering with—and pitching his PR services to—corporations that need help convincing the public their products aren't dangerous and don't need to be regulated.

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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