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GMO

How Monsanto Manufactured 'Outrage' at Chemical Cancer Classification It Expected

By Carey Gillam

Three years ago this month Monsanto executives realized they had a big problem on their hands.

It was September 2014 and the company's top-selling chemical, the weed killer called glyphosate that is the foundation for Monsanto's branded Roundup products, had been selected as one among a handful of pesticides to undergo scrutiny by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monsanto had spent decades fending off concerns about the safety of glyphosate and decrying scientific research indicating the chemical might cause cancer or other diseases. And even though the IARC review was still months away, Monsanto's own scientists knew what the outcome would likely be—and they knew it wouldn't be good.

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Collusion or Coincidence? Records Show EPA Slowed Glyphosate Review in Coordination With Monsanto

By Carey Gillam

Newly released government email communications show a persistent effort by multiple officials within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to slow a separate federal agency's safety review of Monsanto's top-selling herbicide. Notably, the records demonstrate that the EPA efforts came at the behest of Monsanto, and that EPA officials were helpful enough to keep the chemical giant updated on their progress.

The communications, most of which were obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, show that it was early 2015 when the EPA and Monsanto began working in concert to stall a toxicology review that a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was conducting on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's branded Roundup herbicide products. The details revealed in the documents come as Monsanto is defending itself against allegations that it has tried to cover up evidence of harm with its herbicides.

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Mike Mozart / Flickr

Internal EPA Documents Show Scramble for Data on Monsanto’s Roundup

By Carey Gillam

As agrochemical giant Monsanto Co. faces a growing wave of U.S. lawsuits over its top-selling Roundup herbicide line, among its key defense arguments is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long backed the safety of the weed-killing products.

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'Secret Docs' Show Monsanto's Attempt to Influence Writers, Bribe Scientists

By Jessica Corbett

A trove of Monsanto's internal records released on Tuesday raises serious concerns about company efforts to influence media reports and scientific research related to risks posed by is popular weedkiller, Roundup.

As the New York Times reported:

Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes's website in 2015. Mr. Miller could not be reached for comment.

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Are Corporate Ties Influencing Reuters Science Coverage?

By Stacy Malkan

Ever since they classified the world's most widely used herbicide as "probably carcinogenic to humans," a team of international scientists at the World Health Organization's (WHO) cancer research group have been under withering attack by the agrichemical industry and its surrogates.

In a front-page series, The Monsanto Papers, the French newspaper Le Monde described the attacks as "the pesticide giant's war on science," and reported, "to save glyphosate, the firm [Monsanto] undertook to harm the United Nations agency against cancer by all means."

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Koch-Connected Dark Money Funds Much More Than Climate Denial

By Stacy Malkan

British writer George Monbiot has a warning for those of us trying to grasp the new political realities in the U.S. and the UK: "We have no hope of understanding what is coming until we understand how the dark money network operates," he wrote in the Guardian.

Corporate America may have been slow to warm up to President Trump, but once Trump secured the nomination, "the big money began to recognize an unprecedented opportunity," Monbiot wrote. "His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it."

This network, or dark money ATM as Mother Jones described it, refers to the vast amount of hard-to-trace money flowing from arch-conservative billionaires, such as Charles and David Koch and allies, and corporations into front groups that promote extreme free-market ideas—for example, fights against public schools, unions, environmental protection, climate change policies and science that threatens corporate profits.

Investigative writers Jane Mayer, Naomi Oreskes, Erik Conway and others have exposed how "the story of dark money and the story of climate change denial are the same story: two sides of the same coin," as U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse described it last year in a speech.

The strategies of the "Koch-led, influence-buying operation"—including propaganda operations that spin science with no regard for the truth—"are probably the major reason we don't have a comprehensive climate bill in Congress," Whitehouse said.

While these strategies have been well-tracked in the climate sphere, less reported is the fact that the funders behind climate-science denial also bankroll a network of PR operatives who have built careers spinning science to deny the health risks of toxic chemicals in the food we eat and products we use every day.

The stakes are high for our nation's health. Rates of childhood cancer are now 50 percent higher than when the "war on cancer" began decades ago and the best weapon is one we are hardly using: policies to limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

"If we want to win the war on cancer, we need to start with the thousand physical and chemical agents evaluated as possible, probable or known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization," wrote scientist and author Devra Lee Davis, PhD, MPH, in The Hill.

Reducing known agents of harm has had "less to do with science and more to do with the power of highly profitable industries that rely on public relations to counteract scientific reports of risks," Davis noted.

Chemical Industry Propagandists

When products important to the chemical and junk food industries run into trouble with science, a predictable cast of characters and groups appear on the scene, using well-worn media strategies to bail out corporations in need of a PR boost.

Their names and the tactics they use—lengthy adversarial articles, often framed by personal attacks—will be familiar to many scientists, journalists and consumer advocates who have raised concerns about toxic products over the past 15 years.

Public records requests by U.S. Right to Know that have unearthed thousands of documents, along with recent reports by Greenpeace, the Intercept and others, are shining new light on this propaganda network.

Key players include Jon Entine, Trevor Butterworth, Henry I. Miller and groups connected with them: STATS, Center for Media and Public Affairs, Genetic Literacy Project, Sense About Science and the Hoover Institute.

Despite well-documented histories as PR operatives, Entine, Butterworth and Miller are presented as serious science sources on many media platforms, appearing in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Philadelphia Enquirer, Harvard Business Review and, most often, Forbes—without disclosure of their funding sources or agenda to deregulate the polluting industries that promote them.

Their articles rank high in Google searches for many of the chemical and junk food industry's top messaging priorities—pushing the narratives that GMOs, pesticides, plastic chemicals, sugar and sugar substitutes are safe and anyone who says otherwise is "anti-science."

In some cases, they are even gaining in influence as they align with establishment institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cornell University and the University of California, Davis.

Yet their funding sources trace back to the same "ultra free market" ideologues from oil, pharmaceutical and chemical fortunes who are financing climate science denial—Searle Freedom Trust, Scaife Foundations, John Templeton Foundation and others identified as among the largest and most consistent funders of climate-change-denial groups, according to a 2013 study by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, PhD.

Those seeking to understand the dark money network's policy goals for dismantling health protections for our food system would do well to keep an eye on these modern propagandists and their messaging.

Jon Entine—Genetic Literacy Project / STATS

Jon Entine, a former journalist, presents himself as an objective authority on science. Yet ample evidence suggests he is a longtime public relations operative with deep ties to chemical companies plagued with questions about health risks.

Over the years, Entine has attacked scientists, professors, funders, lawmakers and journalists who have raised concerns about fracking, nuclear power, pesticides and industrial chemicals used in baby bottles and children's toys. A 2012 Mother Jones story by Tom Philpott describes Entine as an "agribusiness apologist" and Greenpeace details his history on their Polluter Watch website.

Entine is now director of the Genetic Literacy Project, a group that promotes genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The site claims to be neutral, but "it's clearly designed to promote a pro-industry position and doesn't try to look neutrally at the issues," said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

"The message is that genetic engineering is good and anybody who criticizes it is a horrible ideologue, but that's just not indicative of where the scientific debate actually is."

Entine claims, for example, that the "scientific consensus on GMO safety is stronger than for global warming"—a claim contradicted by the World Health Organization, which states it is not possible to make general statements about GMO safety and by hundreds of scientists who have said there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.

The Genetic Literacy Project also has not been transparent about its connections to Monsanto. As one example, the site published several pro-GMO academic papers that emails later revealed were assigned to professors by a Monsanto executive who provided talking points for the papers and promised to pump them out all over the internet.

Another example: Genetic Literacy Project partners with Academics Review on the Biotechnology Literacy Project, pro-industry conferences that train scientists and journalists on how to "best engage the GMO debate with a skeptical public."

Academics Review, which published a report in 2014 attacking the organic industry, presents itself as an independent group, but emails revealed it was set up with the help of a Monsanto executive who promised to find funding "while keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information." Emails also showed that Academics Review co-founder Bruce Chassy had been receiving undisclosed funds from Monsanto via the University of Illinois Foundation.

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Does Glyphosate Cause Cancer? EPA Panel Meets to Find Out

From Dec. 13 - 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to evaluate "the carcinogenic potential of the herbicide glyphosate," the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup.

For years, Monsanto has claimed that glyphosate is safe. Advertising at one time that Roundup was "safer than table salt" and "practically non-toxic."

However, many studies contradict Monsanto's assertions. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, concluded that glyphosate is a "probable human carcinogen." Then in July 2016, an IARC scientist, Dr. Kurt Straif, defended the agency's assessment that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans. Dr. Straif stated that:

"Our evaluation was a review of all the published scientific literature on glyphosate and this was done by the world's best experts on the topic that in addition don't have any conflicts of interest that could bias their assessment.

"They concluded that, yes, glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans based on three strings of evidence, that is clear evidence of cancer in experimental animals, limited evidence for cancer for humans from real-world exposures, of exposed farmers, and also strong evidence that it can damage the genes from any kind of other toxicological studies."

The SAP meetings now taking place were originally scheduled for mid-October, but the EPA postponed them only a few of days before they were to begin due to "changes in the availability of experts for the peer review panel."

According to Carey Gillam, research director for U.S. Right to Know, the EPA's decision to postpone the meetings came after an intense lobbying campaign led by CropLife America, which represents the interests of Monsanto and other agricultural businesses. CropLife initially fought to keep the SAP meetings from happening at all, then said if the meetings were to be held, "any person who has publicly expressed an opinion regarding the carcinogenicity of glyphosate" should be excluded from participating.

In a letter to the EPA, CropLife singled out epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante, who the lobbying firm felt should be "replaced with an epidemiologist without such patent bias." As the only epidemiologist slated to be on the panel, the CropLife felt that Dr. Infante may have had enhanced influence on the epidemiological evaluation on glyphosate.

Dr. Infante has testified on behalf of plaintiffs suing Monsanto over chemical exposure. Nonetheless, Dr. Infante is one of the leading experts in his field, having spent the better part of a storied career protecting the public from harmful chemicals.

Dr. Infante spent 24 years working for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, where he determined cancer risks to those working on developing toxic chemicals, including arsenic, asbestos and formaldehyde. He has also served as an expert epidemiology consultant for a number of world bodies, including the World Trade Organization and the EPA.

CropLife's letter to the EPA was sent two days before the agency announced that the glyphosate meetings would be postponed. Many accused the EPA of kowtowing to lobbyists and the businesses they represent. The accusations only grew louder when Dr. Infante's name was no longer on the list of panelists scheduled for the December meetings.

Dr. Infante told Delta FarmPress that he was "mystified" by the EPA's decision to remove him from the meetings. "I didn't choose to leave the panel," he said. "No … I was removed from the panel. I'm totally mystified by it."

The EPA's move was also surprising to environmental advocacy groups, who say it is highly unusual for the agency to remove a panelist from a Scientific Advisory Panel.

"The industry wants to say that our own government scientists, the top ones in their fields, aren't good enough for these panels," said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at the Consumers Union, after the SAP meetings were postponed in October. "If the EPA wants to add extra epidemiologists that is great but why didn't they do it before? They are doing this because of pressure from industry."

According to Gillam, "the delay and the maneuvering by industry to influence panel participation does little to bolster consumer confidence for the likelihood of an objective outcome."

The EPA said it will issue a risk assessment for glyphosate by spring of 2017.

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Trump Picks 'Puppet' for Special Interests Mike Pompeo to Head CIA

By Carey Gillam

News that President-elect Donald Trump has asked U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo to be CIA director shows just how dark the days ahead might be for America's burgeoning food movement, which has been advocating for more transparency and fewer pesticides in food production.

Mike Pompeo has shown himself to be a "puppet" for special interests

Pompeo, a Republican from the farm state of Kansas, was the designated hitter for Monsanto and the other Big Ag chemical and seed players in 2014 when the industry rolled out a federal effort to block states from mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. Pompeo introduced the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act" in April of that year with the intention of overriding bills in roughly two dozen states.

In bringing the bill forward, Pompeo was acting on behalf the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents the interests of the nation's largest food and beverage companies. The bill, which critics called the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" Act, or the "DARK Act," went through two years of controversy and compromise before a version passed and was signed into law by President Obama this summer. The law nullified a mandatory labeling bill set to take effect in Vermont in July of this year, and it offered companies options to avoid stating on their packaging whether or not a product contained GMO ingredients.

Pompeo has shown himself to be a "puppet" for special interests. If he accepts Trump's offer to head the CIA, it could spell a significant setback for consumers, according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

"The worst choice I can think of," Kimbrell said of Pompeo. "Far from draining the swamp, Pompeo is the ultimate "swamp" creature. He is little more than a puppet for the big chemical and biotech companies."

Consumer groups have pushed for mandatory labeling for years because of concerns that genetically engineered crops on the market now carry potential and actual risks for human health and the environment. A chief concern has to do with the fact that most GMO crops are sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. The World Health Organization has declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and residues of glyphosate are increasingly being detected in commonly consumed foods.

The Trump transition team answer for those consumer concerns about pesticides doesn't look reassuring either. Trump has named Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead transition efforts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That's happy news for the agrichemical industry because Ebell appears to be a big fan of pesticides. His group's SAFEChemicalPolicy.org website champions the safety and benefits of chemicals used in agriculture and elsewhere, and discounts research that indicates harm.

"The EPA is supposed to protect us from dangerous chemicals, not defend them, as Ebell would almost certainly do if he ran the agency," the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement.

GMO

Alarming Levels of Glyphosate Found in Popular American Foods

By Carey Gillam

Independent tests on an array of popular American food products found many samples contained residue levels of the weed killer glyphosate. The nonprofit organizations behind the tests—Food Democracy Now and The Detox Project—released a report Monday that details the findings. The groups are calling for corporate and regulatory action to address consumer safety concerns.

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