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."
One key weapon in industry's arsenal has been the reporting of Kate Kelland, a veteran Reuters reporter based in London.
With two industry-fed scoops and a special report, reinforced by her regular beat reporting, Kelland has aimed a torrent of critical reporting at the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), portraying the group and its scientists as out of touch and unethical, and leveling accusations about conflicts of interest and suppressed information in their decision-making.
The IARC working group of scientists did not conduct new research, but reviewed years of published and peer-reviewed research before concluding that there was limited evidence of cancer in humans from real-world exposures to glyphosate and "sufficient" evidence of cancer in studies on animals. IARC also concluded there was strong evidence of genotoxicity for glyphosate alone, as well as glyphosate used in formulations such as Monsanto's Roundup brand of herbicide, whose use has increased dramatically as Monsanto has marketed crop strains genetically modified to be "Roundup Ready."
But in writing about the IARC decision, Kelland has ignored much of the published research backing the classification, and focused on industry talking points and criticisms of the scientists in seeking to diminish their analysis. Her reporting has relied heavily on pro-industry sources, while failing to disclose their industry connections; contained errors that Reuters has refused to correct; and presented cherry-picked information out of context from documents she did not provide to her readers.
Raising further questions about her objectivity as a science reporter are Kelland's ties to the Science Media Centre (SMC), a controversial nonprofit PR agency in the UK that connects scientists with reporters, and gets its largest block of funding from industry groups and companies, including chemical industry interests.
SMC, which has been called "science's PR agency," launched in 2002 partly as an effort to tamp down news stories driven by groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, according to its founding report. SMC has been accused of playing down the environmental and human health risks of some controversial products and technologies, according to multiple researchers who have studied the group.
Kelland's bias in favor of the group is evident, as she appears in the SMC promotional video and the SMC promotional report, regularly attends SMC briefings, speaks at SMC workshops and attended meetings in India to discuss setting up an SMC office there.
Neither Kelland nor her editors at Reuters would respond to questions about her relationship with SMC, or to specific criticisms about her reporting.
Fiona Fox, director of SMC, said her group did not work with Kelland on her IARC stories or provide sources beyond those included in SMC's press releases. It is clear, however, that Kelland's reporting on glyphosate and IARC mirrors the views put forth by SMC experts and industry groups on those topics.
Reuters Takes on Cancer Scientist
On June 14, Reuters published a special report by Kelland accusing Aaron Blair, an epidemiologist from the U.S. National Cancer Institute and chair of the IARC panel on glyphosate, of withholding important data from its cancer assessment.
Kelland's story went so far as to suggest that the information supposedly withheld could have changed IARC's conclusion that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic. Yet the data in question was but a small subset of epidemiology data gathered through a long-term project known as the Agricultural Health Study (AHS). An analysis of several years of data about glyphosate from the AHS had already been published and was considered by IARC, but a newer analysis of unfinished, unpublished data was not considered, because IARC rules call for relying only on published data.
Kelland's thesis that Blair withheld crucial data was at odds with the source documents on which she based her story, but she did not provide readers with links to any of those documents, so readers could not check the veracity of the claims for themselves. Her bombshell allegations were then widely circulated, repeated by reporters at other news outlets (including Mother Jones) and immediately deployed as a lobbying tool by the agrichemical industry.
After obtaining the actual source documents, Carey Gillam, a former Reuters reporter and now research director of U.S Right to Know (the nonprofit group where I also work), laid out multiple errors and omissions in Kelland's piece.
The analysis provides examples of key claims in Kelland's article, including a statement supposedly made by Blair, that are not supported by the 300-page deposition of Blair conducted by Monsanto's attorneys, or by other source documents.
Kelland's selective presentation of the Blair deposition also ignored what contradicted her thesis—for example, Blair's many affirmations of research showing glyphosate's connections to cancer, as Gillam wrote in a Huffington Post article.
Kelland inaccurately described Blair's deposition and related materials as "court documents," implying they were publicly available; in fact, they were not filed in court, and presumably were obtained from Monsanto's attorneys or surrogates. (The documents were available only to attorneys involved in the case, and plaintiff's attorneys have said they did not provide them to Kelland.)
Reuters has refused to correct the errors in the piece, including the false claim about the origin of the source documents and an inaccurate description of a key source, statistician Bob Tarone, as "independent of Monsanto." In fact, Tarone had received a consultancy payment from Monsanto for his efforts to discredit IARC.
In response to a USRTK request to correct or retract the Kelland article, Reutersglobal enterprises editor Mike Williams wrote in a June 23 email:
We have reviewed the article and the reporting on which it was based. That reporting included the deposition to which you refer, but was not confined to it. The reporter, Kate Kelland, was also in contact with all the people mentioned in the story and many others, and studied other documents. In the light of that review, we do not consider the article to be inaccurate or to warrant retraction.
Williams declined to address the false citing of "court documents" or the inaccurate description of Tarone as an independent source.
Since then, the lobbying tool Reuters handed to Monsanto has grown legs and run wild. A June 24 editorial by the St. Louis Post Dispatch added errors on top of the already misleading reporting. By mid-July, right-wing blogs were using the Reuters story to accuse IARC of defrauding U.S. taxpayers, pro-industry news sites were predicting the story would be "the final nail in the coffin" of cancer claims about glyphosate, and a fake science news group was promoting Kelland's story on Facebook with a phony headline claiming that IARC scientists had confessed to a cover-up.
This was not the first time Kelland had relied on Bob Tarone as a key source, and failed to disclose his industry connections, in an article attacking IARC.
An April 2016 special investigation by Kelland, Who Says Bacon Is Bad?, portrayed IARC as a confusing agency that is bad for science. The piece was built largely on quotes from Tarone, two other pro-industry sources whose industry connections were also not disclosed, and one anonymous observer.
IARC's methods are "poorly understood," "do not serve the public well," sometimes lack scientific rigor, are "not good for science," "not good for regulatory agencies" and do the public "a disservice," the critics said.
The agency, Tarone said, is "naïve, if not unscientific"—an accusation emphasized with capital letters in a sub-headline.
Tarone works for the pro-industry International Epidemiology Institute, and was once involved with a controversial cell phone study, funded in part by the cell phone industry, that found no cancer connection to cell phones, contrary to independently funded studies of the same issue.
The other critics in Kelland's bacon story were Paulo Boffetta, a controversial ex-IARC scientist who wrote a paper defending asbestos while also receiving money to defend the asbestos industry in court; and Geoffrey Kabat, who once partnered with a tobacco industry-funded scientist to write a paper defending secondhand smoke.
Kabat also serves on the advisory board of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a corporate front group. The day the Reuters story hit, ACSH posted a blog item bragging that Kelland had used its advisor Kabat as a source to discredit IARC.
The industry connections of her sources, and their history of taking positions at odds with mainstream science, seems relevant, especially since the IARC bacon exposé was paired with a Kelland article about glyphosate that accused IARC advisor Chris Portier of bias because of his affiliation with an environmental group.
The conflict-of-interest framing served to discredit a letter, organized by Portier and signed by 94 scientists, that described "serious flaws" in a European Union risk assessment that exonerated glyphosate of cancer risk.
IARC Pushes Back
In October 2016, in another exclusive scoop, Kelland portrayed IARC as a secretive organization that had asked its scientists to withhold documents pertaining to the glyphosate review. The article was based on correspondence provided to Kelland by a pro-industry law group.
In response, IARC took the unusual step of posting Kelland's questions and the answers they had sent her, which provided context left out of the Reuters story.
IARC explained that Monsanto's lawyers were asking scientists to turn over draft and deliberative documents, and in light of the ongoing lawsuits against Monsanto, "the scientists felt uncomfortable releasing these materials, and some felt that they were being intimidated." The agency said they had faced similar pressure in the past to release draft documents to support legal actions involving asbestos and tobacco, and that there was an attempt to draw deliberative IARC documents into PCB litigation.
The story didn't mention those examples, or the concerns about draft scientific documents ending up in lawsuits, but the piece was heavy on critiques of IARC, describing it as a group "at odds with scientists around the world," which "has caused controversy" with cancer assessments that "can cause unnecessary health scares."
IARC has "secret agendas" and its actions were "ridiculous," according to a Monsanto executive quoted in the story.
IARC wrote in response (emphasis in original):
The article by Reuters follows a pattern of consistent but misleading reports about the IARC Monographs Programme in some sections of the media beginning after glyphosate was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans.
IARC also pushed back on Kelland's reporting about Blair, noting the conflict of interest with her source Tarone and explaining that IARC's cancer evaluation program does not consider unpublished data, and "does not base its evaluations on opinions presented in media reports," but on the "systematic assembly and review of all publicly available and pertinent scientific studies, by independent experts, free from vested interests."
PR Agency Narrative
The Science Media Centre—which Kelland has said has influenced her reporting—does have vested interests, and has also been criticized for pushing pro-industry science views. Current and past funders include Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Coca-Cola and food and chemical industry trade groups, as well as government agencies, foundations and universities.
As Kelland explained in the SMC promotional video, "By the end of a briefing, you understand what the story is and why it's important."
That is the point of the SMC effort: to signal to reporters whether stories or studies merit attention, and how they should be framed.
Sometimes, SMC experts downplay risk and offer assurances to the public about controversial products or technologies; for example, researchers have criticized SMC's media efforts on fracking, cell phone safety, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and genetically engineered foods.
SMC campaigns sometimes feed into lobbying efforts. A 2013 Nature article explained how SMC turned the tide on media coverage of animal/human hybrid embryos away from ethical concerns and toward their importance as a research tool—and thus stopped government regulations.
The media researcher hired by SMC to analyze the effectiveness of that campaign, Andy Williams of Cardiff University, came to see the SMC model as problematic, worrying that it stifled debate. Williams described SMC briefings as tightly managed events pushing persuasive narratives.
On the topic of glyphosate cancer risk, SMC offers a clear narrative in its press releases.
The IARC cancer classification, according to SMC experts, "failed to include critical data," was based on "a rather selective review" and on evidence that "appears a bit thin" and "overall does not support such a high-level classification." Monsanto and other industry groups promoted the quotes.
SMC experts had a much more favorable view of risk assessments conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which cleared glyphosate of human cancer concerns.
Kelland's reporting in Reuters echoes those pro-industry themes, and sometimes used the same experts, such as a November 2015 story about why European-based agencies gave contradictory advice about the cancer risk of glyphosate. Her story quoted two experts directly from an SMC release, then summarized their views:
In other words, IARC is tasked with highlighting anything that might in certain conditions, however rare, be able to cause cancer in people. EFSA, on the other hand, is concerned with real life risks and whether, in the case of glyphosate, there is evidence to show that when used in normal conditions, the pesticide poses an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.
Kelland included two brief reactions from environmentalists: Greenpeace called the EFSA review "whitewash," and Jennifer Sass from the Natural Resources Defense Council said IARC's review was "a much more robust, scientifically defensible and public process involving an international committee of non-industry experts." (An NRDC statement on glyphosate put it this way: "IARC Got It Right, EFSA Got It From Monsanto").
Kelland's story followed up the environmental group comments with "critics of IARC ... say its hazard identification approach is becoming meaningless for consumers, who struggle to apply its advice to real life," and ends with quotes from a scientist who "declares an interest as having acted as a consultant for Monsanto."
When asked about the criticisms of pro-industry bias of the SMC, Fox responded:
We listen carefully to any criticism from the scientific community or news journalists working for UK media, but we do not receive criticism of pro-industry bias from these stakeholders. We reject the charge of pro-industry bias, and our work reflects the evidence and views of the 3,000 eminent scientific researchers on our database. As an independent press office focusing on some of the most controversial science stories, we fully expect criticism from groups outside mainstream science.
Scientific experts do not always disclose their conflicts of interest in news releases issued by SMC, nor in their high-profile roles as decision-makers about the cancer risk of chemicals like glyphosate.
Frequent SMC expert Alan Boobis, professor of biochemical pharmacology at Imperial College London, offers views in SMC releases on aspartame ("not a concern"), glyphosate in urine (no concern), insecticides and birth defects ("premature to draw conclusions"), alcohol, GMO corn, trace metals, lab rodent diets and more.
The ECHA decision that glyphosate is not a carcinogen "is to be congratulated," according to Boobis, and the IARC decision that it is probably carcinogenic "is not a cause for undue alarm," because it did not take into account how pesticides are used in the real world.
Boobis declared no conflicts of interest in the IARC release or any of the earlier SMC releases that carry his quotes. But he then sparked a conflict-of-interest scandal when news broke that he held leadership positions with the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a pro-industry group, at the same time he co-chaired a UN panel that found glyphosate unlikely to pose a cancer riskthrough diet. (Boobis is currently chair of the ILSI Board of Trustees, and vice president ad interim of ILSI/Europe).
ILSI has received six-figure donations from Monsanto and CropLife International, the pesticide trade association. Professor Angelo Moretto, who co-chaired the UN panel on glyphosate along with Boobis, also held a leadership role in ILSI. Yet the panel declared no conflicts of interest.
Kelland did not report on those conflicts, though she did write about the findings of the "UN experts" who exonerated glyphosate of cancer risk, and she once recycled a Boobis quote from an SMC press release for an article about tainted Irish pork. (The risk to consumers was low).
When asked about the SMC conflict of interest disclosure policy, and why Boobis' ISLI connection was not disclosed in SMC releases, Fox responded:
We ask all researchers we use to provide their COIs and proactively make those available to journalists. In line with several other COI policies, we are unable to investigate every COI, though we welcome journalists doing so.
Boobis could not be reached for comment, but told the Guardian, "My role in ILSI (and two of its branches) is as a public sector member and chair of their boards of trustees, positions which are not remunerated."
But the conflict "sparked furious condemnation from green MEPs and NGOs," the Guardian reported, "intensified by the [UN panel] report's release two days before an EU relicensing vote on glyphosate, which will be worth billions of dollars to industry."
And so goes it with the tangled web of influence involving corporations, science experts, media coverage and the high-stakes debate about glyphosate, now playing out on the world stage as Monsanto faces lawsuits over the chemical due to cancer claims, and seeks to complete a $66 billion deal with Bayer.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., as Bloomberg reported on July 13: Does the World's Top Weed Killer Cause Cancer? Trump's EPA Will Decide.
Basak Gurbuz Derman / Moment / Getty Images
Your body's immune system is the natural, front line defense to protect you against harmful pathogens and infections. You can boost the effectiveness of your immune system through diet and exercise, but did you know that certain multivitamins can aid your immune system and promote general wellness? Here are our recommendations of the top supplements to help boost your immune system.
What is the Immune System?
There are two main aspects to the immune system: the innate and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is one you are born with, and it is the body's rapid response system. It works to attack antigens or invaders in the body. The adaptive or acquired immune system builds antibodies to protect your body from certain microbes, or germs, it encounters in the environment.
Did you know that your immune system keeps track of each germ it has ever defeated? This way, if your body encounters a germ it has fought in its immune system before, it can recognize and protect your body from it more effectively.
Your immune system's memory of the germs it encounters is stored in white blood cells. The white blood cells move through the blood and tissue in your body and attack harmful invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
Fortunately, you can support and improve the effectiveness of your immune system by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, and getting a proper amount of sleep. Taking melatonin can help you get better sleep, which will in turn support immune health.
A daily vitamin subscription is a great way to promote overall wellness, which includes your immune system. Your skin also plays a role in your immune system, and you can take certain vitamins and supplements for dry skin to help it stay hydrated and healthy. Additionally, the microbiome found in your digestive system is important to proper immune function. Probiotics and digestive enzymes can both help improve your digestion and boost your immune system.
Our Top 5 Supplements to Boost Immune Health
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
- Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health - GEM Immunity Support
- Best Probiotic for Immune Health - Care/of Pocket Protector
- Best Gummies for Immune Health - Bulletproof Immune Gummies
- Best Immune Spray - Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
- Best for Vitamin C - NutraOne Immune One
- Best Zinc Supplement - Global Healing Liquid Zinc
- Best Herbal Option- Vital Plan Daily Herbal Supplement
Vitamins and Minerals that Support the Immune System
It's no secret that certain vitamins and supplements can aid your immune system to fight off potentially harmful infections. Here are some that stand out.
- Elderberry: There are around 30 different types of elder plants and trees globally. Sambucus nigra is the type that helps with healing and immune health. Elderberry consists of many vitamins and antioxidants.
- Vitamin C: Your body doesn't naturally produce Vitamin C. However, it has proven to have immense health benefits. Vitamin C helps the immune system's white blood cell production.
- Zinc: This supplement helps produce new immune system cells in your body.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps to regulate the body's immune system.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant is fat-soluble and helps protect cells from harmful 'free radicals' which are unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells; this response can lead to illness.
- Reishi mushrooms: There are three molecules in reishi mushrooms that are responsible for their health effects: triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans. Studies have found that reishi mushrooms may be able to change the inflammation pathways in white blood cells.
Best Overall: Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
These Nested Naturals Elderberry gummies include a vegan blend of vitamin C and Zinc to ensure thriving immune health. The blend of elderberry extract, vitamin C, and zinc can also provide wellness during travel and during the change of seasons.Why buy: We like these Elderberry gummies because they contain around 100 mg of elderberry extract per gummy, and are vegan, gluten-free, and go through a four-part lab testing process. They also taste great and contain less than a gram of sugar each.
Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health: GEM Immunity Support
GEM Immunity Essentials daily vitamin bites are an easy and delicious way to help boost your immune system. Each vitamin bite is made with real food ingredients including turmeric, pumpkin seeds, black pepper, chicory root, ginger root, stone fruit, oranges, and lemons.
Why buy: We love that these GEM vitamin chews provide a complete immune-boosting vitamin profile from natural, plant-based ingredients. GEM also offers a sustainable subscription model that sends you a reusable tin with your first order and refills in compostable pouches.
Best Probiotic for Immune Health: Care/of Pocket Protector
Care/of Pocket Protector is a travel-ready probiotic powder that allows you to boost your immune system anywhere, anytime. It contains 3 billion CFUs of good bacteria strains for your gut to help support proper immune system functioning.
Why buy: We like that this probiotic powder is designed for on-the-go immune support, and that it comes in a red berry flavor. This immune-boosting probiotic powder is also non-GMO, gluten-free, and vegetarian.
Best Gummies for Immune Health: Bulletproof Immune Gummies
If you don't like swallowing pills or powders, try these Bulletproof Immune Gummies instead. They contain key nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, elderberry extract, and echinacea extract to support your immune system in a sugar-free Raspberry and Elderberry flavor.
Why buy: We like that these vitamin gummies for immune support contain high concentrations of vitamin C and zinc. They are also vegan and sugar-free, with only 5 calories per gummy, but taste great from natural flavors and stevia-leaf extract.
Best Immune Spray: Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
A unique way to boost your immune system, Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray harnesses the power of bee propolis extract. This is a substance bees make out of tree and plant resins to help protect their hive from germs and infections, and it contains over 300 different nutrients, antioxidants, and minerals.
Why buy: We like that this spray offers a fast and natural way to help enhance your immune system. You can also use it to soothe a sore throat. It's made from all-natural ingredients and is certified keto and paleo-friendly.
Best for Vitamin C: NutraOne ImmuneOne
5 Star Nutrition has an array of quality vitamins, minerals, and supplements. For immune health, we recommend the ImmuneOne supplement. It's formulated with vitamin C, elderberry, and echinacea to help improve overall wellness, with the added benefit of supporting lung health.Why buy: ImmuneOne includes 1000 mg of vitamin C, as well as elderberry, Zinc, and vitamin A. We like that this supplement is made with natural ingredients like cinnamon, echinacea, and ginseng, without any artificial additives.
Best Zinc Supplement: Global Healing Liquid Zinc
Every cell in your body uses Zinc, and it's an effective mineral to boost your immune system. It also helps the digestive system, and even encourages cell growth. Zinc is also great for skin complexion, sexual health, and supporting normal blood sugar.
Why buy: Global Healing Plant-Based Zinc is vegan, certified USDA organic, gluten-free, and is not tested on animals. We like that this Zinc is plant based and all natural. The Zinc is extracted from organic guava leaves, and comes with a one-year money-back guarantee.
Best Herbal Option: Vital Plan Daily Herbal
The Daily Herbal blend by Vital Plan is a unique herbal supplement created by Dr. Bill Rawls. His formula "works at the cellular level to address the modern-day stress factors associated with accelerated aging." The blend includes medicinal mushrooms, as well as Rhodiola and Turmeric extract.Why buy: Daily Herbal includes five adaptogenic ingredients designed to support cell resilience, immune response, and microbiome balance. It can also boost energy and endurance because of the Rhodiola extract. The product is gluten and dairy free, and is also tested at a third-party lab for ingredient purity verification.
How to Choose an Immune Supplement or Multivitamin
There are a few key aspects to look out for when shopping for immune supplements. Below is a list of what to look for when shopping for a supplement to help boost your immune system.
What to Look For
When comparing different brands of immune supplements, look for these things before you buy.
Clinical Research: Many immune supplements will inform you if they're clinically researched formulas, or formulated by doctors.
Transparency: Some supplement brands list all of the vitamins and minerals they use in the formula of their supplement. It's important to know exactly what you're ingesting, and where it came from.
Lab Testing: To guarantee what you're consuming is pure, and safe, look too see if a brand had their product tested at a third-party lab.
Non-Artificial Ingredients: Immune supplements with natural, non-artificial ingredients that are plant-derived or organic are always a good choice. If the brand uses animal products, check to see that they are sourced ethically and sustainably.
How to Read Labels
When reading the label of your supplement, be sure to notice the serving size. Oftentimes, the recommended serving size for a supplement is larger than simply taking one capsule or multivitamin. Some labels will specify the best time of day to take the supplement as well. Also take note of the ingredient list, and how much of the recommended daily intake it fulfills for certain vitamins and nutrients
It's also important to double check that the supplement was tested in a third-party lab for safety and quality. Note if the supplement is non-GMO, vegan, or gluten free. Many supplements will also tell you if it is free from certain allergens like soy and dairy.
Safety & Side Effects
Ingesting the right oral immune boosting supplements may be beneficial to your overall health. However, there are a few minor side effects to be aware of. Some common side effects of immune boosting supplements may include:
- Intense abdominal pain
Other, infrequent side effects may include:
- Pain in arms or legs
- Chest pain
- Abdominal bloating
Sometimes, when certain vitamins are ingested without food can cause stomach pain. Be sure to read the label to see if you should take an immune supplement with food and to be sure that you do not take more than the recommended amount. Most side effects from vitamin supplements are a result of taking too much at one time.
Certain vitamin and mineral supplements can interact with prescription medications. If you take prescription medicines, or are undergoing prescribed treatment for a condition, consult with your doctor before taking any additional supplements.
There are number of ways to help boost wellness and support a healthy immune system, and adding an extra immune-boosting supplement may help. Use our guide to find the best multivitamin or supplement to boost your immune system, and learn whether or not you should consider a supplement for immune health.
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.