Discrediting adversarial journalists and even a legendary rock star who had criticized the health hazards of roundup weedkiller. Silencing activists and alleged victims of the company's roundup weedkiller. These Harvey Weinsten-esque tactics were employed by Monsanto owner Bayer as part of a multipronged effort to discredit its critics.
Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who was targeted by Monsanto
The Guardian issued a lengthy report on Friday detailing Bayer's unsavory tactics to try and beat back the thousands of lawsuits claiming that Monsanto's signature "Roundup" weedkiller had caused cancer. Among these tactics, Monsanto even paid Google to promote search results critical of Gillam's work.
Here's a rundown of the company's tactics.
Monsanto planned a series of "actions" to attack a book authored by Gillam prior to its release, including writing "talking points" for "third parties" to criticize the book and directing "industry and farmer customers" on how to post negative reviews.
Monsanto paid Google to promote search results for "Monsanto Glyphosate Carey Gillam" that criticized her work. Monsanto PR staff also internally discussed placing sustained pressure on Reuters, saying they "continue to push back on [Gillam’s] editors very strongly every chance we get”, and that they were hoping “she gets reassigned."
Monsanto "fusion center" officials wrote a lengthy report about singer Neil Young’s anti-Monsanto advocacy, monitoring his impact on social media, and at one point considering "legal action." The fusion center also monitored US Right to Know (USRTK), a not-for-profit, producing weekly reports on the organization’s online activity.
Monsanto officials were repeatedly worried about the release of documents on their financial relationships with scientists that could support the allegations they were “covering up unflattering research”.
All of this is evidence of how Monsanto bullied critics and scientists in an effort to conceal the harmful qualities of glyphosate, a popular herbicide. In the last year, two US juries have ruled that Monsanto was liable for plaintiffs’ non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cancer, and ordered the corporation to pay significant sums to cancer patients. Bayer has continued to assert that glyphosate is safe.
But over the last year, two US juries have ruled that Monsanto is liable for plaintiffs’ diagnoses of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer, while ordering the company to pay large settlements. Bayer has continued to assert that glyphosate is safe, even denying reports that it was close to settling with thousands of plaintiffs who had filed lawsuits.
"I’ve always known that Monsanto didn’t like my work...and worked to pressure editors and silence me," Gillam, who is also a Guardian contributor and now USRTK’s research director, said in an interview. "But I never imagined a multi-billion dollar company would actually spend so much time and energy and personnel on me. It’s astonishing."
Gilliam, who wrote a book about how Monsanto twisted the science behind the weedkiller to make it appear more safe, pointed out that, despite receiving glowing reviews from critics, a Monsanto backed campaign attacked her credibility in Amazon reviews.
"This is my first book. It’s just been released. It’s got glowing reviews from professional book reviewers," she said. But on Amazon.
"They were saying horrible things about me...It was very upsetting but I knew it was fake and it was engineered by the industry. But I don’t know that other people knew that."
The Monsanto "Fusion Center" - the name of its internal counterintelligence organization - produced detailed graphs on the Twitter activity of rock musician Neil Young, who released an album in 2015 called the Monsanto Years. The center "evaluated the lyrics on his album to develop a list of 20+ potential topics he may target" and created a plan to "proactively produce content and response preparedness."
At one point, Monsanto officials were "closely monitoring discussions" about a concert featuring Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews.
"We have reached out to the legal team and are keeping them informed of Neil’s activities in case any legal action is appropriate," a representative from the group said in an email.
University of California Hastings law professor David Levine said he had not heard of any other private corporations running "fusion centers" like this, but that he wasn't surprised to learn about Monsanto's engagement of this type of intensive digital monitoring.
"It shows an abuse of their power that they have gained by having achieved such large sales," he added. "They’ve got so much money, and there is so much they are trying to protect."
Michael Baum, one of the attorneys who helped uncover the records, said they were "evidence of the reprehensible and conscious disregard of the rights and safety of others" and that they would support punitive damages for people who got cancer after using Roundup.