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Makers of Roundup paid ACSH front group to hide evidence

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

chemical giant paid an industry front group

Story at-a-glance -

  • Internal emails show that Monsanto paid an industry front group for the favor of publishing pro-glyphosate media, right around the time the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined it to be a probable carcinogen
  • The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is a nonprofit organization that claims to be independent but is really an industry front group
  • In the emails, Dr. Daniel Goldstein, the head of medical sciences and outreach at Monsanto, wrote to colleagues about ACSH’s value to the company, stating there was “some money set aside for IARC” and Monsanto “should go ahead and make a contribution” pointing out that ACSH had “dozens of pro-GMO and glyphosate postings” in the prior year
  • Monsanto emails stated the company would contribute to ACSH, adding “definitely count us in!!”; No dollar amount is given, so it’s unclear just how much Monsanto paid for ACSH’s continued defenses
  • ACSH attacked IARC’s findings as “scientific fraud” and called the cancer agency a “fringe group, seemingly more interested in scaring people than identifying actual health threats”

Monsanto's new owner, Bayer, has been slammed with judgments in the first three Roundup lawsuits to go to trial. The verdicts, which have sided with plaintiffs in all cases so far, have found not only that Roundup herbicide caused the plaintiffs' cancers but also that Monsanto engaged in malice, oppression or fraud in their attempts to cover up Roundup's toxicity.1

Some of the evidence brought to light during the trials has been particularly eye-opening, including internal emails showing that Monsanto paid an industry front group for the favor of publishing pro-glyphosate media, right around the time the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined it to be a probable carcinogen.2

Monsanto paid front group for glyphosate-favorable content

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is a nonprofit organization that claims to be a "pro-science consumer advocacy organization" with the focus of publically supporting "evidence-based science and medicine." Their website states:3

"We do not represent any industry. We were created to be the science alternative to "news" that is often little more than hype based on exaggerated findings. We help policymakers see past scaremongers and activist groups who have targeted GMOs, vaccines, conventional agriculture, nuclear power, natural gas, and 'chemicals,' while peddling health scares and fad diets.

We fight back against activists who have attacked the credibility of the overwhelming consensus of academic and private sector scientists who dispute their claims, undermining the integrity of the scientific enterprise."

ACSH also claims to be funded mostly by readers, but their financial statements do not reveal who, exactly, their more than $1 million in yearly revenue comes from.4 In 2015, however, internal emails revealed that Monsanto contributed to ACSH, with impeccable timing, as IARC's glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) was set to be released.

The emails were first revealed as evidence during Dewayne Johnson's Roundup lawsuit. The trial, the first to be heard, ended with Monsanto being ordered to pay $289 million in damages to Johnson, although the award was later reduced to $78 million.

The evidence made another appearance during the third Roundup case, in which a married couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, claimed they both developed Non-Hodgkin lymphoma after regular use of Roundup. The jury decided in the Pilliods' favor, ordering the chemical giant to pay $2 billion to its victims.

In the emails, Dr. Daniel Goldstein, the head of medical sciences and outreach at Monsanto, wrote to colleagues about ACSH's value to the company, stating there was "some money set aside for IARC" and Monsanto "should go ahead and make a contribution" pointing out that they had "dozens of pro-GMO and glyphosate postings" in the prior year.5 The colleagues still weren't convinced, so Goldstein then wrote:6

"While I would love to have more friends and more choices, we don't have a lot of supporters and can't afford to lose the few we have … You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH: They are working with us to respond if needed to IARC …"

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Days before IARC's ruling, ACSH asks for Monsanto's support

IARC's report determining glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was released in March 2015. Just days prior, Gilbert Ross of ACSH (who spent time in prison for defrauding New York's Medicaid program of about $8 million7) wrote to Goldstein, requesting Monsanto's support and stating:8

"… However it does get frustrating at times when we feel as though we can't count on the unrestricted support of a company like Monsanto — whose products and technologies are constantly vilified by activists groups but heralded by ACSH … As our revered, departed president Beth Whelan would often lament on these occasions, "If a company like X (X = Monsanto in this case) won't support us, then who will?"

In response, Goldstein states that Monsanto will contribute to ACSH, adding "definitely count us in!!" No dollar amount is given, so it's unclear just how much Monsanto paid for ACSH's continued defenses, but even a cursory glance at their site suggests it has worked in Monsanto's favor.

ACSH attacked IARC's findings as "scientific fraud," going so far as to call the cancer agency a "fringe group, seemingly more interested in scaring people than identifying actual health threats."9 ACSH has articles defending glyphosate's safety in terms of cancer, for bees and even in your food.10

"If You Accept Science, You Accept Roundup Does Not Cause Cancer," one article reads.11 Yet, more than 13,400 cases are currently pending against Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in 2018 for about $63 billion, alleging that Monsanto's Roundup caused the plaintiffs' cancer and the company failed to warn consumers about cancer risks.

As mentioned, in the first three cases to go to trial, jury verdicts have overwhelmingly favored the plaintiffs, leaving Bayer saddled with billions in damages.

ACSH internal documents reveal heavy corporate funding

In 2013, leaked ACSH documents12 obtained by Mother Jones, an investigative nonprofit news organization, showed ACSH, while claiming to be independent, relies heavily on corporate funding as well as directly "solicits donations from these industry sources around specific issues."13

From July 2012 to December 2012, 58 percent of the group's donations came from corporations and large private foundations, including Syngenta, 3M, tobacco giant Altria, Bayer Cropscience, Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola and more.

"ACSH's donors and the potential backers the group has been targeting comprise a who's-who of energy, agriculture, cosmetics, food, soda, chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco corporations," Mother Jones reported, explaining:14

"From the start, ACSH has faced questions about its funding … By the early 1980s, ACSH's donors included Dow, Monsanto, American Cyanamid, Mobil Foundation, Chevron, and Bethlehem Steel.

In 1984, Georgia-Pacific, a leading formaldehyde maker, funded a friend-of-the-court brief filed by ACSH in an industry-backed lawsuit that overturned a ban on formaldehyde insulation … Initially, ACSH disclosed its donors, and it was obvious that the group embraced numerous causes connected to its funders.

ACSH defended the chemical Alar, used to regulate the growth of apples — and accepted donations from Uniroyal, which manufactured and sold Alar. It also opposed new mandatory nutrition labeling requirements — and pocketed money from Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg Co., Nestle USA, and the National Soft Drink Association."

Further, ACSH is just one front group that's funded by Monsanto for the purpose of spreading positive PR about its deadly products. In one Roundup trial, plaintiffs' attorneys said in a briefing:15,16

"Monsanto quietly funnels money to 'think tanks' such as the 'Genetic Literacy Project' and the 'American Council on Science and Health,' organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.

… The Court, and certainly the attorneys here, will recall similar 'institutes' and 'academies' funded by the tobacco industry in the past. Neither GLP nor ACSH list Monsanto as donors/supporters; but Monsanto cannot deny it funds them."

Meanwhile, despite the clear corporate funding and industry bias, USA Today continues to publish columns by ACSH, without disclosing their corporate funding.

In 2017, in a letter to the editors of USA Today, more than two dozen doctors and health, environmental, labor and public interest groups called on the news outlet to stop publishing ACSH content or at least require that it be identified for what it truly is,17 but so far they have declined to do so.18

Monsanto hides behind American Chemistry Council

Monsanto allocated about $17 million in one year to discredit IARC scientists who spoke out against glyphosate. The information came from a deposition of Monsanto executive Sam Murphey, who now works for Bayer. U.S. Right to Know revealed:19

"… [I]mmediately after the IARC classification of glyphosate — and continuing to this day — the cancer scientists became the subject of sweeping condemnation from an assortment of organizations, individuals and even some U.S. lawmakers."

The company was so intent on pushing glyphosate's supposed safety that in January 2017, the American Chemistry Council (of which Monsanto is a member) formed a front group called Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research (CAPHR),20 the express purpose of which is to discredit the IARC and seek to reform the IARC Monographs Program, which evaluates and determines the carcinogenicity of chemicals.21 According to CAPHR:22

"In particular, CAPHR promotes reform of the International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) Monographs Program and brings to light the deficiencies, misinformation, and consequences associated with its work.

In doing so, CAPHR seeks to challenge the troubling practice of producing questionable scientific evaluations and promoting those evaluations as the basis for unjustified public policy or commercial decisions."

Monsanto also demanded IARC members turn over documents related to glyphosate while calling the IARC findings "junk science."23 It's well worth noting that the IARC's scientists are considered elite independent experts, culled from well-respected institutions all over the world.

Some of the IARC members who worked on the glyphosate findings said they felt "intimidated" by the backlash but stated they would not back down, even in the face of industry assault.24

Murphey also suggested that a Reuters reporter write an article accusing the chairman of the IARC working group on glyphosate of concealing data. The reporter wrote the story, which was picked up by media outlets around the globe, even though the allegations against the IARC chairman were false.25

Monsanto 'hit list' revealed

Monsanto, in covering all their bases, also compiled hundreds of names and other personal information about journalists, politicians and scientists, including their opinions about pesticides and genetic engineering.26

Monsanto's so-called "stakeholder mapping project"27 was first uncovered in France, but now it appears Monsanto likely had multiple lists to track people in countries throughout Europe. Matthias Berninger, Bayer's head of public affairs and sustainability, told reporters, "It's safe to say that other countries in Europe were affected by lists ... I assume that all EU member states could potentially be affected."28

In May 2019, French prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into the lists of private information, while Bayer hired law firm Sidley Austin LLP for a similar investigation, which began informing people who were stalked by Monsanto of the issue in late May 2019.29

Despite the great lengths Monsanto went to try to convince the world that glyphosate is safe, it seems the writing is on the wall for this ubiquitous chemical and its maker. While the extent of its toxicity continues to be revealed, you can reduce your exposure by not using this herbicide in your backyard and choosing organic food, which hasn't been exposed to the nearly 300 million pounds of glyphosate used in the U.S. annually.30