Bayer Buys Reporters and Sprays Illegal Poison

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

Bayer Buys Reporters

Story at-a-glance -

  • Bayer had clandestine discussions with a media foundation aimed at promoting and protecting the company’s interests
  • In exchange for Bayer becoming a “major supporter” of the Foreign Press Foundation (FPF), as well as offering financial incentives to one of its executive directors, the media association promised to carry out a list of planned initiatives to benefit Bayer
  • As part of the deal, Bayer’s vice president would get a seat on FPF’s advisory board and be allowed to participate in board meetings
  • The press association also promised to organize forums for media influencers and journalists on topics relevant to Bayer’s goals
  • Monsanto pleaded guilty to spraying a banned pesticide on the island of Maui, Hawaii. As part of the settlement, Monsanto must pay $10.2 million, which includes $6.2 million in criminal fines and $4 million in community service payments to the Hawaiian government

Bayer has been making headlines since it acquired Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion, inheriting lawsuits alleging their (formerly Monsanto's) glyphosate-containing Roundup caused cancer and other health problems. Recent revelations also suggest the corporate giant had clandestine discussions with a media foundation aimed at promoting and protecting the company's interests.

The records obtained by The Guardian, which include email communications that took place from 2018 to 2019, suggest Bayer senior vice president Ray Kerins and external communications vice president Chris Loder had discussions with Thanos Dimadis, a communications strategist who formerly served as the executive director of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) and the related Foreign Press Foundation (FPF).1

Bayer 'Attempts to Buy' Press Association

In exchange for Bayer becoming a "major supporter" of the FPF, as well as offering financial incentives to Dimadis personally, the FPA promised to carry out a list of planned initiatives to benefit Bayer, including:2

  • Bayer vice president Loder would get a seat on FPF's advisory board and be allowed to participate in board meetings
  • FPA would raise awareness about topics Bayer identified
  • Bayer would not only be given advance notice of who would receive the Foreign Press awards, but the "selection of the honorary awardees for the Foreign Press awards should not be contradictory to Bayer's strategic communications plans and initiatives"
  • The press association would organize forums for media influencers and journalists on topics relevant to Bayer's goals

The list goes on, with the press association offering Bayer a press conference against fake news along with multiple "background briefings" for journalists that would further Bayer's "communications priorities and strategic goals."

Dimadis also sent Bayer a list of hundreds of foreign correspondents so they could select who should be kept engaged with the company. Carey Gillam, an investigative journalist, wrote in The Guardian:3

"The emails show that Bayer's Loder … arranged a call with Dimadis on 25 June 2018 to discuss the planned initiatives. Following that call, Dimadis wrote back to Loder, copying Kerins on the 25 June 2018 email, thanking Loder for the call and saying Bayer could consider him a 'strong ally'.

He then asked for Bayer to pay him personally, separate from funding to the press association's foundation, as a 'part-time contractor'. Absent that, he asked if Bayer would add extra money to the company's yearly donation that could be directed to Dimadis after he delivered "each one of our projects".

In a 11 July 2018 emailed response, Bayer's Loder told Dimadis the company agreed to add in extra money to its FPA budget to 'influence your personal role in these projects'. 'Your efforts with the FPA Board … are very much appreciated by Ray and me and are a very good development in reinvigorating the Bayer-FPA relationship,' Loder wrote to Dimadis in that same email.

'You have been responsive to everything that Ray and I have discussed with you, and we certainly appreciate your attentiveness to this matter. We appreciate you taking action to move our partnership forward.'"

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Bayer Becomes Largest Sponsor of New Press Organization

One caveat to the initiatives was that Bayer would withdraw its support if Dimadis were no longer affiliated with FPA. Such a split occurred in early 2019, with Dimadis leaving FPA and FPD and becoming president of the Association of Foreign Correspondents in the USA (AFC-USA) in partnership with Bayer and others.

"The association held an awards ceremony … in New York City featuring Kerins. Bayer is the single largest sponsor of the new press association, listed as donating $50,000," Gillam wrote.4 It was after Dimadis severed ties with FPF that the emails between him and the Bayer executives were uncovered, surprising staffers. Gillam reported:5

"FPA's vice-president, Ian Williams, said the emails show Bayer was 'attempting to buy' the press association; pursuing an arrangement in which Bayer would have control over which journalists received awards, who spoke at conferences and other events, and in return would 'feather the nest' of Dimadis. He said he was shocked that the trade-off was so 'explicit'."

Bayer Sponsors Heart Fellowship Training for Journalists

Bayer also has ties to the National Press Foundation (NPF). In November 2019, NPF sent out an email to journalists offering a four-day training program into heart health and heart disease, titled "Covering the Heart Beat."6

"NPF offers this professional development opportunity for journalists to enhance skills, increase knowledge and recharge their reporting on one of today's most critical issues," the course description reads, but in the fine print it's noted, "Support for this training comes from Bayer."7

Bayer, in addition to being a multinational pesticide company, is also a multinational drug company, with stakes in multiple cardiovascular drugs. NPF states that it has sole responsibility for the program's content, but sponsors are allowed to address the journalists at the start of the program and also receive a written evaluation of the program from journalists upon its completion.

"So the sponsor clearly gets something out of its investment – insight into what is on journalists' minds," Gary Schwitzer, founder of HealthNewsReview.org explained, adding that many journalists also accept industry money to attend such programs.8

Did I mention, too, that the program takes place in the winter in a warm, sunny location — West Palm Beach, Florida — and is all expenses paid? "Two months from now we will be in midwinter, late January. How about four days in warm, sunny West Palm Beach, Florida? All expenses paid. How inviting," Schwitzer quips, "But how troubling."9

Is Bayer Carrying on Monsanto's 'Hit List' Legacy?

Bayer's attempts to influence the media are not unique but rather reflect an industrywide practice, one that was also carried out by Monsanto via its "stakeholder mapping project."

This was essentially a collection of veritable hit lists compiled by Monsanto, containing hundreds of names and other personal information about journalists, politicians and scientists, including their opinions about pesticides and genetic engineering.10 Monsanto has even gone so far as to plant a spy in the courtroom during one of the Roundup cancer trials.11

Documents obtained during the discovery process of lawsuits against Monsanto also revealed the company had been engaged in a coordinated campaign to discredit critics. Among them were Gillam and singer-songwriter Neil Young, whose 2015 album, "The Monsanto Years," was an artistic critique of the company.12

Internal emails also 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.13

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."

ACSH 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.14 In 2015, however, internal emails revealed that Monsanto contributed to ACSH, with impeccable timing, as IARC's glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) ruling was set to be released.

The emails were first revealed as evidence during Dewayne Johnson's Roundup lawsuit. The trial, the first Roundup/cancer lawsuit 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.

In the U.S., approximately 42,700 U.S. lawsuits from individuals alleging that glyphosate caused them to develop cancer have already been filed.15 Canadian law firm Diamond & Diamond has also filed a class-action lawsuit against various makers of Roundup, including Bayer. The Canadian suit names more than 60 individuals as plaintiffs, but thousands more may have been affected.16

Monsanto's Illegal Pesticide Spraying

In November 2019, Monsanto pleaded guilty to spraying a banned pesticide on the island of Maui, Hawaii, on research crops in 2014. The chemical, Penncap-M, contained methyl parathion, a chemical banned by the U.S. EPA in 2013.

Not only did Monsanto spray the chemical despite knowing it was banned, but the U.S. Department of Justice said the company also allowed employees to enter sprayed fields after only seven days instead of having them wait the recommended 31 days.17

As part of the settlement, Monsanto must pay $10.2 million, which includes $6.2 million in criminal fines and $4 million in community service payments to the Hawaiian government. Further, while Monsanto pleaded guilty to spraying the banned pesticide, this is only a misdemeanor.

They've also been charged for two felony counts of illegally storing acute hazardous waste, for which they entered a deferred prosecution agreement. If Monsanto follows the agreement's terms for two years, which includes running an environmental compliance program in Hawaii, the felony case will be dismissed.

Bayer spokesman Darren Wallis said in a statement, "As stewards of the land, it is our responsibility to use agriculture products safely and to manage our waste correctly … We take this very seriously and accept full responsibility for our actions."18

That being said, the company also stated that they were unaware of any health or environmental problems that have occurred due to the illegal spraying and storage of toxic waste.19 It's a similar story they continue to spout surrounding glyphosate, which they are still supporting even as the health and environmental risks become undeniable.

Monsanto has a history of sordid behavior as well. Internal Monsanto emails released during the glyphosate trials suggest Monsanto-affiliated scientists questioned glyphosate's safety. As reported by Medtruth:20

"In a 2014 email exchange, Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer warned a company spokesperson to not call glyphosate safe. 'We cannot say it [glyphosate] is 'safe' … we can say history of safe use, used safely etc,' Farmer wrote.

She encouraged the spokesperson to instead call the chemical 'one of the most thoroughly tested herbicides,' and one that 'poses no unreasonable risks to people' when used according to directions."

Further, Monsanto consultants and epidemiologists specifically warned against stating there's "no evidence" that glyphosate causes cancer, while company emails suggest Roundup had never been tested to see if it causes cancer in people, despite company claims that it was safe.21

Was Buying Monsanto the Worst Deal in History?

Since acquiring Monsanto, Bayer is now the largest seed and pesticide company in the world, but it might not stay that way for long, as lawsuits mount against the chemical giant. Some experts are even calling Bayer's acquisition of Monsanto "the worst deal ever,"22 but in many ways they've acquired a company that seems to fit right in with their cutthroat business model.

As for Bayer's role in influencing the media, Bayer officials rejected allegations that anything improper occurred between them and FPF and FPA. But Kathleen Bartzen Culver of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison disagreed. According to Gillam:23

"[She] said any arrangement in which a funder is given influence into and journalistic endeavors, education and awards is improper. 'I find this stunning,' [Culver] said. 'If a journalism organization wants to accept sponsorships, it needs to remain free, fair and independent.'"