Note: post has been updated to correct spelling of Monsanto. Mea culpa.
A lot–probably a majority–of American companies are good corporate citizens. We don’t hear much about them, because they aren’t newsworthy.
Monsanto, on the other hand, is very newsworthy.
Most media about Monsanto is focused on its herbicide Roundup, which has been shown to cause cancer if people are repeatedly exposed to it. (There have been several recent jury verdicts awarding breathtaking sums to afflicted users.) But Monsanto’s sins go well beyond the manufacture and sale of a dangerous product.
The company is especially vicious in its efforts to silence reporters and food safety activists whose coverage is less than glowing.
A non-profit food safety watchdog on Thursday revealed the lengths the agrochemical company Monsanto has gone to in order to keep the dangers of its products secret—monitoring journalists and attempting to discredit them, identifying a progressive musician and activist as a threat, and crafting a plan to counter the watchdog’s public information requests about the company.
Monsanto’s so-called “fusion center” targeted U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), which investigates safety and transparency issues within the U.S. food system. When USRTK filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests beginning in 2015 regarding Monsanto’s relationship’s with publicly-funded universities, the multinational corporation assembled a plan to counter the group’s findings, according to newly-released documents.
Journalists and critics of the company applauded USRTK’s release of the documents and said they only bolstered the case, long made by environmental and public health advocates, that Monsanto must be stopped from profiting off dangerous chemicals and covering up their harms.
The nonprofit had made Freedom of Information requests to universities in an effort to confirm accusations that Montsanto had paid for favorable research results. The 30 plus pages of internal documents that were released detailed the company’s plans to counter and discredit the organization.
In another article, a journalist who was targeted by Monsanto explained how the company goes about discrediting those who publish unflattering reports.
As a journalist who has covered corporate America for more than 30 years, very little shocks me about the propaganda tactics companies often deploy. I know the pressure companies can and do bring to bear when trying to effect positive coverage and limit reporting they deem negative about their business practices and products.
But when I recently received close to 50 pages of internal Monsanto communications about the company’s plans to target me and my reputation, I was shocked.
I knew the company did not like the fact that in my 21 years of reporting on the agrochemical industry – mostly for Reuters – I wrote stories that quoted skeptics as well as fans of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds. I knew the company didn’t like me reporting about growing unease in the scientific community regarding research that connected Monsanto herbicides to human and environmental health problems. And I knew the company did not welcome the 2017 release of my book, Whitewash – The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, which revealed the company’s actions to suppress and manipulate the science surrounding its herbicide business.
Monsanto’s efforts included engineering web placement of negative “information” about her–written by Monsanto– that would pop up at the top of internet searches, production of “third party talking points,” and payments to “readers” who would post negative reviews of her book.
The records were uncovered as part of court-ordered discovery in litigation brought by plaintiffs alleging their cancers were caused by exposure to Roundup. The documents revealed years of company activities aimed at manipulating the scientific record about Roundup.
Companies like Monsanto not only pose a danger to thousands of people–they create a perception that no business enterprise can be trusted. That perception isn’t just bad for law-abiding enterprises–it’s bad for America’s economic health.
A functioning government with a functioning Consumer Protection agency would shut Monsanto down.