Newly released court documents show that Monsanto has been accused of using third-parties to hire an army of internet trolls to post positive comments on websites and social media about Monsanto, its chemicals and GMOs, and downplay the potential safety risks surrounding the company’s popular glyphosate herbicide.
The unsealed court documents are from the ongoing Monsanto Roundup litigation in Northern California before U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria. The docs were posted by U.S. Right to Know, nonprofit organization working for transparency and accountability in our nation’s food system.
Hundreds of people from California and across the United States have filed Roundup cancer lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging that exposure to Roundup weed killer caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Dozens of these cases were consolidated in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) before Judge Chhabria. Other lawsuits with similar allegations have been filed in several other state courts as well. Roundup cancer attorneys anticipate thousands of people filing suit against Monsanto over the link between Roundup and cancer.
The lawsuits were filed in response to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report on glyphosate, one of the key ingredients in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. The report found that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen,” and that the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other hematopoietic cancers.
The IARC report also found evidence that glyphosate exposure can cause DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, as well as genotoxic, hormonal and enzymatic effects in mammals.
Monsanto Paid Internet Trolls in ‘Let Nothing Go’ Campaign
According to the court documents, Monsanto started the aptly-named ‘Let Nothing Go’ campaign, which plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Roundup litigation believe is part of the agrochemical giant’s tort defense strategy to work furiously outside the courtroom producing carefully-timed “literature” and regulatory decisions that could sway the court.
The ‘Let Nothing Go’ campaign is designed to leave nothing posted on the internet about Monsanto, its products and GMOs, unanswered. This even applies to social media comments.
“Through a series of third parties, it employs individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry, who in turn post positive comments on news articles and Facebook posts, defending Monsanto, its chemicals, and GMOs,” according to a motion in the Roundup MDL. But the idea that Monsanto paid internet trolls to disagree with negative comments about the company on social media is just the tip of the iceberg.
Monsanto Paid for Pro-Industry ‘Think Tank’ Articles
Monsanto is also accused of funneling money to “think tanks” such as the Genetic Literacy Project and the American Council on Science and Health. These organizations might have the air of legitimacy, but they are “intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers,” according to plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Below are a few recent articles posted on Genetic Literacy Project:
- WHO’s IARC Cancer Hazard Agency: Can it be reformed or should it be abolished?” (April 18, 2017)
- “Is the US Unwittingly Funding Anti-Agriculture and anti-Monsanto Conspiracy Theories?” (April 13, 2017)
- “EPA Deserves Some Respect” (March 27, 2017)
And here are a few recent articles posted on the American Council for Science and Health:
- “Glyphosate: NYT’s Danny Hakim is Lying to You” (March 15, 2017)
- “IARC Has Threatened Us” (April 26, 2017)
- “IARC’s Ruling on Glyphosate Ignores the Science” (March 23, 2015)
Both of these organizations share similarities with some of the “institutes” and “academies” that went to bat for the tobacco industry years ago. Neither Genetic Literacy Project nor the American Council for Science and Health lists Monsanto as a donor or supporter, but according to plaintiffs’ attorneys, Monsanto cannot deny that it funds them.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about Monsanto’s alleged ties to the Genetic Literacy Project. A Bloomberg article from 2015 examined internal emails which showed that Monsanto allegedly requested favorable coverage of GMOs from its scientists.
According to Bloomberg:
“The articles in question appeared on the Genetic Literacy Project’s website in a series called ‘GMO – Beyond the Science.’ Eric Sachs, who leads Monsanto’s scientific outreach, wrote to eight scientists [asking them] to pen a series of briefs aimed at influencing ‘public policy, GM crop regulation and consumer acceptance.”
Five of the scientists took Sachs up on his offer, at which point Sachs sent an email saying he needed to “step aside so I don’t compromise the project.” Sachs provided specific topics for each scientist before the project was turned over to a PR firm paid by Monsanto. “I am keenly aware that your independence and reputations must be protected,” Sachs wrote.
Monsanto tried to downplay its connection to these types of organizations. Charla Lord, a spokesman for Monsanto at the time the Bloomberg article came out, said the company’s goal is to “elevate the public dialog and public policy discussion from its over-emphasis on perceived risks toward a broader understanding of the societal benefits of GM crops and needed improvement in policies … There is a lot of misinformation generated by groups who are opposed to agriculture and biotechnology.”