For Immediate Release

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Gary Ruskin, 415 944-7350

Monsanto Internal Documents Reveal Campaign Against U.S. Right to Know

WASHINGTON - U.S. Right to Know today released internal Monsanto documents that detail efforts to counter a USRTK investigation into its business and ties between the company and public university professors. USRTK has made public records requests to taxpayer-funded universities since 2015, leading to multiple revelations about secretive industry collaborations with academics.

The documents, which were made available through discovery in the Roundup cancer litigation, show that Monsanto was worried that the public records requests had the “potential to be extremely damaging” and so crafted a plan to counter the USRTK investigation. Monsanto became a wholly owned subsidiary of Bayer AG of Germany in June 2018.

“The story of the Monsanto Papers is that the company acts like it has an awful lot to hide,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know, who led the investigation. “Whenever scientists, journalists and others raise questions about their business, they attack. We are just the latest example. This has been going on for years.”

Following are key findings from the documents:

Monsanto was deeply worried about the USRTK FOIA investigation, and had an elaborate plan to counteract it.  Monsanto was concerned that the FOIAs would uncover its influence in the regulatory and policy process, payments to academics and their universities, and collaborations with academics in support of industry public relations goals. Monsanto wanted to protect its reputation and “freedom to operate,” and to “position” the investigation as “an attack on scientific integrity and academic freedom.” (Emphasis ours in following sections.)

  • “USRTK’s plan will impact the entire industry, and we will need to coordinate closely with BIO and CBI/GMOA throughout the planning process and on any eventual responses,” according to a July 2019 document titled “Monsanto Company Confidential; Internal Use Only / Do Not Distribute; U.S. Right to Know FOIA Communications Plan”
     
  • “Any situation related to this issue has the potential to be extremely damaging, regardless of how benign the information may seem.”
     
  • “*Worst case scenario*” according to the plan: “Egregious email illustrates what would be the smoking gun of the industry (e.g. email shows expert/company covering up unflattering research or showing GMOs are dangerous/harmful)”
     
  • The plan called fortriggering “emergency calls” with the GMO Answers steering committee if the reach/escalation were serious enough. GMO Answers is run by the public relations firm Ketchum and funded by the Council for Biotechnology Information, a trade group that represents the largest agrichemical firms: BASF, Bayer (which now owns Monsanto), Corteva (formerly a division of DowDuPont) and Syngenta. 
     
  • In some cases, Monsanto expected access to documents before U.S. Right to Know, even though USRTK requested the documents by state FOI. For UC Davis requests: “We will have a pre-release view of documents”.
     
  • 11 Monsanto employees, two from the trade group BIO and one from Ketchum/GMO Answers were listed as “key contacts.”Two staffers from FleishmanHillard were involved in assembling the plan: Ken Fields and J.D. Dobson.

The documents reveal the existence of the Monsanto Corporate Engagement Fusion Center.

  • Monsanto planned to “Work with the Fusion Center to monitor USRTK digital properties, the volume and sentiment related to USRTK/FOIA, as well as audience engagement.” (See New York Times article on corporate fusion centers: “Banks Adopt Military-Style Tactics to Fight Cybercrime,” by Stacy Cowley.)

Monsanto makes frequent references to employing third parties to counteract USRTK.

Following are key stories based on documents from the U.S. Right to Know investigation:

New York Times: Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show, by Eric Lipton

Boston Globe: Harvard Professor Failed to Disclose Connection, by Laura Krantz

The Guardian: UN/WHO Panel in Conflict of Interest Row over Glyphosate Cancer Risk, by Arthur Neslen

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CBC: U of S Prof Says There’s Nothing Unusual About His Ties to Monsanto, by Jason Warick

CBC: U of S Defends Prof’s Monsanto Ties, But Some Faculty Disagree, by Jason Warick

Mother Jones: These Emails Show Monsanto Leaning on Professors to Fight the GMO PR War, by Tom Philpott

Global News: Documents Reveal Canadian Teenager Target of GMO Lobby, by Allison Vuchnich

Le Monde: La Discrète Influence de Monsanto, by Stèphane Foucart

The Progressive: Flacking for GMOs: How the Biotech Industry Cultivates Positive Media — and Discourages Criticism, by Paul Thacker

Freedom of the Press Foundation: How Corporations Suppress Disclosure of Public Records about Themselves, by Camille Fassett

WBEZ: Why Didn’t an Illinois Professor Have to Disclose GMO Funding?, by Monica Eng

Saskatoon Star Phoenix: Group Questions U of S Prof’s Monsanto Link, by Jason Warick

The internal Monsanto documents are available at https://usrtk.org/our-investigations/monsanto-usrtk-foia/.

U.S. Right to Know is a small nonprofit organization that investigates the food industry.  For general information, see usrtk.org.  For more information about our investigations, see: usrtk.org/our-investigations/.  For our academic papers, see usrtk.org/academic-work/.

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U.S. Right to Know is a new nonprofit organization, working to expose what the food industry doesn’t want us to know.  We do research and communications on the failures of the corporate food system. We stand up for the right to know what is in our food, and how it affects our health.

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