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The fact that there are serious issues in our food supply is no longer a secret. Evidence not only reveals toxicity levels in food are rising but also that conventional agriculture has become a leading cause of environmental pollution and destruction.
Toxicity in food comes from several sources. Some toxins are accumulated during the growth phase, others are added during harvesting and processing, and yet others are introduced when the ingredients are manufactured into their final, processed food, form.
By far, the greatest concerns are relegated to processed foods, but even whole foods, both plant and animal foods, can be contaminated. Here, my focus will be on three sources that have their origins in the growth phase: phosphate fertilizers, glyphosate herbicides and biosolids (human waste used as fertilizer).
Data Gaps in Phosphate Fertilizer Supply Chain
According to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, reported in its “World Fertilizer Trends and Outlook to 2020” report,1 the global demand for phosphate fertilizer is expected to exceed 45.8 million tons by 2020.
And, as noted by Science Daily,2 food demand is expected to increase by 60% by 2050, which means that unless changes are made, even greater amounts of phosphate will be required in coming decades.
A major problem with conventional agriculture is the use of toxic fertilizers. Phosphorous (an element) is mined from phosphate rock (which contains phosphorous), and much of it ends up being lost in the process, ending up as water pollution.3
In water, phosphorous triggers toxic algae overgrowth and deoxygenation, which has led to massive dead zones where no marine life can survive. The nitrogen portion of fertilizer has also been identified as a leading cause of air pollution.
In a September 4, 2019, paper,4 “Opening Access to the Black Box: The Need for Reporting on the Global Phosphorous Supply Chain,” researchers in Sweden and Iceland warn that lack of information about the global supply chain could trigger a phosphate supply crisis and lead to social, political and environmental upheaval.
Lead author Eduard Nedelciu, a researcher at the Department of Physical Geography at Stockholm University, told Science Daily:5
“Cradle-to-grave reporting along the phosphorus supply chain can reveal the untold story about the social, environmental, ethical and economic price we pay for the food we see on our supermarket shelves. It can also help countries — most of which are dependent on phosphate imports — tailor better policies to decrease the vulnerability of their agricultural sector.”
Majority of Phosphorous Is Wasted
The researchers present four primary problems relating to the reporting of phosphorous and phosphate fertilizers:6,7
- Terminologies and methodologies used when reporting data on phosphate deposits lack transparency and harmonization, making estimations of reserves unreliable
- Up to 90% of the phosphorous is lost through the supply chain, and the losses are poorly documented, making it difficult to improve efficiency and prevent losses — which ultimately end up as pollution
- Societal and environmental consequences that occur along the supply chain remain unaddressed
- Access to data along the supply chain is lacking, which prevents assessment of sustainability goals
Co-author Marie Katharine Schellens told Science Daily:8
“Phosphorus information is power. Reliable and regular data gathering can leverage corporate social responsibility as well as political action. Both are needed to tackle many of the issues identified along the supply chain. Transparency can foster a sustainable and socially just supply chain for decades to come.”
Must We Use Phosphate Fertilizers?
While the general consensus is that phosphate is a prerequisite for food production, we now know that this isn’t entirely true. The only reason it’s required is because the agricultural system is not currently set up to take advantage of natural ecosystems.
As farmers transitioned over to monocropping and chemical-based agriculture, those ecosystems were lost, and with them, everything that makes growing food without chemicals possible. There is in fact compelling evidence showing we do not need synthetic fertilizers to grow food, provided the soil is nurtured properly, as it is in biodynamic and regenerative farming systems.
There’s also plenty of evidence showing fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals are a leading source of environmental pollution, thereby threatening all life on earth. The idea that food production is a primary destroyer of the environment is inexcusable and intolerable. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Hidden Health Hazards Associated With Phosphate Fertilizers
Aside from polluting waterways, phosphate fertilizers may pose a more direct risk to human health by way of food. Being a fertilizer, the phosphorous is taken up by the plants, of course, but it’s not the nutrient itself that is the problem. No, the problem is the fact that phosphate contains a radioactive element, which may be taken up by the plant as well.
The concern is an outgrowth of tobacco science9,10,11,12,13 showing one of the reasons cigarette smoking causes lung cancer is due to polonium-210 — a decay product of natural uranium and a highly radioactive element.14 It’s also chemically toxic.15
While naturally present in small amounts in the environment, one of the primary sources of exposure is via calcium phosphate fertilizers, used on nonorganic tobacco fields and food crops respectively. As noted in a 2009 study:16
“… in a person smoking one and a half packs of cigarettes (i.e., 30 cigarettes) per day, the radiation dose to the bronchial epithelium in areas of bifurcation is … (8000 mrem) — the equivalent of the dose to the skin from 300 x-ray films of the chest per year.”
Similarly, a 2011 paper17 in the Journal of Oncology, “Polonium and Lung Cancer,” explains:
“The alpha-radioactive polonium 210 (Po-210) is one of the most powerful carcinogenic agents of tobacco smoke and is responsible for the histotype shift of lung cancer from squamous cell type to adenocarcinoma. According to several studies, the principal source of Po-210 is the fertilizers used in tobacco plants …
Tobacco leaves accumulate Pb-210 and Po-210 through their trichomes, and Pb-210 decays into Po-210 over time. With the combustion of the cigarette smoke becomes radioactive and Pb-210 and Po-210 reach the bronchopulmonary apparatus …”
As has become typical, investigation18 revealed the tobacco industry was aware of this as early as 1959. What’s worse, they opted to not use an acid wash, which has been shown to effectively remove polonium-210 from the tobacco leaves, because the wash made the nicotine less absorbable, and hence less addictive.
Could Nonorganic Food Be Radioactive and We Don’t Know It?
Now, if radioactive polonium-210 makes tobacco leaves carcinogenic, what is it doing to our food? In the 1988 document, “Release of Radium and Other Decay-Series Isotopes From Florida Phosphate Rock,” the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research concedes:19
“It has been known for many years that phosphate ore contains 50 to 150 parts per million (ppm) of natural uranium, and hence its radioactive decay products … most other soils and rocks … average 1 or 2 ppm …
A fundamental question arises as to the nature of population exposure to natural radiation … and how that exposure is influenced by the presence and extraction of deposits of phosphate.”
While that 1988 report does not address polonium exposure through food, another, even earlier document does.
Remarkably, according to a long-forgotten 1983 report20 by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “Polonium-210 and Lead-210 in Food and Tobacco Products: A Review of Parameters and an Estimate of Potential Exposure and Dose,” meat and dairy products may expose consumers to radiation doses equivalent to that received by smokers from cigarette smoke. As noted in this paper:21
“Tobacco smoking appears to provide a dose equal to or greater than that provided by dietary ingestion for both Pb-210 and Po-210 in bone tissues, liver and kidneys; and for Po-210 in the spleen for the three Western-style diets … The smoking dose estimates are most comparable to those obtained for dietary intake by Arctic dwellers.”
Fluoridated Water May Also Contain Polonium-210
Yet another route of polonium-210 exposure is consumption of fluoridated water, courtesy of the fluorosilicic acid used. This chemical byproduct, created during the phosphate fertilizer manufacturing process, is what is typically used to fluoridate municipal water supplies.
In 2015, Mosaic Fertilizer, one of the largest phosphate mining and fertilizer companies in the world, was fined $2 billion by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over improper storage and disposal of waste, which was found to pose a hazard to groundwater resources.
A cruel irony is that fluorosilicic acid, another toxic waste product, is suddenly proclaimed “healthy” when purposely added to drinking water. Uranium and radium are two known carcinogens found in fluorosilicic acid used for water fluoridation, and polonium-210 is one of two decay products of uranium.
Furthermore, polonium decays into stable lead-206, which also has significant health risks — especially in children — and research has indeed shown that drinking fluoridated water increases lead absorption in your body.
Toxic Glyphosate Found in Most Foods and Water Supplies
Another chemical that is turning our food toxic is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Glyphosate was identified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)22,23 in 2015.
More recently, a meta-analysis24,25,26,27,28 of six epidemiological studies published between 2001 and 2018 concluded glyphosate increases the risk of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) — a group of blood cancers — by 41% in highly exposed subjects.
Even if you’re not exposed to glyphosate-based herbicides via application (which is the case with most who claim glyphosate exposure caused their NHL), your health is still at risk, as testing29,30,31,32,33,34 reveals most foods (processed foods in particular) are contaminated with this chemical, and more than 70% of Americans have detectable levels of glyphosate in their body.35,36
Glyphosate kills weeds by inhibiting the shikimate pathway in the plant, and Monsanto has long defended the chemical’s safety, saying it cannot affect humans because we do not have this pathway. However, the shikimate pathway is found in human gut bacteria, which we now know play a vital role in human health. Glyphosate has also been shown to:
Trigger DNA damage37
Cause pineal gland pathology, which in turn was linked to gut dysbiosis and neurological diseases such as autism, depression, dementia, anxiety disorder and Parkinson’s disease38
Inhibit pituitary release of thyroid stimulating hormone, which can lead to hypothyroidism39
Act as a substitute for glycine in your body, thereby causing damaged proteins to be produced.40 Glycine also plays a role in quenching inflammation, as explained in “Glycine Quells Oxidative Damage by Inhibiting NOX Superoxide Production and Boosting NADPH,” and is used up in the detoxification process. As a result of glyphosate toxicity, many of us may not have enough glycine for efficient detoxification.
Chelate important minerals, including iron, cobalt and manganese. Manganese deficiency, in turn, impairs mitochondrial function and can lead to glutamate toxicity in the brain41
Impair serotonin transport and kill beneficial gut bacteria, thereby contributing to a wide range of mood disorders, including major depression42
Interfere with cytochrome P450 enzymes, thereby inhibiting vitamin D activation and the creation of both nitric oxide and cholesterol sulfate, the latter of which is needed for red blood cell integrity43
Glyphosate Adds to Phosphorous Saturation
In related news, research44 published in December 2018 shows glyphosate is now so widely used that it’s contributing to the phosphorous load in agricultural land, and thus to the phosphorous loading in watersheds. As reported by Phys.org:45
“In many agricultural areas, decades of phosphorus-based fertilizer use have led to a saturation of the soil’s capacity to hold the nutrient. This increases the likelihood that any additional phosphorus applied to the land will run off into waterways, where it is a known cause of harmful algal blooms …
Until now, regulations to limit phosphorus pollution have focused on the use of fertilizers, which remain the largest artificial source of phosphorus. But as the use of glyphosate increases — the past two decades alone have seen global use increase 15-fold — the herbicide’s relatively small phosphorus content starts to add up …
‘Our study argues that the recent and rapid rise in glyphosate use has magnified its relative importance as a source of anthropogenic phosphorus, especially in areas of intensive corn, soybean and cotton cultivation,’ [lead author Marie-Pier] Hébert says.”
Biosolids — A Most Toxic Fertilizer
Last but certainly not least, we have biosolids, more accurately referred to as toxic sewage sludge. Not only is it notorious for containing industrial waste, loaded with heavy metals, as noted in a September 12, 2019, AP News article,46 concerns over the use of this toxic fertilizer is now growing because it’s also been found to be a source of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals.
“The concern is that certain PFAS chemicals, which studies have associated with increased risk of cancer and damage to organs such as the liver and thyroid, could be absorbed by crops grown in soils treated with polluted sludge and wind up in foods.
The Food and Drug Administration this year reported finding substantial levels of the chemicals in random samples of grocery store meats, dairy products, seafood and even off-the-shelf chocolate cake …” AP states.47
In my 2015 interview with David L. Lewis, Ph.D., a microbiologist who spent three decades working as an Environmental Protection Agency scientist, he reveals the history of biosolids, why it’s a complete scam, and how the truth about this toxic fertilizer has been swept under the rug for years.
How to Safeguard Your Diet
As I mentioned at the beginning, phosphate fertilizers, biosolids and glyphosate are just three of many different sources of toxins in our diet. Once you begin to survey the field and realize just how many different toxic sources there are and the types of questionable chemicals involved, you start to get an idea of why organic food is growing in popularity.
Many are now starting to realize the many problems associated with conventional foods, which include both health and environmental issues, and are taking proactive measures. The most logical step is to transition to an organic or biodynamic diet, to the degree that you’re able. This goes not just for produce but also for meat and dairy products.
The reason for this is because most conventional cattle are fed an unnatural diet of grains rather than grass, and most of the grain is also genetically modified. So, animal products can actually be even more contaminated than fruits and vegetables. So, remember to buy organic, grass fed beef, poultry and dairy, as well. If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods:
Demeter USA — Demeter-USA.org provides a directory of certified Biodynamic farms and brands.
American Grassfed Association (AGA) — The goal of the American Grassfed Association is to promote the grass fed industry through government relations, research, concept marketing and public education.
Their website also allows you to search for AGA approved producers certified according to strict standards that include being raised on a diet of 100% forage; raised on pasture and never confined to a feedlot; never treated with antibiotics or hormones; and born and raised on American family farms.
EatWild.com — EatWild.com provides lists of farmers known to produce raw dairy products as well as grass fed beef and other farm-fresh produce (although not all are certified organic). Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass fed products.
Weston A. Price Foundation — Weston A. Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.
Grassfed Exchange — The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass fed meats across the U.S.
Local Harvest — This website will help you find farmers markets, family farms and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass fed meats and many other goodies.
Farmers Markets — A national listing of farmers markets.
Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals — The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, hotels and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) — CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
The Cornucopia Institute — The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO “organic” production from authentic organic practices.
RealMilk.com — If you’re still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund48 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.49 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.
In the U.S., most poultry that comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is washed in a strong chlorine or other antimicrobial solution as a way to kill pathogens.1 The chlorine rinses or sprays are intended to act as antimicrobials that reduce Salmonella and other common causes of foodborne illness.
The EU, however, does not use chlorine washes on its chicken and wants no part of America’s “chlorinated chicken” either — it has banned U.S. chicken imports since 1997 due to the practice of chlorine washing. The concern isn’t necessarily due to the chlorine wash itself, but to the fact that it may allow for poor sanitation and dirty poultry to enter the food supply.
“The real fear is that heavily soiled birds may not be sufficiently disinfected, and that relying on chlorine washing could lead to poorer hygiene standards overall,” wrote food safety expert Simon Dawson of Cardiff Metropolitan University.
However, the U.K.’s plan to exit from the EU has opened up the issue for debate, as the countries will have the option to reconsider their current laws, including whether or not to accept “chlorine chicken” from the U.S.
US May Pay to Influence British Media Over Chicken
The U.S. government offered to pay up to $93,257 (£75,000) for an organization to gather up prominent British journalists and take them on tours of U.S. chicken farms. The goal is to create a favorable spin on the U.S. chicken industry as a whole, including the practice of chlorine washing. In a tender (a British term for a contract bid) seen by BuzzFeed News, it’s stated that the purpose of the press tour is to alleviate misconceptions about U.S. farming:2
“The misconceptions include animal welfare standards, GMOs and labeling, and the use of antibiotics in livestock production … Media stories about ‘industrial scale’ U.S. agriculture, usually focused on so-called ‘chlorinated chickens’, are negative, misleading, and often inaccurate.
… Participants will explore small, medium, and large farms representing various certification standards (organic, natural, conventional), research institutions supporting science-based agricultural practices, government agencies that focus on ensuring food is nutritious and safe, and other relevant institutions connected to U.S. farming.
… The locations should be carefully chosen to be geographically and culturally diverse and reflect the breadth of choice the U.S. consumer has when making food decisions.”
The tender also cited a British survey that found “only 1% of British consumers would buy American meat over British meat.”3 As it stands, the EU allows only water to decontaminate meat, which means imports of chlorine-washed chicken aren’t allowed. The ban was put in place based on precautionary measures, according to Dawson, who wrote:4
“When the ban was introduced, officials were keen that food manufacturers should focus on overall hygiene rather than relying on a single chemical decontamination step to eliminate microorganisms. It was also believed that the chemical decontamination step could encourage antibiotic resistance.”
CAFO Chicken Softens Up the World
Sir Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), gave the green light to chlorinated chicken in an interview with Sky News, stating there were no health concerns from eating such meat:5
“From a health perspective there really isn’t a problem with chlorinated chicken. The issue is about production processes and animal welfare, and that is a values-based choice that people need to make. My view is that we need to be allowed to make that choice.”
A briefing from the Centre for Food Policy called Boyd’s statement misleading. One of the briefing’s co-authors, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, stated, “For the chief scientist at Defra to say what he did is not accidental.”6
“Professor Boyd’s statement may be an early sign that Westminster is trying to soften up the public for lower-standard food imports from the U.S.,” he added. “They are very keen to have a ‘trophy’ trade deal post-Brexit and the lowering of U.K. food safety and animal welfare standards is at stake. We cannot accept what is sure to lead to an unprecedented and radical decline in food quality standards.”7
Chlorine Washes May Not Remove Bacteria
Research published in mBio raised serious concerns over the use of chlorine washing, revealing that it may not remove bacteria as expected.8 The study involved spinach contaminated with listeria and salmonella, which was subjected to chlorine washing.
After the treatment, the bacteria were not killed but rather entered a “viable but non-culturable state (VBNC),” meaning they could still cause food poisoning but couldn’t be picked up by standard testing. “These data show that VBNC foodborne pathogens can both be generated and avoid detection by industrial practices while potentially retaining the ability to cause disease,” the study noted.9
Further, in a compliance guidelines released by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), it’s explained that chlorine rinses and sprays have the potential to make contamination worse instead of better, depending on the force of the water pressure used and the direction of the spray:
“When applying water rinses and sprays, establishments should consider the water pressure applied. Some studies have found that elevated spray pressure may force bacteria into muscle or skin rather than washing it off.
… Rinses or sprays should be designed, installed, and calibrated to remove incidental contamination. When not properly designed or implemented, rinses or sprays may not effectively remove contamination and may even spread contamination from one part of the carcasses to another part or even to adjacent carcasses.”
Aside from the notion that chlorine washes are simply a way to perpetuate unsanitary and inhumane conditions on poultry farms, the use of chlorine washes, and chilling poultry in chlorinated water, can lead to residual disinfection byproducts (DBPs) in the poultry.
DBPs are highly toxic and can be carcinogenic. While studies suggest poultry chilled in chlorinated water likely contributes only 0.3% to 1% of daily exposure to DBPs,10 it’s still a contaminant you’re better off avoiding.
Rates of Food Poisoning Higher in US
The British have a right to be concerned about opening their refrigerators to U.S. food, considering an analysis by Sustain revealed rates of foodborne illness in the U.S. are significantly higher than in the U.K. They found that, annually, 14.7% of the U.S. population suffers from foodborne illness, compared to 1.5% in the U.K.11
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of Sustain, said in a news release, “Our analysis shows that if we accept imported meat without robust standards, we may also import increased food poisoning and possibly even deaths. The U.S. is demanding we drop our food standards for trade, but our research shows cheap U.S. meat will come at a cost to our health and economy.”12
Indeed, chicken is easily one of the most contaminated foods in the U.S. and also has a weak nutritional profile compared to other protein sources, including pasture-raised chicken.
One study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) found that chicken samples gathered at the end of production after having been cut into parts, as you would purchase in the grocery store, had an astonishing positive rate of 26.2% contamination with salmonella.13 Many people are not aware that chicken is responsible for an alarming number of cases of foodborne illness every year.
According to U.S. CDC statistics, there were 5,760 reported foodborne outbreaks between 2009 and 2015, resulting in 100,939 illnesses, 5,699 hospitalizations and 145 deaths.14 Of these, chicken was responsible for the most outbreak-associated illnesses — 3,114 illnesses in total (12%).
Salmonella contamination is of particular concern, as data suggests multidrug-resistant salmonella has become particularly prevalent. And raw chicken has become a notorious carrier of salmonella, campylobacter, clostridium perfringens and listeria bacteria.15 Even a significant number of urinary tract infections may be caused by contaminated chicken.16
Inspection Standards Not Being Met
A June 2018 FSIS report found that the extent of salmonella contamination in U.S. chicken parts is largely unknown because 35% of large chicken-slaughter facilities in the U.S. are not meeting FSIS inspection standards.17
Perhaps in response, in November 2018 FSIS for the first time publically published chicken producers and their rankings on salmonella safety standards, which are updated each week as new samples are tested.
The rankings range from category 1 to 3. Category 1 describes facilities that had less than 50% of the maximum allowable salmonella during the testing window. Category 2 describes facilities that had more than 50% (but still within the maximum allowed), while category 3 is the worst — facilities that exceeded the maximum level of salmonella.18
If you look at the FSIS rankings,19 what you’ll notice is the frequency of category 2 and 3 on the list. A category 3 ranking isn’t grounds for immediate suspension, either. Instead, FSIS notifies facilities if they don’t meet standards and at that point decides whether further action is needed.
Don’t Buy Raw CAFO Chicken
As recently as the 1920s, chickens were raised primarily for their eggs — not their meat. Back then, chicken meat was expensive, not considered very tasty and only available seasonally, as chickens were typically slaughtered in the fall after they were no longer needed for laying eggs.
Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to mass-produce clean, safe, optimally nutritious foods at rock-bottom prices, chicken included, which is why most people are better off avoiding CAFO chicken — whether it came from the U.S. or elsewhere. If you can’t imagine giving up chicken, finding a local grass fed farmer raising chickens on pasture is the safest, and healthiest, route to go.
There are farmers using poultry-centered regenerative agriculture systems, in which tall grasses and trees protect the birds from predators instead of cages — in addition to optimizing soil temperature and moisture content, extracting excess nutrients that the chickens deposit, bringing up valuable minerals from below the soil surface and being a high-value perennial crop.
It’s the opposite of CAFOs — regenerating the land instead of destroying it, raising chickens humanely instead of cruelly and producing nutritionally superior, safe food. You might even consider raising your own backyard chickens. You can also try leaving all CAFO chicken at the store and opting for another chicken-produced food instead: eggs, particularly organic pastured varieties.
While chicken is advertised as a healthy source of protein, due to contamination concerns, stick with only non-CAFO pastured chicken or eggs. Whole eggs are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats (omega-3) and antioxidants, including choline, along with vitamins A, D, E and K.
Pastured eggs can provide you with much of the nutrition that CAFO chickens cannot, without the risks of contamination (and no chlorine washing required).
HuffPost revealed the extreme lengths Monsanto, now Bayer, has gone to in order to influence the media, including “shady tactics” and planting a spy in the courtroom during one of the Roundup cancer trials.
A woman named Sylvie Barak told other journalists that she was a freelancer for the BBC, but it later turned out that she didn’t. Instead, she appeared to have worked for FTI Consulting, a business advisory firm that Monsanto and Bayer had hired.
Barak invited the other journalists to meet one of her clients and have a “girls’ night out” of sorts, during which she seemed to fish for reporters’ views on Monsanto and spew industry-friendly banter.
A reporter who was present, but who wished to remain anonymous, told HuffPost, “[Barak] would make suggestions about interesting parts of the testimony. And then go on and on about certain points of testimony to try and get it into stories, and it was always bad for the plaintiffs.”1
FTI responded by saying Barak attended the trial to take notes, and Bayer denied authorizing FTI to work at the cancer trial, but several journalists involved said they were left feeling like someone else might be watching them.
“Monsanto has also previously employed shadowy networks of consultants, PR firms, and front groups to spy on and influence reporters,” HuffPost stated. “And all of it appears to be part of a pattern at the company of using a variety of tactics to intimidate, mislead and discredit journalists and critics.”2
Monsanto Hired World’s Elite Spy Firm
Among Monsanto’s emissaries is the British private investigative firm Hakluyt, which is regarded as an elite spy firm. The relationship was revealed in documents made public during the Roundup cancer trial. According to HuffPost:3
“The Monsanto document4 offers a rare insight into Hakluyt’s work, its tactics and political reach.
In a sworn deposition for the trial, former Monsanto attorney Todd Rands testified that Hakluyt agents deliberately hid their links to Monsanto as they gathered information from high-ranking government officials in 2018, including a Trump White House policy adviser and senior officials at the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency.
‘We wanted to make sure that we could hear things about ourselves that people might not say directly to us,’ said Rands, who also notes in the deposition that he left Monsanto in January 2019 and was then consulting for FTI.”
Monsanto also has ties to PR firm Ketchum, which created a pro-GMO campaign called GMO Answers (with funding from Monsanto and other industry leaders like DuPont and Dow AgroSciences, along with FleishmanHillard, a PR firm that was reportedly involved in creating Monsanto hit lists.
Publicis, a French-based PR firm that gave $6 million to NewsGuard, a self-appointed arbiter of what it determines is trustworthiness in online media, also helped compile the lists, according to The Wall Street Journal.5
Monsanto’s so-called “stakeholder mapping project”6 was first uncovered in France, but now it appears Monsanto likely had multiple lists to track people in countries throughout Europe. The lists contained hundreds of names and other personal information about journalists, politicians and scientists, including their opinions about pesticides and genetic engineering.7
In May 2019, French prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into Monsanto’s alleged watch lists full of private information pertaining to about 200 people. Bayer said it has stopped communications and public affairs activity with FleishmanHillard.8 As for their role, FleishmanHillard defended their work, saying it’s been “mischaracterized,” and adding:9
“Corporations, NGOs and other clients rightfully expect our firm to help them understand diverse perspectives before they engage. To do so, we and every other professional communications agency gather relevant information from publicly available sources.
Those planning documents are fundamental to outreach efforts. They help our clients best engage in the dialogue relevant to their business and societal objectives.”
Monsanto’s ‘Fusion Center’ Discredits Reports and Nonprofits
Carey Gillam, a veteran investigative journalist and author of “Whitewash — The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science,” has previously gone on record about how Monsanto tried to discredit her for writing critical pieces about the company and its toxic products. Internal documents from Monsanto’s “fusion center” revealed a strategic response aimed to do just that by bringing in third-party players.10
“The records … show Monsanto adopted a multi-pronged strategy to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who investigated the company’s weedkiller and its links to cancer,” The Guardian wrote.11
“Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer, also monitored a not-for-profit food research organization through its ‘intelligence fusion center,’ a term that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use for operations focused on surveillance and terrorism.
The documents, mostly from 2015 to 2017, were disclosed as part of an ongoing court battle on the health hazards of the company’s Roundup weedkiller.”
The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a nonprofit organization that claims to be a “pro-science consumer advocacy organization” with the focus of publically supporting “evidence-based science and medicine,”12 is one of Monsanto’s third-party players.
In 2015, 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 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.13 The colleagues still weren’t convinced, so Goldstein then wrote:14
“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 …”
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.
In return, 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.”15 ACSH has articles defending glyphosate’s safety in terms of cancer, for bees and even in your food.16 Bayer told HuffPost that they no longer give money to ACSH.17
Monsanto Tries to Play Journalist for Hit Job
The anonymous reporter who spoke with HuffPost had another story aside from the FTI plant during the cancer trial. This time, a writer, Mary Mangan, working for the Monsanto-funded industry front group The Genetic Literacy Project, contacted her, suggesting she dig up a scandal involving a researcher who testified against Monsanto, as well as speak to Jay Byrne. HuffPost reported:18
“When the reporter read the documents Mangan forwarded, she found nothing worth reporting. Mangan, she felt, was ‘playing’ her to do a hit job. Out of the blue, Byrne then contacted her on social media to discuss how GMO criticism was part of a Russian influence campaign; when she Googled Byrne, she learned he is Monsanto’s former director of communications and now runs the PR firm v-Fluence.
His clients have included Monsanto, CropLife, and the American Chemistry Council, and he is the co-author … of book that argues against chemical safety regulations. It was then she realized ‘that there’s a lot of weird sh*t going on.’”
Like others, I was among those deemed to be a threat to Monsanto: My name even appeared on one of Byrne’s hit lists. The nonprofit U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has also been targeted by Monsanto, which produced written reports on USRTK’s activities, along with a detailed plan for how to deal with USRTK’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Common Dreams reported:19
“In more than 30 pages of internal documents detailing its plan to counter USRTK, Monsanto acknowledged that the ‘worst case scenario’ resulting from the FOIA request would be an ‘egregious email [illustrating] 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 company acts like it has an awful lot to hide,’ said Gary Ruskin, co-director of USRTK, in a statement. ‘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.’”
Gillam, who is now the research director for USRTK, also told The Guardian that, following the release of her book, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science,” she got “glowing reviews” from professional reviewers but her Amazon page filled with negative reviews planted by industry.
“They were saying horrible things about me … It was very upsetting but I knew it was fake and it was engineered by the industry. But I don’t know that other people knew that,” she told The Guardian, which continued:20
“A Bayer spokesman, Christopher Loder, declined to comment on specific documents or the fusion center, but said in a statement to the Guardian that the records show ‘that Monsanto’s activities were intended to ensure there was a fair, accurate and science-based dialogue about the company and its products in response to significant misinformation, including steps to respond to the publication of a book written by an individual who is a frequent critic of pesticides and GMOs.’”
Help USRTK Unearth the Truth — Donate Today!
One of the key take-home messages from all this is that the organized silencing of critics using immoral tactics is standard practice, and has been standard practice for a long time. In fact, these underhanded strategies are precisely what have allowed Monsanto, as well as many other dangerous companies operating with a similar playbook, to continue selling toxic products for so long.
Using third-parties pretending to be independent to publicize the corporate agenda is grossly misleading to the public. What Monsanto has been doing is social engineering — making you think a certain viewpoint predominates among the general population and among journalists, scientists and academia when in fact this “consensus” is a wholly engineered artifice, bought and paid for by corporate interests.
USRTK has done a tremendous job bringing these kinds of industry conspiracies into broad daylight. They’re a tiny operation with just four employees and depend on donations to keep this work going. So, please, consider making a tax-deductible donation to USRTK today. Your help is urgently needed and your donation will ensure USRTK can continue unearthing the truth, one document at a time.
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