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Corporate Spies Revealed

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

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