The American Chemistry Council, an organization that counts Monsanto and other chemical industry giants in its ranks, has launched a public relations campaign designed to smear the independent science produced by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and deceive the public about the safety of glyphosate, a key chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, which has been linked to cancer.
At first glance, the “Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research” (CAPHR) appears to be filled with background information on glyphosate and IARC, an arm of the World Health Organization. This information, however, “clearly promotes an agenda opposite to that which its name implies,” says veteran journalist Carey Gillam, who has been writing about Monsanto and the agrochemical industry for years.
Monsanto and the Chemical Industry on the Offensive
In 2015, IARC issued a groundbreaking report on glyphosate, which found the chemical to be a “probable human carcinogen.” The IARC glyphosate report brought great scrutiny of glyphosate and Roundup around the world. A number of governments cited the report as the primary reason for banning the use of glyphosate-based herbicides.
It also prompted a growing number of farmers, agricultural workers, gardeners, landscapers, and others to sue Monsanto, alleging that exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These Roundup cancer lawsuits, filed by individuals from all across the nation, have been consolidated into a multi-district litigation (MDL) in San Francisco, where discovery is underway. Thus far in the process, Monsanto has turned over more than seven million documents related to the claims.
It didn’t take long for Monsanto and other chemical companies to go on the offensive to try to limit the damage of the IARC report. According to Gillam, since the report was released, Monsanto has bullied IARC and its scientists “through a series of demands, threats, and legal maneuvers.”
In an Oct. 31, 2016 letter to IARC scientist Dr. Consolato Maria Sergi, lawyers for Monsanto demanded access to private IARC documents that were used in connection with the glyphosate report.
“If you decline to provide the files, we request and instruct you immediately to take all reasonable steps in your power to preserve all such files intact pending formal discovery requests via a U.S. Court,” the letter said.
In her response, Dr. Sergi said she found the letter from Monsanto’s lawyers to be “intimidating” and “noxious.”
“At first glance, I would not have any problems disclosing my files,” she wrote. “However, as these files belong to IARC, I consider your request inappropriate.”
The intimidation didn’t stop there—lobbyists representing the interests of the agrochemical industry lobbied Congress in an effort to cut funding to IARC. The lobbying effort was rewarded when House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz wrote a letter to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) critical of IARC. In his letter, Chaffetz described IARC has having “a record of controversy, retractions, and inconsistencies,” and asked why NIH continues to fund the agency.
This brings us to the new CAPHR group, which takes intimidation to new heights by lobbing personal attacks on IARC scientists, accusing them on Twitter of using “questionable ideologies” in their studies, “making sensational claims” and coming to conclusions that “can’t be trusted.”
It should be noted that U.S. states, the federal government, and international governments trust and rely on the science produced by IARC in public health policy decision making. The Federal Judicial Center’s Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence cites IARC as a reputable agency, like NIH, for scientific information. The State of California, for example, recently characterized IARC as “the gold standard in carcinogen identification,” The IARC report prompted the state of California to announce its intent to list glyphosate as a chemical “known to the state to cause cancer” in accordance with Proposition 65.
IARC is made up of independent experts in epidemiology and toxicology, like Dr. Aaron Blair, for example, who has won numerous awards for his contributions to cancer research. If award-winning experts like Dr. Blair can’t be trusted, who can?
CAPHR and the ‘Glyphosate is Vital’ Monsanto Smear Campaign
CAPHR is noteworthy for another reason—it’s not only trying to smear the science that calls into question the safety of glyphosate, it is also actively promoting glyphosate at the same time by insisting that the chemical is necessary in order to “maintain the production of safe, affordable food.”
Using the promotional campaign #glyphosateisvital on Twitter, CAPHR has been a fixture on the @glyphosate Twitter account, created right after the IARC report. What is surprising about this campaign is that it characterizes the independent, peer-reviewed science produced by IARC or other research that shows problems with GMOs as “anti-science.”
What CAPHR is Really About
The basis for this campaign is obvious. Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides have generated billions in revenue for Monsanto and other companies who don’t want sales to go down.
The campaign is supposed to be about accuracy in public health research. If accuracy really is the ethos of the campaign, it wouldn’t be smearing IARC and its independent scientists, nor would it be promoting glyphosate as “vital.”
But this front group’s Monsanto smear campaign isn’t about accuracy, it’s about corporations putting profit over people.