Monsanto's playbook, revealed | Pesticide Action Network
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Monsanto's playbook, revealed

Kristin Schafer's picture
White Wash book

Monsanto executives will not be happy about Carey Gillam's new book.

Released last week, Whitewash documents the corporation's aggressive efforts to establish, promote and protect their RoundUp Ready seed and pesticide empire. Through investigative reporting, Gillam unveils Monsanto's dubious playbook, from bankrolling supportive scientists to blackballing critics and strong-arming regulators. It's not a pretty picture.

An up-close look at corruption

In our line of advocacy work, it's been clear for years that the pesticide industry has too much influence on public officials and the policies they set. The recent case of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt bowing to Dow on chlorpyrifos is just the latest case in point.

Gillam's meticulous research shows just exactly how this works, with "friendly" regulators identified and cultivated by industry handlers, and the revolving door placing former executives in seats of public decisionmaking power again and again.

And then there's the corporate science.

Whitewash documents Monsanto's decades-long, largely successful campaign to control what scientists say about glyphosate — the active ingredient in Monsanto's flagship herbicide, RoundUp. Their "friendlies" at EPA convinced agency scientists to ignore early findings that exposure to glyphosate was increasing risk of certain rare cancers in test animals. They promised funds to universities when studies confirmed the safety of their products, and arranged trips and speaking tours for supportive scientists. They even ghostwrote "independent" studies verifying glyphosate's safety.

When a committee of independent World Health Organization experts found that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen, Monsanto waged an all-out war to discredit and undermine those cancer researchers and their findings.

But this strategy appears to be losing steam as Monsanto's credibility wanes. Last week, as Europe considered whether to allow continued use of glyphosate, French President Emmanuel Macron called for "more independent expertise" in the decisionmaking mix. Excellent idea.

Off the pesticide treadmill?

Whitewash's release could not be better timed. As the fate of glyphosate is being reviewed in Europe, here in the U.S. Monsanto's next contribution to the pesticide treadmill — a new formulation of the old herbicide dicamba — is creating heated controversy in the heartland.

So how are glyphosate and dicamba connected? It turns out that widespread use of RoundUp Ready crops meant a sharp increase in glyphosate use — leading to the emergence of hard-to-control herbicide-resistant "superweeds" across U.S. farmland. Monsanto's plan to address this problem, with EPA's blessing, was to sell a new GE seed and herbicide package and increase the use of a different chemical.    

Enter Xtend soy seeds, designed for use with a cocktail of glyphosate and the drift-prone herbicide, dicamba — which this year damaged or destroyed over three million acres of crops in 20 states.

The dicamba story is a textbook example of the "pesticide treadmill." And it won't stop here. Scientists predict weeds will develop resistance to this chemical even more quickly than glyphosate, and resistance may have already started emerging in Arkansas.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Thanks to Gillam and others who continue to uncover clear evidence, we know that Monsanto is not, in fact, motivated by an altruistic desire to "feed the world." Maybe we can finally put the brakes on their self-serving pesticide treadmill and support farmers instead of undermining those who don't toe the Monsanto line.

Speak up! Add your voice to the call from dozens of farm groups to find a better solution and halt the pesticide treadmill.

Kristin Schafer
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risolom's picture
risolom /
<p>Research done in Argentina where Xtend seeds are used has found terrible increases in cancer rates among farm workers and family members living near these fields. These seeds make huge profits for Monsanto but are clearly a public health risk. Unfortunately, the EPA and USDA under the current Trump administration are not going to take action unless Congress demands it.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
Kristin Schafer's picture

Kristin Schafer was PAN's Executive Director until early 2022. With training in international policy and social change strategies, Kristin was at PAN for over 25 years. Before taking on the Executive Director role in 2017, she was PAN's program and policy director. She was lead author on several PAN reports, with a particular emphasis on children's health. She continues to serve on the Policy Committee of the Children's Environmental Health Network. Follow @KristinAtPAN