The French and German activists are fighting a more successful fight against Roundup than the Americans are. Don’t get me wrong, there are many Americans who are fighting every single day to free our country’s food from toxic glyphosate. We just don’t seem to get very far – well, until environmental lawyers finally found a way to hit Monsanto/Bayer in the wallet and force them to respond.
As Americans, we have a cultural tendency to trust and believe that government is looking out for our best interest. Maybe this is the result of being such a (relatively) young country – it’s our youthful naïveté. Trust in government and veneration of our leaders is inculcated in us early on – we all remember hearing the story of honest George Washington growing up. (Of course, some of us know that the story of Washington never telling a lie, well, it was a lie.)
Most Americans, me included until last June, assume that no government authority would knowingly allow something like a mass poisoning of our own people to take place. Until I read the Monsanto Papers (thank you Baum Hedlund), I thought relatively highly of the EPA. Now I know just how screwed up and intertwined the EPA is with Monsanto. Repeatedly claiming that a chemical is safe, when most of the evidence says otherwise, is too horribly unethical to digest as real.
It was brought to my attention this week that an AgChem PR group called me un-American. In my experience, and as the flag-waving, (gluten-free!) apple-pie-loving daughter of an Air Force pilot, this appalling chemical attack on our own people is shockingly, absolutely un-American. Freedom to pollute and poison is not a core principle of our Bill of Rights.
Fortunately, our European allies are leading the way, and questioning the links between regulators and the regulated. I am waiting for a day that Congress might perform a similar evaluation of the EPA as the EU Parliament has done on EFSA (their EPA equivalent). We need an organizational overhaul of the EPA, with better checks and balances on the cozy relationships between regulators and industry lobbyists. Otherwise, our regulatory agencies become nothing more than a bought-and-paid-for, extremely powerful extension of the chemical industry. Americans need to wake up and question what our regulatory agencies are telling us, even if it feels uncomfortably cynical. I know it’s uncomfortable – Americans don’t naturally gravitate towards cynicism. With the exception of my husband when he hasn’t eaten for a few hours.
As I write this post, I am flying home from a quick trip to Washington DC, where I joined in on a fantastic protest hosted by MegaFood. Megafood’s Director of Advocacy and Government Relations, Bethany Davis, had a bevy of delightful anti-glyphosate signs, organic food, tents, acoustic music, and passion ready for us to team around. I now have an awesome #banglyphosate t-shirt and several new friends to show for it.
This anti-glyphosate world is a small one, and it was a thrill to meet glypho-celebrities in person. People from Moms Across America and Environmental Working Group rallied together. The crew who made the documentary Ground War was there with signs and smiles. A dashing organic farmer, wearing a cowboy hat with specialty grains tied on it for extra flair, delivered stunning statistics on the state of our farmlands. Rally speaker and Stranger Things star Matthew Modine, who is both very tall and also happened to study astronomy and oceanography in college, gave a passionate speech about glyphosate’s impact on our planet’s insect populations.
After some good-ole general chanting to ban glyphosate in Freedom Plaza, our strong but relatively small group marched a few blocks to the EPA. MegaFood’s Davis held a big box of signed petitions to stop the pre-harvest desiccation of our grains with glyphosate, a practice which ultimately contaminates our cereals and breads with this toxin. We were warned that the drop-off of the box at the EPA would be anticlimactic. We weren’t allowed to enter the EPA building, but rather had to leave all deliveries with security at the door. Perhaps they were intimidated by the likes of my t-shirt that said “ROUNDUP GAVE ME LEAKY GUT” and my friend’s “MONSANTO MESSED WITH MY OVARIES” treasure.
After using my megaphone to shout everything that is just so wrong about the glyphosate issue directly at the EPA’s windows, I became increasingly furious visualizing the meetings that took place inside that building. Those meetings – decisions to look the other way and keep in Monsanto’s good graces – took place as I struggled in bed with intestinal permeability and autoimmune disorders due to Roundup. I know that many of the esteemed scientists who served on advisory panels to the EPA believe glyphosate to be a carcinogen. What a ridiculous mirage such a panel is – regardless of their recommendations, the final EPA statements of course continue to reaffirm glyphosate’s safety.
Bayer’s New Strategy in the EU
In the EU, regulatory policy makers are working on an imminent plan to accommodate the strong dissenting opinions between industry, scientists, media, and activists regarding pesticide chemical regulation. Several advisors to these policy makers are “experts” from an industry-backed non-profit, ILSI. As reported by Muilerman and Latham, these advisors were tasked by the EU to put together a Science Advice Mechanism “SAM” report aimed to resolve the conflicting views. Their suggestion is to significantly dial back pesticide regulation:
The SAM report proposes to change EU rules by exchanging the acceptable level of citizen protection from “do not have any harmful effects on humans” for an undefined level, that of “acceptable risk”. This is the change of regulation that would make human harm legal, since it would stop the EU’s much-detested-by-industry ‘hazard approach’ that aims to avoid any exposure of humans to classified (mutagenic, carcinogenic, reprotoxic (toxic for reproduction), persistent and endocrine disrupting) pesticides.
It makes so much more sense why Bayer is not promptly settling the NHL cases. A settlement would concede that glyphosate is a carcinogen. Under current EU policy, that would mean an immediate ban on glyphosate in the EU. If Bayer can change the EU regulatory policy itself to consider glyphosate an “acceptable” carcinogen BEFORE settling the lawsuits, they protect the sale of their product.
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?? GET OUT THERE EU READERS – DON’T LET THEM DO THIS!!
Regarding hearings, mediation and trial updates – let’s leap to my summary from last Wednesday’s hearing.
I am back up in San Francisco at the Federal Courthouse for a hearing on several matters in the pending federal MDL cases. It’s been quite a week of news on the Monsanto/Bayer front.
The last time that I was in this courthouse, Ed Hardeman won over $80 million in a unanimous verdict in his case against Monsanto. In light of the recent $2 Billion verdict, that award actually seems quite low.
Today, for the first time in my experience, the clerk checks the businesses cards of everyone coming through the door. I’m pretty sure that I know why.
Jane is a darling, smiley, and pretty young mom with a sweet British accent. She attended the Hardeman trial every day and easily befriended all of the regular journalists. After complimenting my blog, she told me that she was at the trial to provide a few sentences to some bloggers in the UK who are also interested in the trial. I was thrilled that bloggers in the UK were passionate about the topic, and gave her my business card.
Jane and I hung out, sometimes sitting at a lunch table together and sharing stories about our young children. Her husband is a PhD student at Stanford, and we shared that commonality because my husband one was once a student there as well. As the trial came to a victorious close, Jane invited four of us journalists to a European Institute of Technology (EIT) Climate Change event in San Francisco, just to hang out a bit and celebrate that the trial was over. She said she was free-lancing, helping a friend with PR for the event. She also insisted that we journalists meet the CEO of EIT at the event.
After an amusing night of connecting, we all said goodbyes, and made sure that we had one another’s mobile numbers. I drove Jane in my car about 45 minutes towards her home, and she took a Lyft from my town the rest of the way. We had a wonderful chat – she’s a sharp, entertaining thinker with a fantistic sense of humor.
Imagine my shock when I learned that my new friend Jane was not a friend at all. She was a spy sent by Monsanto’s notorious PR consulting firm FTI Consulting to infiltrate the press. She was sent, BY MONSANTO, to get to know us on a personal level, and influence our reporting. There was no environmental blog back in the UK. I feel like a total ding-dong for being 100% duped. Monsanto sent the perfect, undetectable spy into our midst.
Her employer, FTI Consulting, is the advisor on Monsanto’s “Freedom to Operate” strategy. See the description from their website:
I haven’t known what to do with this information about Jane – it all seemed so surreal and hard to believe. I was psyched this week when the story finally broke in the press. The French and German newspapers are very interested in the story. It hasn’t made mainstream news in the United States, aside from the Yahoo article linked above, and one does not have to wonder why for long. Monsanto/Bayer continues to successfully keep the public ignorant of what is happening in this courtroom. Journalists have editors and bosses who can decide what does and does not make the newspaper. In some cases, pushing against the tide can cost their employers vital advertising dollars and put them at risk of losing their jobs. Monsanto counts on that anxiety to temper the reporting.
(PS – Jane is not the spy’s name. I want to protect her privacy because it seems the right thing to do.)
It seems the appropriate time to tell you that I don’t enjoy thriller mysteries – as you will not be surprised to hear, I’m more of an Office/Mindy Project/Between Two Ferns kind of girl. No more creepy spies, please. Just wanted to put that out there.
Back to today in the courtroom, I see Monsanto attorneys Brian Stekloff and Rakesh Kilaru at the front of the room. I wonder if they knew about Jane – are they a part of this deception? Do they advocate manipulation of the press? They advocate spraying Roundup in shorts and a tank top, so why would they care if there were manipulation of the press to their benefit?
The trial hearing itself is extremely boring, other than Chhabria’s new, tight summer haircut. He’s full of amusing one-liners today. In addressing the massive group of Plaintiff attorneys vs the two Monsanto attorneys, Chhabria comments “Monsanto is always outnumbered.” HAHAHA.
Other points of interest:
- Chhabria appoints famous, big-time mediator Kenneth Feinberg to try to mediate between the parties. If he is willing to take it on. He also mediated the U.S. government’s September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
- Stekloff argues that there are now three data points (verdicts) of the jury sentiment in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Monsanto now wants to have trials in other locations to see if a more diverse geography may render different verdicts. Chhabria asks what Stekloff’s favorite state would be. Stekloff hesitates and claims that he’s been put on the spot, but suggests Michigan or Texas, some place that uses Roundup heavily. Chhabria retorts: “Isn’t that like Missouri?,” amusingly alluding to the August trial scheduled in St. Louis. After some back and forth, Chhabria agrees to move forward on some cases in California as well as two other states that share common state laws.
- The Stevick trial has been moved to 2020 so that everyone can focus on preparing all of the other federal cases that will be tried elsewhere.
After the hearing, I sprint to the airport to catch my flight to DC. Inside the airport, my liquid magnesium supplement is predictably bomb-tested by TSA when going through security. I take a seat in the waiting area at the gate to make a few phone calls. A guy suddenly says, “Can’t get enough of us?” I turn around and see Bayer attorneys Stekloff and Kilaru, who are entirely unrecognizable in everyday clothing. We may be all surprised to learn that they don’t live in suits. They amusingly point out that I might not have sat there had I known it was them.
But wow!! Perfect timing. I have some questions. I ask them if they know about who this spy girl is and point out how freaky of a thing that is to do to the journalists. Just SO WRONG. The guys say that they had read about it from recent reporting, but weren’t sure who she was. I’m skeptical, but there may be a hint of earnestness in their eyes.
Is it possible that they didn’t know? Bayer has been going to great lengths recently to let everyone know that they are far more ethical than Monsanto. This recent corporate messaging is in response to the daily revelations of decades of Monsanto’s Black Ops strategies. The Monsanto playbook is very disturbing.
How can we reconcile Bayer’s new corporate “We Play Nice” message with the fact that they also just printed this full-page ad in the front section of the New York Times yesterday? I’ve dissected a similar ad in the WSJ before, so won’t bore you with the monster list of everything that is outlandishly wrong in their desperate plea to put restore your faith in glyphosate.
Stekloff and Kilaru are nice. It is annoying that Stekloff is wearing a UNC hat when my house is Blue Devil territory, and I tell him so. As I enter the plane in Boarding Group 4, I see them comfortably settle into their First Class seats, and wonder if they will drink the complimentary champagne. Wisner told me that they enjoy champagne on ice. I get it, when I worked on Wall Street, I too flew up in First Class and drank champagne. And it was nice. The activist writer me gets to squeeze into coach with a tomato juice.
Golden handcuffs are a tough thing to break.
SO much is happening in the glyphosate space right now that I will be writing updates with my excellently biased, accurate perspective.
And Bayer stock price hit a 5-year-low today. Happy day!! Congrats to the investors who believed me and shorted at the right time.