See the French translation
The EU glyphosate debate has become absurd and beyond any rational perspective. I keep having to remind myself of some basic points:
- Glyphosate is a useful herbicide with a very low level of human toxicity
- Monsanto is a mid-sized seed and pesticide company
- Seeds modified to be herbicide-resistant are not sold in the EU
- The alternatives for farmers post-glyphosate ban are unthinkable and unsustainable
But in the Age of Stupid, with the power of social media fear campaigns, glyphosate represents a battle between corporate dominance and the little person; between a poisonous industrial agriculture and safe organic farming; between captured regulatory science and the brave independent scientist fighting the bought system; between a food industry peddling cheap poisons and the gurus protecting the health and wellness of humanity.
Sorry Mr Monger, it is not simply a useful herbicide! This glyphosate debate is symbolic of the battle between good and evil.
Somehow a substance with a toxicity level below that of ingredients found in biscuits, chocolate and coffee is responsible not only for the potential risk of a rare type of cancer to farmers applying glyphosate, but it is now unanimously declared to be the main cause of autism, cancer, obesity, leaky gut, celiac and any allergy consumers may be suffering from. Exposure levels (detected in the part per trillion range) of this almost non-toxic herbicide do not matter when an IT researcher from MIT draws correlations. Glyphosate has become an emotional battle for humanity’s soul.
How did this happen in less than three short years?
Welcome to the Age of Stupid
We are living in the Age of Stupid. Social media has built walls around communities of shared ideals (tribes) that confirm people’s thinking and attack, ban or systematically repudiate people with differing ideas. Surrounded in our echo-chambers, our tribal gurus disconnect us from dialogue, raise emotional arguments to the point where anecdote serves as evidence and build trust by elevating fears and vulnerabilities their herd is designed to defend against. It is not that others are stupid, but as I surround myself only with people who think like me and confirm my bias, how would I ever be sure that I am not the Stupid one?
The Age of Stupid allows individuals with no budget to reach out directly to tribes (to breach their inner trust linings) – saying what needs to be heard in small, insulated communities of confirmation bias where emotional stories are personally shared and passionately internalised. Cat lovers can find other cat lovers, Neo-Nazis find Klansmen and they find the courage in their community to take the hoods off, and people afraid find others who understand (and exploit) their vulnerabilities. Social media is not simply a place to find friends – it is a tool to manipulate opinions and build walls around dialogue. It has been used and abused to get unpresidential people elected, radicalised kids into jihad and as we’ll see, to turn a useful, safe herbicide into an issue of good versus evil.
The Gang of 50
Social media allows little people to pretend to be big movements, amplify little researchers into inspired titans of science and convert fake news into known facts. If you repeat something 500 times, no matter how ridiculous, people will start to believe it; if you delete all of the negative comments on your Amazon book reviews and highlight what your friends and colleagues say, the ignorant will buy it; if you pretend that your Facebook page is a “Network” or “Watch”-dog, a cabal of clickivists and bots will like your page and then ignore you. Social media allows for Stupid to become believable.
In the 30 months I have been involved in the glyphosate debate, I think I know most of the actors. There are no more than 50 people who have invested time and money into stopping glyphosate. That seems like a lot, but the entire ban glyphosate movement could fit in my living room for tea. Many of these are activists for NGOs, small social media upstarts, Green Party members, people paid by the organic food industry lobby to write books, documentaries or work with litigation firms. Just 50 people!
- 50 people have been able to mobilise networks of activists to sign a one-million plus petition.
- 50 people have been able to get the media and policymakers to overlook the views of their entire regulatory science community.
- 50 people have been able to sway public opinion to put pressure on weak political leaders.
- 50 people have been able to threaten the way of life of twelve million EU farmers.
- 50 people have been able to build a lie, raise funds (often for personal gain), gain notoriety and express power against a system that offends them.
50 people have been able to pull off this scam in less than three years!
Who are these people? Some are activists who have morphed into the role of journalists (but once this issue has passed, if they aren’t excited about the next big health “crisis” chemical, they’ll just stop writing). Many of them are political operatives able to manipulate networks of passionate populists and opportunistic gurus – these 9-to-5 activists have the tools, the skills and the audacity to upend the policy process, but clock off at the end of the afternoon to enjoy a drink and a cigarette. Many are American carpetbaggers coming to Brussels to ban a substance widely used in the US in combination with GMOs (banned in the EU) – they have no interest in EU farmers but rather in exploiting the weak European regulatory structures to bring a “victory” back to Washington.
Of course there are the “slimy ones” like the American personal injury class action lawyers (who fly cancer victims to Brussels), the “journalists” with pseudonyms who sell glyphosate urine test kits to people they have frightened, the scientists with the lucrative litigation consulting contracts, the marketing managers peddling organic food or detox programmes – these bottom-feeders come and go when the opportunities arise and add volume but no commitment to the “cause”.
There are more hypocrites than fundamentalist zealots in the ban-glyphosate movement, militants raised to hate rather than putting forward an ideology, people with chips on their shoulders (perhaps they were fired, criticised by their peers …). Glyphosate is not simply a useful herbicide – it is a tool to vent rage and frustration.
Come on Mr Monger, you cannot be serious! You are trying to tell me that the entire regulatory mess Brussels is in, one that will likely tear apart the European comitology process and leave EU regulatory risk assessment agencies in tatters, the amount of news and discussions, the number of scientific studies are all due to around 50 angry subversives with self-esteem issues? It is just not possible.
Well … 50 is actually a big number with the social media tools and networks we now have. We should be asking how just one person, working out of his dusty basement with no budget, could have such an influence on the debate?
The Risk-Monger is a Big Fat Fraud
How did I become a central player in this debate? In the last few months I have been described as the principle lobbyist and glyphosate supporter in the EU, there have been three feature articles against me in Le Monde and L’Obs, elaborate exposés have been written on me and I am so tied to Monsanto that my blog last week was dubbed Monsanto’s last-ditch attempt to save Roundup (they apparently performed a vicious smear campaign on some poor scientist). They were so angry at me in Le Monde that they could not even mention me by name. As I stared into my computer screen in my dusty basement in the unfashionable part of a village next to the Brussels Airport, I thought to myself: Well, this is interesting.
My only interest in this debate is curiosity (and a deep respect for European farmers – good hardworking people poorly represented in these debates). As an academic researching the shift in our communications model towards one driven by social media communities (tribes) and the influence such revolutions have on our chief societal institutions, I got pulled into this debate as a living lab.
Three years ago (following BeeGate, endocrine and Séralini), I was working on developing the concept of activist science – how small groups of renegade or disaffected tier-three scientists could team up with activist organisations and run social media campaigns to influence policy debates and undermine traditional scientific risk assessments and methodologies. I was also looking at how the hazard-based approach provided the precautionary prescription needed to ban any chemical substance at will.
I was still trying to finish my “How to Deal with Stupid” series when IARC published their glyphosate monograph. I recognised a live case study in activist science, so I investigated, and as I pulled back layers at IARC, it was getting “curiouser and curiouser”. I suppose it was due to the Monsanto Effect, nobody else paid much attention back in 2015 to what was happening (except some alarmed scientists and farmers). And I looked around, and I looked some more. Where were these other people, this huge lobby campaign to defend glyphosate? Where were those millions being spent by the corporate lobby? It’s no joke – in the Parliament sessions I had time to attend, I seemed to be the only person standing up to grill poor Pavel Poc (I don’t think he likes me anymore).
Age of Stupid Tools to Deal with that Pesky Risk-Monger
To be honest, I got a little pissed off having to watch this Gang of 50 lie and profit from the false fears they were generating for their interest groups. I could see the long-term damage these little shits were causing to EU decision-making processes and how they were manipulating the public perception of science and science-based policy, so I decided to get back into the game (not for fees this time, but for my students).
As a communications research experiment, I started to play with this debate to demonstrate how one person (let alone a Gang of 50) using and abusing social media tools can have an inordinate amount of influence on an issue that affects so many. Earlier this year, this living lab I was working on became quite laborious. As the debate turned and there was a vacuum of evil in Brussels, I decided to poke the bear and put myself forward as their persecution piñata.
I became the target of militants and mercenaries, of cranks who needed to have a face to their evil, playing up ridiculous unflattering reports that were researched and written about me, inflating the perception of my influence to the point where I became, I wish I were making this up, one of the leading lobbyists in Brussels defending glyphosate. Some poor Brussels-based journalist even believed I managed to trick the entire EPP party to try to ban NGOs in the European Union. Guilty as charged!
They talked about the thousands of well-paid lobbyists lurking in the dark alleys of Brussels (I never saw any of them and surely these scoundrels would be seeking the Risk-Monger out) but I played into their game. I was the only one that journalists could find who would talk to them, so talk I did (I even wore a red tie!). All of this was total bullshit, but by the third feature article against me in Le Monde and L’Obs, my students were discovering how social media could be abused. They were loving the show and learning a lot.
It is as if the EU glyphosate saga were scripted from the British TV series, Black Mirror!
The great sucker-punch (or sucker for punishment?)
As the personal campaigns against me escalated, with denial of service attacks on my email accounts, the conflation of me as THE Monsanto shill (I even did a meme where I stood with them), I abstracted myself into a communications experiment. What could I do next with this character I had created? By letting people present me as a threat to human health, the environment and civilisation as we know it, I was busily studying how this small angry Gang of 50 used and abused their social media networks. I was timing their attacks, seeing where the coordination was coming from, how their finances, budgets and supporters moved around, trying to track the bots and the fake accounts (students with better IT technical skills were helping me).
People in my Facebook and twitter tribe were starting to see what was happening and helped share their own experiences and data (they also provided emotional support). My children were getting worried about me. I studied every activist tweet, provoked outrage back at them and endured their swarms on me as I tracked their methodology, even sharing some of my research. These people were nasty and hateful, but also cunning and connected. There was a lot to learn about their manipulative madness. I even went to their little Monsanto Tribunal stunt in The Hague (but, sadly, they dragged me out).
A fair fight?
In the Age of Stupid, we found, on one side, a group of NGOs, gurus, Green Party members and actors from the organic food industry lobby running big budget communications campaigns to get glyphosate banned, and on the other side, a professor with no budget tapping away on the keys of an eight-year old computer from his dusty basement. How much could he do in a couple months to upset their little organic apple cart?
Well … quite a bit it seems.
Blog after blog, I provoked the cranks, the pseudo-journalists and the seriously conflicted. Taunting them on twitter, I had them give chase and show others more of their dark side. After I managed to trap some of the lead agitators like Corporate Europe Observatory’s Martin Pigeon and Le Monde’s Stéphane Foucart or that nasty person at GM Watch and have them literally waste days of valuable campaign time dealing with me and my little exposé, I realised they had bought into my influence game. These schizophrenes tracked everything I said and did. Rather than being offended or afraid, I was measuring how deep their unhealthy obsessive compulsive nature ran. Deep indeed.
I created a hypocrite hypothesis to test my zealot ethics theory that the righteous could never accept not being right and would lose all perspective at such a proposition put at them by a “heretic”. It worked and even though these activists knew I was winding them up, they still couldn’t help themselves – cranks like Pigeon and Foucart have been programmed to fight and to continually attack. I thought to myself: Well, this is interesting … a weak spot.
The big problem about these little activists
The problem comes down to this: The Gang of 50 has been able to exert an unreasonable amount of influence into a simple scientific renewal process of a basic, safe herbicide by exploiting our main social media communications tools in the Age of Stupid. They have made fools of European regulators who fell into their traps and believed their barefaced lies coordinated with cunning constructions.
Our political leaders are not equipped to handle the Age of Stupid onslaught from social media (just ask the twelve candidates to the US Republican primary process) and our European leaders now look ridiculous and weak as they struggle (18 months on) to get through a simple committee vote. These 50 malcontents with no evident ethical principles but a lot of relentless idealism can upset a simple policy process and even threaten an entire regulatory system. In less than three years, the fundamentalist zealots have managed to destroy the public trust in science. If you find this absurd, imagine how a professor, working out of his dusty basement, can do exactly the same thing (but conscious of how he is abusing the system).
And what I have been able to do in a few months, with absolutely no budget and a small following on social media, scares the living shit out me … since that means any jackass can do the same.
How did we get so Stupid, so fast?
My students are curious about the topic of Professor Zaruk’s lecture next week! So am I!
35 Comments Add yours
Hello Risk Monger, Thanks again for your work and your last blog. But i’m a bit confused after reading the last blog. Am I stupid to believe all your writings?Or is it a part of the game to show your students you can built easily a community with pro-glyphosate followers ? Once you wrote about how activists attack and don’t use ethics (or just zealot ethics). By exemple to attack the person and not the content. Like what you did with mr Portier. Is your blog a trap ? Than I have to congrulate you because it worked for me and I’ve learned my lesson. Or is your blog truth ? And then reality is worse than fiction. In either case: thanks for your work.
Kind regards, Ellen Colpa innocent truth seeker in the age of the stupid Diary farmer in France
Envoyé de mon MF6475
Thanks for your comment Ellen. I don’t believe there is a trap here.
I believe and stand by what I have said about glyphosate over the last 30 months – that was not a game. But I have absolutely no interest in the debate – if the renewal does not go through, I will be able to afford more expensive food. My interest in supporting sound policy advice based on science and not fear spread by opportunists, and my interest in supporting farmers are what has kept me in this debate. Where things got to become a game has been over the last few months, when classes got back, where I decided to play up the image of me as a big time lobbyist and show my students how one person could have so much influence in a debate. The six months before, when I was very ill, I did not have the strength to write very much.
As for the personal attacks on Portier, this was an ethics scandal and I wanted to show how the righteous are not always right. It was more a demonstration of the hypocrisy behind the members of the Gang of 50. There are scientists elsewhere pulling Portier’s bad methodology apart, but the mixed motives and the role of the class action law firms in fabricating evidence for their lawsuits against Monsanto I think does put this issue in another light. Not a trap unless you think one stakeholder has a right to hypocrisy.
Great job and usefull. Tracking the facts and reality behind story telling is very very important.
Decisions based on fakes, ideologies and distorted personal and selfish business interests are leading us all into dark ages of uncertainty, poverty, and risk for lives for the weakest of human beings, as well as to environmental disasters.
There are only few people around the world with talent and courage to fight this general tendancy. Thank you for this. We all need this.
Informations as Portier papers are essential to know to fight lies and decisions based on them.
Fight manipulations is a question not only of ethic, but also of survival.
At the end, only reality wins. Whatever opinions people have.
Stupidity, ignorance and lies will kill us and the planet.
This not an opinion, it is a reality, as it has always been in the past.
Please go on this way, we need you and use your work the best we can.
We are farmers who have undertaken to improve their farming systems, food, environment and the society for present and future generations, but are blocked by profit makers who do not want solutions because they benefit from the problems, not hesitating to create them or adding to them.
We are practicing and promoting conservation and regenerative agriculture. Ecological productive farming with results.
Thanks and courage.
Thank you Gerard, I really appreciate it. I always tell people refusing to listen to just visit a farm. I had the privilege of touring a conservation ag farm this March just at the end of the cover-cropping (ten-way mix). https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGhfXFjaVJnDLLVa2X8nQIppqaBP6U2l3 The challenge is not just in my being a nuisance to the sanctimonious, the challenge is to get them to open their eyes. Maybe after they stop their campaign, they can have some time to think. Hopeful.
Two milleraries earlier, a rabbi named Jesus wandered around Palestine and spoke to his disciples using paraboles.
One of them was about men who built a house on stone and other men who built theirs on sand. When a storm comes, the former house survives while the latter not.
Later, George Orwell wrote the following, using Emmanuel Goldstein as an intermediary:
In other words, facts doesn’t lie.
I think we will win this fight: on our side, we have those who base themselves on facts, use reason and trust the human being with using his knowledge and his mind to make for himself and his descendents a better life. On the other side, we have those who make up their facts to fit with their ideology and who would rather use infaming accusations and logocal fallacies than thinking. The only question is how costly would be to clean up after this disaster.
For exemple, anti-vaxxers have been now mostly subdued after the first outbreaks of measles in the United States (but not before candidates to the GOP Presidential primaries – among them two doctors! – debated about mandatory vaccination laws, like, eight years ago, both Clinton and Obama had to use whistle dogs to them) while advocacy for biofuels is now residual after the 2008 food crisis.
Likewose, when the opinion will understand they have been played about GMOs, pesticides and nuclear power, some might understand the Green activists should not longer be heard, and this number might grow up to the point where politicians will understand they have more to lose with appealing to the Stupid than to the reasonable people, like when “wet” activists gradually managed to convice the American nation and the Democratic and Republican parties Prohibition was a failure.
Out tasks should be to educate the public about the real truth about Green policies to make the victory day come earlier.
Good points – that sad part of your examples implies that we will have to wait until the bodies start piling up, until we lose herd immunity for the heretics, until we lose the benefits of agritech and probably a lot of farmers.
The problem is that the antis are drawing the same conclusions but on a premise that the science we are using is corrupt and that this industry corruption is the source of the problem. They think the bodies are already piling up.
I think this is a debate that will ultimately come down to moral integrity. Their moral outrage is about the corporate greed feeding the bad science and poisoning us. We cannot fight a moral argument with a scientific one … so we have two options – wait until the bodies pile up and then the moral disgrace becomes clear. Or fight a moral outrage argument with moral outrage. Exposing Portier, like exposing Wakefield two decades ago puts the outrage fabricators up against the virtue microscope. Watching people like Martin Pigeon and Stéphane Foucart squirm as they defend the indefensible is a precursor to, hopefully some self-reflection – that they may have to reconcile some of their previously righteous convictions. They might still have a soul.
Sadly, good science is toothless against a moral crusader who rejects it.
right reality fight back, but it can tales time if the vehicule crash is huge.
Take for example France, we have pathetic economic culture, and (until recently) we continued to do all that what send us in the hole, diggin the hole with passion , hoping to get out. we can since, on one side we have huge assets we can waste for long time, and on the other time there is great talent to get around the executives of the psychiatric hospital.
in a way trying to help does not help. what we should obtaint si to puth the stupidity to the point break.
for example try to make precaution/reality principle apply to organic pesticide, banning all organic pesticides.
what is saving glyphosate in France is that all farmers feel they will be bankrupted and will die of exhaustion of the strpidity.
the error is to negociate, you have to plead innocent, to ask for full recognition of facts, not negotiating delays or exceptions.
if you fail to obtain reality, the situation will become so terrible that people wil quickly realize you were right and science was on your side.
by the way @zaruk, you have to educate the journalist “off the record”. I’m sure some can understand reality provided you don’t insult them upfront (despite what they deserve), but explain them they have been fooled, there is a sexy conspiration by big dark money… journalist are not educated for reality but for conspiracy theories.
give them what they can understand, in private, and one day someone will allow you to say it in public.
the real problem is journalists, who are victims of NGOs.
NGOs are just the modern version of the priests of middle age and the totalitarianists of the 1920s…
Ridicule is a good tool for those doing stupid things – but the organic lobby will clearly fight to defend their insecticidal “soaps”.
I did try to educate journalists. I spent more than an hour with Caroline Michel in French – the snake that wrote the L’Obs piece – trying to explain why farmers use glyphosate. She was just interested in getting an interview with someone she could try to call a Monsanto lobbyist. She has no integrity.
It’s not just social media that has created this problem. Other factors include:
Precautionary principle on a pedestal
Rise of the NGO
Politicians virtue signalling
Progressive politics: privilege and power vs the oppressed: manichean paranoia
Thank you Gary. Glyphosate is not just a useful herbicide.
I have been working on a further idea I hope to develop some day. We now living in the age of a careerist regulator. Someone who studied policy in university and joined the workforce only with the intention of serving the public through policy-making. Critically we can call them the knighted self-righteous, but they firmly believe in the Nanny State and that their role in protecting the citizen is sacrosanct. Twenty years ago, this profession did not exist. People served government after careers elsewhere and had some experience in the world. Twenty years ago, industry would offer a voluntary commitment and regulators would breathe a sigh of relief – “Thank God, that means we don’t have to regulate”. Now the careerists are running around looking at what they can regulate, using the sword of precaution to give their life meaning.
It’s more than just a useful herbicide!
Gary Moran , how can I , in Case No. 3:18-CV-03363-VC, which is on evil Justice Chhabria desk stop him from preventing me from being at negotiations he ordered , but did not advise me . I was 1st to demand settlement of maybe 15000 plaintiff’s . You are absolutely correct even though you may not have mentioned that Arsenic has been in Roundup because Monsanto knew that Arsenic has been used as a killer and a weed killer for centuries . My father used Arsenic before he died in 1936 from liver cancer caused by arsenic ! I have 3 proofs , cause and effect , arsenic , and Roundup. All 57 attorneys have as you not have said committed Malpractice for falsely claiming Glyphosate causes NHL’s , when it did not . I have not read much of your 32 pp. I just got them ! Send e-mail to me and email@example.com
There’s also the lack of serious information on science for the mainstream public.
For exemple, anti-GMOs polemics are more easily accessible to the public than pro-GMO advocacy: in the first case, it merely recquires to follow the mainstream medias while the second asks for a deliberate action to find good quality in these matters.
The same can be said about pesticides, nuclear power, cellphones and plenty of present or future subjects these fear-mongerers might deal with.
It would be equally interesting to study how the treatment of science and scientists in popular culture evolved in the recent times: Jules Vernes made them his heroes, like when, in The Mysterious Island, the protagonists are shown to live a better life on Lincoln Island after the application of science to the production of food and tools. It would be interesting to see how this subject would be treated today.
I once organised a science communication conference in the Atomium in Brussels – 1958 represented an optimistic time for science and technology.
There is no mainstream media any more. The profession of journalist is dying out as they struggle to pay the rent. I no longer teach large classrooms of journalists – the ones who have interviewed me over the last week were all in their mid-twenties – they will sadly move on when better opportunities come along. Sorry to generalise as I am sure there are those journalists who are professional and committed, but on glyphosate, we read a lot in mainstream media by the ideologues. Stéphane Horel is not a journalist – she has been running a personal campaign against endocrine disruption and, with the help of Martin and the other Stéphane, brought her campaign to a louder microphone at Le Monde Who else? Carey Gillam? The only thing that makes that anti-industry lobbyist a journalist is that she still calls herself one. The economic collapse of the mainstream media news organisations mean that self-serving ideologues are moving in to fill the void in capacity.
I would call that a crisis.
Gary Moran, I have no knowledge you answered me , as of October 4, 2020,and I need you and Bruce Perrin Lanphear to produce for me those several 1993 references that say it is those Arsenic low doses which cause cancers that neither you nor Lanphear ever cited as references ?
RiskMonger, My part of the world has developed sound protocols to use glyphosate safely to combat invasive species that affect wetlands. On the Chesapeake Bay, healthy marshes are critical to the ecosystem. The native marsh grasses have roots that encourage the growth of mud banks, allowing the marshes to expand and to resist erosion. The marshes are great filters to maintain water quality, and provide habitat for native species. The Bay region is slowly sinking, so the ability of marshes to grow vertically is very important to the overall viability of the region. Phragmites are a marsh reed that is invasive. Its roots tend to destroy the subsoil of the marshes, driving out the native marsh grasses, breaking up the ecosystem that the fish, insects and reptiles rely on, and opening up the soil to erosion. We use glyphosate to control the phragmites, and it is an ongoing effort. We have learned when to apply them so that they don’t affect submerged grasses or other flora. It’s a challenging application, as it is applied onto plants that are, essentially, in water. Yet, we’ve learned how to use Round-Up safely, and deliberately. It is the most effective herbicide to combat a harmful, invasive plant.
Maybe this will give you more ammunition to tease the “50.” By the way, used to live in Overijse (Jesus Eik); really miss that little part of the world, although I don’t miss the traffic.
All the best.
Thanks Payne – I am aware of the crisis in the Chesapeake Bay region. I read a study a while back (I don’t know if it was yours)- if I recall, the over-tillage by farmers was causing the top-soil to just drift down to the Bay. It is indeed an excellent case study and thank you for your research work.
The Gang of 50, however, are not very good at listening to evidence or stories that do not fit their campaign narrative. That does not mean that others are equally blissfully ignorant.
Farmers aren’t alone to be potentially harmed by a glyphosate ban in Europe: in France, where the previous President had to incorporate Greens in his coalition, municipalities face now higher costs for removing weeds since restrictions on the use of pesticides were enacted.
Nearer to the subject, the national railway company, the S.N.C.F., might see the cost of maintenence of its infrastructure be multiplied by 16 or 17, going from 30 millions to 500 millions of euros. Good, for an heavily indebted State company.
Macron says it’s simple. We ban glyphosate and then farmers figure out a new way to farm. Politics in the Age of Stupid.
Thanks for all your efforts, David. Congratulations for your courage. Your blog is a beacon of hope in the age of Stupid.
I think you must be talking about a differnet Monsanto here…this is the one that I am thinking about…
Monsanto presently operates as an agricultural company, but it was founded in 1901 as a chemical company. In 1997 Monsanto split the chemical sector of its business into an independent company, Solutia Inc. In 2008 Monsanto agreed “to assume financial responsibility for all litigation relating to property damage, personal injury, products liability or premises liability or other damages related to asbestos, PCB, dioxin, benzene, vinyl chloride and other chemicals manufactured before the Solutia Spin-off.”
In 1980, the first US Agent Orange class-action lawsuit was filed for the injuries military personnel in Vietnam suffered through exposure to dioxins in the defoliant. The chemical companies involved denied that there was a link between Agent Orange and the veterans’ medical problems. On May 7, 1984, seven chemical companies settled the class-action suit out of court just hours before jury selection was to begin, offering $180 million as compensation if the veterans dropped all claims against them. Slightly over 45% of the sum was ordered to be paid by Monsanto alone.
In 2004, Monsanto, along with Dow and other chemical companies, were sued in a US court by a group of Vietnamese for the effects of its Agent Orange defoliant, used by the US military in the Vietnam War. The case was dismissed, and plaintiffs appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which also denied the appeal.
After seven years of litigation, in 2013 Monsanto reached a settlement with the town of Nitro, West Virginia, agreeing to pay $93 million for compensatory damages, cleanup, and ongoing monitoring of dioxin contamination in the area around a plant where Agent Orange was made.
In a case that ran from February 1984 through October 1987, Monsanto was the defendant in the longest civil jury trial in U.S. history, Kemner v. Monsanto. The case involved a group of plaintiffs who claimed to have been poisoned by dioxin in 1979 when a train derailed in Sturgeon, Missouri. Tank cars on the train carried a chemical used to make wood preservatives and “small quantities of a dioxin called 2, 3, 7, 8, TCDD… formed as a part of the manufacturing process.” The initial outcome was mixed. “The jurors, after deliberating more than two months, agreed with Monsanto that the plaintiffs had suffered no physical harm from exposure to dioxin. But they accepted the plaintiffs’ argument that Monsanto had failed to alter its manufacturing process to eliminate dioxin as a byproduct and that it had failed to warn the public about dioxin’s harmfulness. Most of the plaintiffs were awarded only one dollar each for actual losses, but they were awarded $16.2 million in punitive damages.” Monsanto appealed the judgments and won on all counts.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
In the early 1990s, Monsanto faced several lawsuits over harm caused by PCBs from workers at companies such as Westinghouse that bought PCBs from Monsanto and used them to build electrical equipment. Monsanto and its customers, such as Westinghouse and GE, also faced litigation from third parties, such as workers at scrap yards that bought used electrical equipment and broke them down to reclaim valuable metals. Monsanto settled some of these cases and won the others, on the grounds that it had clearly told its customers that PCBs were dangerous chemicals and that protective procedures needed to be implemented.
In 2003, Monsanto and Solutia Inc., a Monsanto corporate spin-off, reached a $700 million settlement with the residents of West Anniston, Alabama who had been affected by the manufacturing and dumping of PCBs. In a trial lasting six weeks, the jury found that “Monsanto had engaged in outrageous behavior, and held the corporations and its corporate successors liable on all six counts it considered – including negligence, nuisance, wantonness and suppression of the truth.”
In 2014, the Los Angeles Superior Court found that Monsanto was not liable for cancers claimed to be from PCBs permeating the food supply of three plaintiffs who had developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After a four-week trial, the jury found that Monsanto’s production and sale of PCBs between 1935 and 1977 were not substantial causes of the cancer.
In 2015, the cities of Spokane, San Diego, and San Jose initiated lawsuits against Monsanto to recover cleanup costs for PCB contaminated sites, alleging that Monsanto continued to sell PCBs without adequate warnings after they knew of their toxicity. Monsanto issued a media statement concerning the San Diego case, claiming that improper use or disposal by third-parties, of a lawfully sold product, was not the company’s responsibility.
In July 2015, a St Louis county court in Missouri found that Monsanto, Solutia, Pharmacia and Pfizer were not liable for a series of deaths and injuries caused by PCBs manufactured by Monsanto Chemical Company until 1977. The trial took nearly a month and the jury took a day of deliberations to return a verdict against the plaintiffs from throughout the USA. Similar cases are ongoing. “The evidence simply doesn’t support the assertion that the historic use of PCB products was the cause of the plaintiffs’ harms. We are confident that the jury will conclude, as two other juries have found in similar cases, that the former Monsanto Company is not responsible for the alleged injuries,” a Monsanto statement said.
In May 2016, A Missouri state jury ordered Monsanto to pay $46.5 million in a case where 3 plaintiffs claimed PCB exposure caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In December 2016, the state of Washington filed suit in King County. The State seeks damages and clean up costs. 
Alachlor is the second most widely used herbicide in the United States; its use as a herbicide has been banned in the European Union.
In 2012, a French court found Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a farmer who had used the herbicide Lasso, a trade name for alachlor. This is the first such case to be heard in France and is considered “a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.” In 2015 a French appeals court upheld the ruling and ordered the company to “fully compensate” the grower.
See also: Glyphosate § Legal cases
In 2016, Monsanto filed a lawsuit objecting to glyphosate being added to California’s list of carcinogens. In January 2017, the Fresno County Superior Court rejected the case. The state of California filed a motion to dismiss the case. Monsanto appealed on March 22.
In 2016, the Southern District of California ruled that Emanuel Giglio’s cancer was not Monsanto’s fault and that “FIFRA preempted Giglio’s claim of a failure to warn the EPA about the dangers of glyphosate”.
In March 2017, 40 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit at the Alameda County Superior Court, a branch of the California Superior Court, asking for damages caused by Roundup and demanding a jury trial.
Other legal actions
In 2004, the world’s largest agrichemical company, Switzerland’s Syngenta, launched a US lawsuit charging Monsanto with using coercive tactics to monopolize markets. A flurry of litigation ensued, all of which was settled in 2008.
In 2005, the US DOJ filed a Deferred Prosecution Agreement in which Monsanto admitted to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1) and making false entries into its books and records (15 U.S.C § 78m(b)(2) & (5)). Monsanto also agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine. The case involved bribes paid to an Indonesian official. Monsanto admitted a senior manager at Monsanto directed an Indonesian consulting firm to give a $50,000 bribe to a high-level official in Indonesia’s environment ministry in 2002 related to the agency’s assessment on its genetically modified cotton. Monsanto told the company to disguise an invoice for the bribe as “consulting fees”. Monsanto also has admitted to paying bribes to a number of other high-ranking Indonesian officials between 1997 and 2002. On March 5, 2008, the deferred prosecution agreement against Monsanto was dismissed with prejudice (unopposed by the Department of Justice) by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, thereby indicating that Monsanto had complied fully with the terms of the agreement.
In 2014, Monsanto reached a settlement with soft wheat farmers over the 2013 discovery of experimental glyphosate-resistant wheat in a field in Oregon which had led to South Korea and Japan temporarily stopping some US wheat importation. The settlement included the establishment of a $2.125 million fund for economically affected soft-wheat farmers.
Even in Brussels…..
Sherman said: “At the same time that Monsanto was telling the public that that PCBs were safe, they were literally graphing their potential legal liability against the lost profits and public image boost that might accompany being responsible and honest. At the end of the day, Monsanto went for the profits instead of for public health and environmental safety.”
Another internal memo from September 1969 lists PCB leakages in the Gulf Coast, Great Lakes and San Francisco Bay areas and outlines potential cleanup actions. But the memo also says Monsanto’s strategy should be to “let govt prove its case on a case by case basis”.
It says: “We can prove some things are ok at low concentration. Give Monsanto some defence. We can’t defend vs everything. Some animals or fish or insects will be harmed.”
Two months later, a PCB presentation to Monsanto’s corporate development committee firmed up this warning: “From the standpoint of reproduction, the PCBs are highly toxic to birds,” it said.
The presentation described the firm’s Aroclor 1254 and 1260 products as “the most serious offenders” in what it admitted was “a worldwide ecological problem”.
Production of Aroclor 1254 and other PCBs continued until August 1977. In 1999, Aroclor 1254 and 1260 were blamed for one of Europe’s worst food contamination outbreaks, in Belgium. Wallonia’s agriculture minister called it “the most serious economic crisis Belgium has known since the war”.
Impressive – you can copy paste what an angry anti-industry activist compiled. Today Monsanto is a mid-sized seed company with a few pesticide products about to be taken over by Bayer. It is smaller than Whole Foods and has less influence on the organic-conventional debate than WFS. Get over it!
Hmm. Any response to this article? https://www.thenation.com/article/did-monsanto-ignore-evidence-linking-its-weed-killer-to-cancer/
Thanks for this. Overlooking the poor research with the simple mistakes and misquoting of other special interest claims, overlooking the cheap victims stories and tired comparisons to the tobacco industry, this article was curious in how it showed litigation lawyers playing an influence in media reports. We can see how they influence science and NGO campaigns, but seeing the rosy picture of laws firms and their dumpster diving approach to litigation is informative.
A good point, credit to the journalist, was the full quote from the Monsanto executive: “Our lawyers have produced over 10 million pages of documents, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers managed to cherry–pick a handful that reflect the use of some inappropriate language by some Monsanto folks,” said Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy. “There’s not a single document that reflects that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, causes cancer.”
The article said there was a study (or information) that was Monsanto’s tobacco moment – but did not say which one.
I use this argument in some of my speaking engagements – if I had access to 10,000 of your emails, and a budget and incentive from someone who wants to see your downfall, I can cherry-pick a few inappropriate phrases to make you look bad. If I have a network of well-funded organisations against you, they can keep hammering this BS until people think it’s true. How would you handle this?
I found one document under oath of a slimy scientist who lied and cashed in to fabricate science against Monsanto, and I am the evil one for writing a blog about it.
This debate has become exceedingly fact challenged and this link you gave me, with all of its misinformation, is a good example of how the Age of Stupid is upon us, with bad misinformation repeated until it looks and sounds good. Thanks!
The Risk Monger has probably opened up what is going to be the next big MMR and Wakefield scandal.This time the stakes are money rather than an attack on public health, but the amounts involved are astonishing. Long term though, this is about dogmatic ****heads trying to push back GMO and that is something that should concern us all. More power to the Risk Monger!
Thanks Marc. If it were only greed, this would be easy. The more information I get, the more I see how Portier did not act alone – this is a scandal of how a group of activists and a couple misguided scientists conspired to over-throw the EU risk assessment process.
Thank you for your sanity. I’m soo tired of reading conspiracy theories about everyday chemicals we use and eat. There are fringe elements in every profession – unfortunately it is these who provide the fuel for the fundamentalist wellness devotees around the world, who are constantly searching for support and validity. Please keep writing!
Reblogged this on The grokking eagle.
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I have science that shows that in 1993 Canadian and Cornell University scientists found that it is those Arsenic low toxicity numbers ,
not high LD50 toxicty numbers,that cause cancers , but , I am having trouble getting a response from them ! Glyphosate is not that killer, in Roundup ,but Arsenic is,attorneys and judges are involved in some kind of conspiracy ! Chhabria will give just me no discovery.—firstname.lastname@example.org—–