Monsanto’s History Of Using Shady Tactics To Attack Its Critics Is Finally Coming To Light

Monsanto is one of the largest agrichemical companies in the world, with annual sales of $14.6 billion in 2017. It was purchased by Bayer in 2018, meaning that it is now a part of a company with a net worth of $59 billion.

In other words, Monsanto and Bayer have a massive financial interest in making sure their products are sold all over the world, and in the process for protecting their bottom line, they often resort to tactics that have drawn criticism over the years, according to HuffPost:

“In the latest example of Monsanto’s efforts to track journalists, The Guardian reported in August on internal documents from the company’s ‘fusion center,’ which worked to discredit reporters and nonprofits via third-party actors.

“In 12 pages of emails, a half-dozen Monsanto staffers strategized on a response to HuffPost’s 2016 report that alleged Monsanto harassed Carey Gillam, a former reporter who now works for the nonprofit advocacy group U.S. Right To Know. In the emails, the Monsanto staffers note that the interview was getting traction on Twitter with other reporters and food influencers like Michael Pollan and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. Andy Schaul of Monsanto’s fusion center advised against a direct response by bringing in third parties.”

Among the biggest sellers for Monstanto is Roundup weed killer, which has been a huge success but has also led to massive lawsuits by people who have used it and allege that it caused them to contract cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

To counter those lawsuits and the negative publicity associated with the numerous legal challenges to Roundup, Monsanto has spent millions by employing PR firms and consultants who engage in campaigns against members of the media who dare to report on such matters:

In a January deposition, a Monsanto representative said that in 2016 the company spent ‘around $16 or 17 million’ on activities to defend glyphosate. A July 2019 Monsanto document released during litigation details the company’s broad plan to combat Freedom of Information Act requests that have uncovered ties between the company and third-party spokespeople in academia.”

One instance of such shady tactics by Monsanto involves a woman who called herself Sylvie Barak.

Barak showed up to cover a lawsuit filed against Monsanto alleging that Roundup and it’s main chemical component, glyphosate, causes cancer.

As she met with other reporters at the courthouse, Barak said she worked as a freelance reporter for the BBC. But when her fellow reporters did a bit of research on Barak, they found an interesting tidbit she had neglected to share with them:

“When journalists searched the internet for Barak, they noticed that her LinkedIn account said she worked for FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm that Monsanto and Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company, had engaged for consulting. After the reporter sent inquiries about Barak to Bayer, Barak’s LinkedIn account changed to describe her as a freelancer. And when an Agence France-Presse reporter inquired, the BBC said Barak wasn’t working for them. “

FTI Consulting even went so far as to try and find out what attorneys in lawsuits were planning to use as strategy. Again, they did so under the guise of being reporters:

“Two FTI consultants working for Western Wire — a ‘news and analysis’ website backed by the oil and gas trade group Western Energy Alliance — attempted to question an attorney who represents communities suing Exxon over climate change.

“Monsanto has also previously employed shadowy networks of consultants, PR firms, and front groups to spy on and influence reporters. 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.”

According to Eamon Javers, the Washington correspondent for CNBC, giant multinational corporations like Monsanto and Bayer have been engaged in such underhanded behavior for decades:


“The techniques we most often see in corporate espionage ― dumpster diving, physical surveillance, and false identities ― can supplement more staid documentary and informational research on a target.

“Reporters are more often interested in whether the information is true or not than where it comes from.”

When billions of dollars are involved, it seems big companies will just about anything to protect their bottom line.


Featured Image Via Mike Mozart for Flickr


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Andrew Bradford

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