...it was obvious that Monsanto had had some influence over the journal and the paper's ultimate retraction. But the latest document leak shows just how much influence.
The case against Monsanto is the gift that keeps on giving. Previously in these pages I discussed how the trial of Monsanto currently taking place in the California Northern District Court--technically a "Multidistrict Litigation" formally known as "In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation (MDL No. 2741)" --is airing some of the agrichemical behemoth's dirtiest laundry.
In my article "Monsatan On Trial For Roundup Cancer," I revealed how dozens of lawsuits against Monsanto for its role in causing the non-Hodgkin lymphoma of thousands of people across the US had been rolled into one dramatic court case, and how discovery from that case had yielded the remarkable deathbed testimony of EPA whistleblower Jess Rowland.
Then, new documents emerged from the case confirming what many had long suspected: that Monsanto has an entire internal corporate program (appropriately entitled "Let Nothing Go") employing an army of internet trolls to spam the company's propaganda on every social media post, forum and online comment board where its products and practices are being discussed.
Just this week, one of the law firms working on the trial released an equally explosive collection of "Monsanto's Secret Documents" proving another long-suspected claim against the world's most evil company: That they have in fact ghostwritten many of the key articles defending their products in the mainstream press, articles that were supposedly written by "independent" journalists. When the embarrassing details of the story came to light, including a suggested "draft" of an article written by Monsanto for Forbes "journalist" Henry Miller in 2015 that was exactly identical to the article that appeared under his name, Forbes pulled the story from their website and ended Miller's employment. In a different leaked email exchange, former Monsanto consultant John Acquavella complained to a Monsanto executive, "I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication," adding "We call that ghost writing and it is unethical."
But if all that wasn't bad enough, the latest documents to emerge from the case also detail exactly how Monsanto attempted to smear the research of Gilles-Éric Séralini, the French scientist who published a groundbreaking study showing an increase in tumors among rats fed genetically modified corn and Monsanto's RoundUp herbicide.
The Séralini affair, as it has come to be known, is something that long-time Corbett Reporteers will be familiar with by now. For those who haven't seen my *COUGHProjectCensoredAwardWinningCOUGH* video on the subject, here's the synopsis:
In "Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize," published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2012, Dr. Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen and his team of researchers followed 200 rats over two years, divided into 10 groups of 20 (10 male rats and 10 female rats). Three of the groups were fed Monsanto’s patented NK603 GMO corn alone, three groups were fed the corn treated with Roundup herbicide, three groups were fed Roundup-treated water but no GMO corn and a control group was fed neither GMO corn nor Roundup herbicide. The team’s results indicated that the rats fed the Roundup or the GMO corn, separately or combined, were more likely to experience a range of ill health effects than the non-GMO control group.
So far, so straightforward. But then the Monsanto PR machine™ kicked into action. Suddenly, the study was being pilloried as "unscientific" from all quarters. But it was not "unscientific" because it failed to apply the usual scientific standards and practices, but because it applied the very standards and practices of all previous toxicity studies on glyphosate. The only problem was that the Séralini study continued observing the rats for their full two-year average lifespan, while previous industry-sponsored feeding studies had only observed the rats for three months. Tellingly, Séralini's team found that most of the adverse health effects documented in the study did not begin developing until the fourth month of the experiment.
Condemnations of the study, which had been carried out in near total secrecy to avoid industry pressure, were swift in coming. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), for example, the very same agency that in 2009 had recommended NK603 Roundup-tolerant maize for regulatory approval in the EU without any independent testing, issued a blistering 22-point press release defending its own assessment of the GM corn's safety. They concluded that Séralini's work "does not meet acceptable scientific standards and there is no need to re-examine previous safety evaluations of genetically modified maize NK603." What the press release neglected to mention was that the EFSA had in fact not examined the safety of Monsanto's corn in the first place, conducting no animal tests itself, instead relying on "information supplied by the applicant" (i.e., Monsanto).
A flurry of similar condemnations poured in, including numerous letters to the editor calling for the paper's retraction and even an online petition calling on Séralini to voluntarily retract the study. The Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, seemingly bowing to the whirlwind of pressure surrounding the controversial paper, took the unprecedented decision of retracting the study. "Unprecedented" because the move went against the journal’s own express principles and guidelines for such retractions.
As I pointed out at the time:
"The editor of the journal, Dr. A. Wallace Hayes, himself admits that the paper meets none of the journal's own critieria for retraction. In his own statement on the retraction, he admits that he 'found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data.' Yet still, the paper is being retracted because 'the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive,' apparently a new standard for article retraction that seems to apply especially to articles critical of the GMO industry in general and Monsanto products in particular.
What was known at the time was that shortly after the Séralini paper was published, the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology created a brand-new position specifically to edit biotechnology-related papers. The person chosen to fill this position, Richard E. Goodman of the University of Nebraska, just happened to be (who would have guessed it?) a former Monsanto employee.
In short, it was obvious that Monsanto had had some influence over the journal and the paper's ultimate retraction. But the latest document leak shows just how much influence.
That flurry of angry letters that were written to the journal demanding the paper's retraction? One of the leaked documents shows Monsanto scientist David Salmitras boasting that he personally orchestrated the campaign on Monsanto's behalf.
How about the lopsided, Monsanto-friendly coverage of the controversy that appeared in the popular press? Internal emails show Eric Sachs, another Monsanto employee, putting pressure on Bruce Chassy, an "independent" professor of food safety, to join the campaign, which he did by co-authoring a Forbes article parroting the Monsanto viewpoint. Wait, it gets better. Chassy's co-author on that Forbes article? None other than the aforementioned discredited (and unemployed) Monsanto ghostwriter extraordinaire, Henry Miller. (Like all of Miller's other articles, that one has now been memory-holed by Forbes.)
Another email even shows Monsanto employee Daniel Goldstein privately admitting to his colleague that he was "uncomfortable even letting shareholders know" that they were aware of the letters to the editor before they had been published because it would reveal that Monsanto was orchestrating the letter-writing campaign ("otherwise how do we have knowledge of it?").
But the most explosive revelation from the documents concerns A. Wallace Hayes, the editor of journal who oversaw the paper's retraction. Among the released court documents is a letter detailing a consulting agreement that Hayes entered into with Monsanto in August of 2012, just weeks before the Séralini paper was published and the retraction campaign began.
That Hayes didn't acknowledge or reveal this relationship with Monsanto, let alone recuse himself, during the time that the Séralini paper was being reviewed by the journal is utterly outrageous. Hayes has defended himself by telling the New York Times that the consulting agreement had expired at the time the paper was retracted, but, as GMWatch points out, "since it took the journal over a year to retract the study after the months-long second review, which Hayes oversaw, it’s clear that he had an undisclosed conflict of interest from the time he entered into the contract with Monsanto and during the review process."
The Séralini affair is a case study in how Monsanto squashes any hint of independent scientific inquiry into its products: It identifies the problem. It brings its incredible corporate resources to bear organizing a response through seemingly "independent" third party proxies. It buys off key personnel in organizations that pose a potential threat. It makes sure the rules for publishing inconvenient findings, already ridiculously bent in its favor, are completely broken. And, in the end, it achieves its goal.
...Or does it? There is a strangely positive "ever after" to this story. The Séralini team did ultimately succeed in getting their study republished in another journal. In 2015, Séralini won two separate court cases defending his work. And just last year, a new investigation by Le Monde confirmed that Richard E. Goodman, the former Monsanto employee who was parachuted in to fill the specially-created biotechnology editor post, was in fact still on Monsanto's payroll and receiving talking points directly from Monsanto at the time he was supposedly acting as an independent arbitrator of the Séralini paper. And now, with this latest release of court documents, the story of Monsanto's carefully orchestrated smear campaign against Séralini is confirmed once again in black and white.
So, it seems that there really is something to the old adage that “the truth will out.” The only question left is: Will it win its day in court?