Carey Gillam is an investigative journalist, research director of U.S. Right to Know, and author of Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science. In this presentation, delivered at a CrossFit Health event on Oct. 13, 2019, Gillam shares her story and some of her most provocative research on the covert tactics pesticide companies use to keep dangerous chemicals in circulation at the expense of public health.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with policymakers and regulators, the USDA, FDA, EPA, and with Monsanto, BASF, DowDuPont, Syngenta, these very big and powerful companies that sell the seeds and sell the chemicals that our farming and food production system is based on,” Gillam says. In her more than 21 years researching pesticides, she’s uncovered what she characterizes as “decades of deceit” on the part of the pesticide companies.
“What the companies are telling us and what they’re telling our regulators and our lawmakers is really more protective of corporate profits than it is protective of public health,” she explains.
She discusses three of the most prevalent pesticides. Glyphosate, the chemical found in Monsanto’s Roundup formula, has been tied to cancer, and kidney and liver problems. Atrazine, which is so widely used it can be found in most drinking water around the United States, has been tied to birth defects, low fetal birth weight, and problems affecting fetal survival. Chlorpyrifos, a product developed by Dow Chemical, was banned in 2017 due to its links to impaired neurodevelopment in children. Unfortunately, Gillam explains, “Dow Chemical chipped in a million dollars to the inaugural fund and sent some lobbyists to visit [President Donald Trump], and the ban on chlorpyrifos went away.”
Gillam delves more deeply into the controversies surrounding glyphosate, having spent a considerable amount of time researching Monsanto’s internal communications about the chemical while completing the research for her book. When people began asking if glyphosate was safe in the 1980s, Monsanto told them it is “safe enough to drink. Safer than table salt,” Gillam explains. However, in 2015, the World Health Organization and International Agency for Research on Cancer conducted a review to assess whether the substance is carcinogenic. Email records show Monsanto, aware that glyphosate was likely to be labeled as a “possible” or “probable carcinogen,” went into damage-control mode.
Monsanto’s covert campaign to salvage profits and its public image included discrediting the scientists and journalists — including Gillam — who sought to inform the public of the health dangers of its products. Discovery documents made available through FOI requests reveal the company also ghostwrote articles touting the safety of glyphosate and paid well-known scientists to affix their names to them so they would be published in reputable scientific journals.
In addition to ghostwriting, the campaign also included the creation of front groups such as Academics Review, Sense About Science, the Genetic Literacy Project, and the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). These groups, Gillam says, purport to be “authentic science-based organization[s] weighing in on topical issues that pertain to public health. But what we find is that they are funded by the people that they are defending.”
To learn more about the ties between Monsanto and ACSH, read “‘Consumer Advocacy’ Group ACSH Revealed as Front Group for Corporate Interests.”
To read a complete transcription of Gillam’s presentation, click here.