In just a few short years Bayer AG, who acquired Monsanto in 2016, has experienced a public relations headache of historical proportions. Mounting legal losses, nonstop releases of damning legal discovery documents and shareholder revolts are becoming commonplace occurrences. While Bayer works to repair their image, more bad news was just delivered courtesy of The Guardian.
The news outlet recently obtained discovery documents related to ongoing Roundup litigation which revealed:
“Monsanto operated a “fusion center” to monitor and discredit journalists and activists, and targeted a reporter who wrote a critical book on the company, documents reveal. The agrochemical corporation also investigated the singer Neil Young and wrote an internal memo on his social media activity and music.”
The documents obtained spanned from 2015 to 2017 and described an “intelligence fusion center” – a term that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use for operations focused on surveillance and terrorism.
Among its targets was US Right to Know (USRTK), a non-profit investigative research group focusing on the food industry. Carey Gillam, a longtime reporter who covers the agrochemical industry as well as the author of Whitewash – The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science.
“These revelations come from only a handful of dox; I have confirmed there are actually over 10,000 internal pages that mention me but are sealed. And I am only one of their targets. This is just a scratch in the surface of Monsanto’s strategy to silence critics.”
In addition, appearing on Democracy Now to discuss the findings was USRTK co-director Gary Ruskin.
Monsanto “fusion center” officials were shown to have written an extended report about singer Neil Young’s advocacy against the company, monitoring his impact on social media, and at one point considering “legal action.”
The Guardian reported,
“The fusion center also produced detailed graphs on the Twitter activity of Neil Young, who released an album in 2015 called the Monsanto Years. The center “evaluated the lyrics on his album to develop a list of 20+ potential topics he may target” and created a plan to “proactively produce content and response preparedness”, a Monsanto official wrote in 2015, adding it was “closely monitoring discussions” about a concert featuring Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews.”
Among other “fusion center” activities were “covering up unflattering research,” pressuring Reuters and its editors in an effort to get Gillam reassigned, working with Google to promote search results that criticize anti-Monsanto literature and several other acts.
Over the past year, the public has been exposed to the depth Monsanto has gone to protect its products and profit margins.
In May, Bayer had to admit and publicly apologize after French media made public that Monsanto kept “watch lists” of around 600 politicians, journalists and others across seven European countries and in Brussels. The “watch lists” categorized who the prominent backers and opponents of pesticides and genetically modified crops were. Agence France-Presse filed a complaint with a French data protection regulatory body because some of its journalists were on the list which dated back to 2016.
The legal losses and bad press has taken its toll on Bayer’s financials. Rumors appeared briefly in headlines this week about a potential $8 billon dollar master settlement for the exploding Round up litigation racing towards 20,000 cases in the U.S. alone. However, the reports were denied by mediator Ken Feinberg who claims compensation hasn’t been discussed.
Credit rating agency Moody’s reported in April that if payouts reach 20B euros – a possible scenario according to analysts – the Bayer would be in danger of losing its “Baa1” investment rating. At the time, Moody’s also claimed that Bayer, whose stock prices have shown corrections to the downside to reflect their mounting legal losses, could only absorb 5B euros.
Although no official news of a settlement is public at this time, an anticipated showdown trial in Monsanto’s hometown of St. Louis was recently postponed from August to January fueling speculation. Meanwhile, reporting from the local St. Louis Record is now asking the larger question, “Are recent verdicts faulting Bayer and its Roundup product an indication that juries no longer trust the determinations of regulatory agencies regarding product safety?”
Having lost big at trial in each of the three cases to go before a jury, Bloomberg is suggesting that jurors may believe regulatory agencies have been compromised by corporations and politics and thus the science they use to make their determinations cannot be trusted. In other words, the idea of regulatory capture may no longer be a fringe theory but a mainstream fact supported by continued collusion exposed in discovery documents.
Monsanto’s attempt to manufacture its legacy, billing itself as the agrochemical savior to feed the world, has fallen. Left upon its ashes is evidence that corporations are still putting profits over people. That the science and tactics shamelessly employed by the tobacco industry for decades served not as a warning, but as a playbook to expand monopolies.
Yet perhaps the largest, unanticipated consequence of continued corporate wrongdoing is the public’s growing rejection of the regulatory agencies once entrusted to watch over the health and environment of the people. Severed from their integrity, regulatory agencies will most likely face increasing skepticism and scrutiny of their policies and revolving door conflicts of interest moving forward.