A stunning expose by 100 reporters and Environmental Health News underscores how far some companies will go to squelch a scientific review of the impact of their products.
Award-winning reporter Clare Howard, now with the investigative journalism nonprofit, “100Reporters,” has a must-read piece on the length one company went to in order to discredit critics:
To protect profits threatened by a lawsuit over its controversial herbicide atrazine, Syngenta Crop Protection launched an aggressive multi-million dollar campaign that included hiring a detective agency to investigate scientists on a federal advisory panel, looking into the personal life of a judge and commissioning a psychological profile of a leading scientist critical of atrazine.
The Switzerland-based pesticide manufacturer also routinely paid “third-party allies” to appear to be independent supporters, and kept a list of 130 people and groups it could recruit as experts without disclosing ties to the company.
Recently unsealed court documents reveal a corporate strategy to discredit critics and to strip plaintiffs from the class-action case. The company specifically targeted one of atrazine’s fiercest and most outspoken critics, Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley, whose research suggests that atrazine feminizes male frogs.
The campaign is spelled out in hundreds of pages of memos, invoices and other documents from Illinois’ Madison County Circuit Court, that were initially sealed as part of a 2004 lawsuit filed by Holiday Shores Sanitary District. The new documents, along with an earlier tranche released in late 2011, open a window on the company’s strategy to defeat a lawsuit that, it maintained, could have effectively ended sales of atrazine in the United States.
Of course, it’s not like there is an infinite supply of anti-science guns for hire. So we see again some of the usual suspects. Climate Progress has written in the past about how “Steve Milloy, Anti-Science Tobacco Apologist, Now Denies Coal Plant Pollution Kills People.”
Howard details his involvement with Atrazine:
Steven Milloy, publisher of junkscience.com and president of Citizens for the Integrity of Science, is also in Syngenta’s Supportive Third Party Stakeholders Database.
In a Dec. 3, 2004, email to Syngenta, Milloy requests a grant of $15,000 for the nonprofit Free Enterprise Education Institute for an atrazine stewardship cost-benefit analysis project.
In a letter dated Aug. 6, 2008, Milloy requests a $25,000 grant for the nonprofit Free Enterprise Project of the National Center for Public Policy Research. In an email on that date, he writes, “send the check to me as usual and I’ll take care of it.”
While Op-Eds aim to shape public opinion, economic and cost-benefit analyses were also important, because EPA rulings on pesticide use are based on health, environmental and economic effects.
Junk science, indeed.