Monsanto Accused in Lawsuit of Hiring ‘Internet Trolls’ to Battle Online Criticism
Monsanto — the agritech giant that is one of the world's largest producers of crop seed, much of it genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides, including its own branded Roundup — has been facing a legal battle regarding the safety of its products. New court documents reveal that the company is now being accused of hiring “third parties” to counteract negative comments and criticism online.
Approximately 50 lawsuits have been filed by cancer victims and lawyers accusing the company of purposefully downplaying the health risks associated with glyphosate — a major chemical component of Roundup that was linked in 2015 as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC). The original lawsuits accuse Monsanto of “ghostwriting” allegedly independent research that touted the safety of glyphosate.
A second report published by two WHO subcommittees in 2016 seemingly contradicts the original IARC assessment, stating that “there is some evidence of a positive association between glyphosate exposure and risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma from the case-control studies and the overall meta-analysis. … [But] the only large cohort study of high quality found no evidence of an association at any exposure level.”
In conclusion: Glyphosate’s toxicity levels are too low to be considered an acute carcinogenic danger unless consumed in large doses. This report is supported by a 2015 European Food Safety Authority study which states that glyphosate is not carcinogenic. As of March 2017, the European Union remains divided on whether or not to ban the chemical herbicide over health, safety, and environmental concerns.
In March, a judge on the case ruled that documents pertaining to the case must be released to the public. The anti-GMO whistleblowing website US Right to Know published these documents, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, on May 8. One of the documents published contains the plaintiffs’ response in support of striking the confidentiality of a deposition given by Dr. William Heydens (a Monsanto scientist). The document cites Monsanto’s “Let Nothing Go” program which aggressively counteracts negative comments — even on Facebook — with positive posts produced “through a series of third parties.”
“[Monsanto] employs individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry, who in turn post positive comments on news articles and Facebook posts, defending Monsanto, its chemicals, and GMOs,” the court document states. The same document also accused Monsanto of “quietly funneling” money to “think tanks … intended to shame scientists.”
The Daily Meal contacted Monsanto for a comment on the trolling accusations, but they responded without addressing them, instead reiterating the confidence they have in their food safety procedures:
“Allegations that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans are inconsistent with decades of comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world and plucking a single email out of context, as plaintiffs are doing in these lawsuits, doesn’t change that fact,” a Monsanto representative told The Daily Meal in an email.