19. Agribusiness Giants Attempt to Silence and Discredit Scientists Whose Research Reveals Herbicides’ Health Threats

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

Independent journalists, including E. Ann Clark, James Corbett, Rachel Aviv, and Democracy Now!, document how Big Agriculture giants Monsanto and Syngenta have attempted to silence the findings and destroy the reputations of scientists whose research shows that the companies’ herbicides pose serious threats to human health.

In September 2012, Dr. Gilles-Éric Séralini published research findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology. These findings showed the toxic impact of Monsanto’s herbicide and genetically modified corn—including adverse health effects on rats. However, after publication, the journal made the unprecedented decision to retract the study.

Journal editor Dr. A. Wallace Hayes admitted that none of the established criteria for retracting a study applied to the Séralini paper. However, as Clark and Corbett reported, a new connection between the journal and Monsanto might account for the retraction, as well as another retraction of a similar study from Brazil that demonstrated the toxic effects on mice of an insecticide that forms the basis of the Bt GMO crops. After these papers were published, the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology created a new position: the associate editor for biotechnology. The journal then selected Richard E. Goodman, from the University of Nebraska, to fill the position and preside over such retractions. As it turns out, Goodman worked in regulatory sciences for Monsanto from 1997 to 2004.

Neither the journal’s retraction of Séralini’s research nor its implications were covered by corporate media, reflecting a trend in which science critical of GMOs is sidelined and dismissed by the special interests promoting them.

Monsanto is not alone in trying to silence its critics. As Rachel Aviv of the New Yorker and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reported, after fifteen years of research, Tyrone Hayes, University of California–Berkeley professor of integrative biology, determined that Syngenta’s herbicide atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs and could cause the same problems for humans. The company now known as Syngenta hired Hayes to research atrazine in 1997. But when his findings ran contrary to their interests, they refused to allow him to publish and instead worked to discredit him. He left Syngenta in 2001, but continued to research the harmful effects of atrazine on the endocrine system.

Court documents from a class action lawsuit against Syngenta show how the company sought to smear Hayes’s reputation and to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from banning the profitable chemical, which is already banned by the European Union. The company’s public relations team drafted a list of four goals. Reporter Rachel Aviv wrote, “The first was ‘discredit Hayes.’ In a spiral-bound notebook, Syngenta’s communications manager, Sherry Ford, who referred to Hayes by his initials, wrote that the company could ‘prevent citing of TH data by revealing him as noncredible.’ He was a frequent topic of conversation at company meetings. Syngenta looked for ways to ‘exploit Hayes’ faults/problems.’ ‘If TH involved in scandal, enviros will drop him,’ Ford wrote.”

Despite its documented threats to environmental health and public health, atrazine remains on the market.


E. Ann Clark, “Orwellian Airbrushing of Scientific Record,” GMWatch, November 30, 2013, http://gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2013/15192-orwellian-airbrushing-ofscientific-record.

James Corbett, “Genetic Fallacy: How Monsanto Silences Scientific Dissent,” Corbett Report, December 3, 2013, http://www.corbettreport.com/genetic-fallacy-how-monsanto-silences-scientific-dissent.

Rachel Aviv, “A Valuable Reputation,” New Yorker, February 10, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/02/10/140210fa_fact_aviv.

“Silencing the Scientist: Tyrone Hayes on Being Targeted by Herbicide Firm Syngenta,” Democracy Now!, February 21, 2014, http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/21/silencing_the_scientist_tyrone_hayes_on.

Student Researcher: Katelyn Parks (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)