Monsanto Papers: exclusive interview with Carey Gillam

Carey Gillam, the American journalist behind the documents that are knocking down RoundUp and exposing Monsanto for fraud. BY ANABEL POMAR

Her appearances as expert witness before the European Union or the Capitol, put Carey Gillam in the spotlight and the center of the news when her usual role was being on the other side of the story: making questions, documenting and registering. Gillam is shaking one of the biggest corporations in the world with her investigations, but she defines herself as a “Kansas girl”. She has three children and is an active participant of a home program for boys and girls in transit. But above all, Carey Gillam

has a fundamental role in the Monsanto Papers.

Gillam is a journalist, researcher and writer with more than twenty-five years of experience. During seventeen of those years she worked as a correspondent for the international agency Reuters. Nowadays, she collaborates with The Guardian and The Huffington Post newspapers.

Since 1998, she has specialized her work in the food and agriculture industry. The areas of expertise of Gillam include biotechnological crops technology, the development of agrochemical and pesticides products, and the environmental impact of food production in the Unite States. “My work is based in the belief that by sharing information and ideas, arguments are transmitted and critical events and actions for public policies are revealed, we help with the advancement and strengthening of our community, our humanity”, she answered to MU.

Since January 2016, Carey Gillam is also the research director at USRTK, a non-governmental organization of the United States that seeks to guarantee the right to information and the transparency of the food system. From that place, she was one of the persons in charge to make the requests for public information that gave rise to the Monsanto Papers. Internal e-mails, notes, presentations and other registries from the company than were then revealed thanks to the request of URSTK by Carey, together with the legal teams who are suing Monsanto alleging that the exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides caused diseases.

“The documents were made public in 2017 when a law firm in Los Angeles started sharing many of the internal documents of Monsanto, submitting them in the public part of the court file in a Federal court in California, where many of the lawsuits are filed”, stated Gillam.

Her work is far from over: the American court continues releasing new papers arising from the court cases that continue moving forward in the United States. Each document is a new piece of a gigantic puzzle that is starting to come together little by little. The final image is starting to show Monsanto in its malice. “Monsanto and its allies in the chemical industry have been actively working together to confuse and deceive consumers, farmers, regulators and legislators on the risks associated with the glyphosate-based pesticides. They have suppressed the risks, they have proclaimed the rewards and  have pushed the use of this herbicide to historically high levels. The evidence has come to light in the internal documents of Monsanto, combined with data and documents from regulating agencies, it could not be clearer: it is time the public officials around the world acted to protect public health and not corporate profits.”

There was a time when Carey was far from worrying for toxic agrochemicals. “I used not to pay any attention to the food matter. Neither spent time learning where the products I bought at the groceries came from. Nor money. I did not buy organic because I thought they were the same products but only more expensive. I was not worried about the invisible chemicals that could lurk in my lunch”, she confesses and even acknowledges to have used herbicides generously in her backyard.

But the information changed her. And this information is the one she tries to disseminate now in every public appearance, in an article regarding the subject or in interviews like this one: “Consumers are exposed to this chemical glyphosate and to many others on a regular basis in the food and water. Certainly, consumers have the right to receive information that is true and transparent regarding their safety.”

As a result of the work of a lifetime, Carey published in 2017, her book on research Whitewash: The history of a herbicide, cancer and the corruption of science, hard data journalistic documented investigation which has just received the Rachel Carson award to the environmental book of 2018, according to her peers of the Environmental Journalists Association. A more than significant award, since in her book, Gillam makes clear her admiration for Carson’s work and the inspiration that she was for her work Silent Spring. Gillam closes the circle: “Whitewash shows we have forgotten the lessons that Rachel Carson taught us 55 years ago: to try to master nature with synthetic pesticides is a recipe for the destruction of health and the environment.”

Just like the narrative vehicle of Carson’s stories was the DDT pesticide, the focus of Gillam’s book is the glyphosate pesticide from Monsanto, commonly known by consumers as RoundUp. “Whitewash contains many revelations, not only about how  this and other pesticides have penetrated in our food production system, but also how hard corporate entities such as Monsanto have worked to hide the truth.”

Carey Gillam’s claim work was not overlooked by the transgenic giant now property of Bayer. Throughout the years, as her research reports and notes started including the doubts regarding the benefits of the genetically modified organisms, and the risks associated with the chemical products used on them, Gillam became a visible target. “The representatives of the company and the industry alternated themselves in seeking to intimidate me and convince me to write news in a way that they repeated the conversation points of the industry. They told me there was no justification to report the two sides of the argument regarding the crops and Monsanto’s chemical products because science was also resolved and anyone who questioned that was frustrating Monsanto’s mission to feed the world.”

Today, those efforts to buy journalists and influencers were exposed by the Monsanto papers: “The agrochemicals industry has been very upset regarding the publication of the internal registries which reveal many secret strategies to manipulate consumers, regulators, legislators and the scientific registry. Certain players within the chemical industry have been trying to discredit us and stalk me and my colleagues, and they try to stop us from sharing information.”

Gillam did not only not get cold feet, but she decided to put all her experience as a research journalist in the world of civil organizations and from there, to double her efforts to expose the fraud. Monsanto papers and the role of the non-governmental organization where she works were acknowledged by the attorneys of Dewayne Johnson for their contribution to the historical sentence. “The members of the jury could see through the documents how Monsanto had employed a range of tactics, some drawn from the very same book of plays used by the tobacco industry to defend the safety of cigarettes, to suppress and manipulate the scientific literature, stalk journalists and scientists not to make propaganda of the company, and to force the change of arm and the collusion of the regulators. Monsanto lost the case mainly because the members of the jury could see the condemnatory truth shining through the e-mails of the company, the strategy internal reports and other communications.” the verdict in the case of the gardener from San Francisco became, last August 10th, the first in linking Roundup with cancer. MU asked Carey Gillam what other important revelations in the papers had not yet received the due public attention. “There are a series of documents affirming the safety of the glyphosate and they aim to diminish the International Agency for Cancer Research, which we know were written by a scientist from Monsanto but that are submitted as being independent. We know that Monsanto paid, to at least two of the authors, thousands of dollars, at the moment of writing the “independent” documents for the scientific magazine “Critical Reviews in Toxicology”, and we know that those payments were not revealed. We are also aware that a scientist from Monsanto wrote and edited many parts of the so-called independent documents, despite the declaration that accompanied those documents when they were published, indicated that no one in Monsanto even looked or “revised” the documents before being published.” Gillam considers an “atrocious scandal” that the newspaper director Roger McClellan and the Taylor & Francis publishing house have not yet retracted.

“It is not a story that will make you feel well, but it is one that must be told”, says Corey Gillam in the preface of her book Whitewash.

A very similar phrase to the one used by Rachel Carson when her work paved the road for thousands of environmental fighters: “I felt I had the dignified obligation of doing what I could.”