Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, has been the director of nutrition for WebMD, one of the most visited health sites on the web, for 13 years.1 Listed in her extensive biography are ties to United Healthcare insurance company, for which she serves as a nutrition expert, as well as contributing editor to Food & Nutrition Magazine.
She’s also received a high honor from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — the 2016 Lenna Frances Cooper Memorial Lecture Award — among many other accomplishments. But what is not mentioned, however, is that Zelman also participates in Monsanto’s Leaders Engaged in Advancing Dialogue (LEAD) Initiative.
The participants — 15 “communication leaders in the food and nutrition space” — receive funding from Monsanto and “communicate with consumers who have questions about food and agriculture, especially how food is grown.” They also “engage with the food and nutrition community through various outreach initiatives.”2
WebMD’s Little-Known Ties to Monsanto
The fact that WebMD’s nutrition director is being paid by Monsanto (the company won’t say how much) to talk about the benefits of Monsanto products is concerning, especially since the general belief is that WebMD is a trustworthy source of “independent and objective” health information.
It’s become quite clear, however, that WebMD is a shill, using its influence to promote corporate-backed health strategies and products.
In 2016, for instance, WebMD featured Monsanto-sponsored ads saying, “It’s time for a bigger discussion about food,” with links to Monsanto’s biased take on soil, water and honeybee issues, with no other contributors to the discussion in sight.
In other words, Monsanto pays WebMD to display advertisements and advertorials on its behalf, furthering their agenda.
Advertorials are essential ads that appear to be actual journalism, which can easily be misunderstood as “real,” science-backed content. If WebMD is carrying Monsanto’s message, even if it’s clear that Monsanto crafted it, then many will simply assume that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must be safe.
Beyond assumptions, WebMD is also peppered with pro-GMO articles,3 so it’s no secret where their loyalty lies.
Monsanto Pays Registered Dieticians to Spread Their Agenda
Influencing federal agencies and utilizing registered dieticians to spread their agenda is Monsanto’s modus operandi. Zelman is but one registered dietician who belongs to Monsanto’s LEAD Initiative. Mary Lee Chin, MS, RDN is another.
In March 2017, media outlet Mic released snippets of Chin’s emails, which were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, and shared examples of her social media posts, which do not disclose that she’s a paid consultant for Monsanto.4
In a 2014 email to Jon Entine, founder of the Genetic Literacy Project, a GMO- and pesticide-friendly blog that sponsors a biotech conference known as the Biotech Literacy Project, Chin said she hoped the LEAD group would be invited to the 2015 conference. According to Mic:5
“In the emails, Chin wrote that the LEAD group has ‘tremendous outreach capabilities.’ She noted that during a three-day meeting, the LEAD Network ‘generated 2.6 million hits on social media’ …
Chin attended the Biotech Literacy Project in 2014 and noted she ‘put the experience to good use’ because she was ‘debating in media’ to oppose GMO labeling in Colorado. In her email, Chin suggests social media is a valuable way to shape public opinion.”
Her social media accounts, however, though often filled with the topic of GMOs, do not make it clear that she’s being paid by Monsanto.
“Nowhere on her Twitter bio does she mention she works for the corporation,” according to Mic, and “anything written by a Monsanto spokesperson that Chin posts seems to merit a #sponsored, but anything generally relating to GMOs does not.”6
In a rebuttal to the accusation that she’s not publically disclosing her ties to Monsanto, Chin wrote on the Genetic Literacy Project website:7
“I was drawn to Ag seed companies and Monsanto not only due to the very robust science, and the capacity of genetically engineered crops to contribute to a more secure food supply, but also growing higher quality of foods through biofortified crops.”
Did Monsanto Conspire With the EPA Over Glyphosate’s Cancer Link?
In 2015, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, was determined to be a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), rather than taking immediate steps to protect Americans from this probable cancer-causing agent, decided to reassess its position on the chemical and, after doing so, released a paper in October 2015 stating that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.8
In April 2016, the EPA posted the report online, briefly, before pulling it and claiming it was not yet final and posted by mistake.
The paper was signed by Jess Rowland (among other EPA officials), who at the time was the EPA’s deputy division director of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and chair of the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC).
This is notable because Monsanto is currently embroiled in a number of lawsuits, including litigation from more than 50 people who claim exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).
Monsanto has used the EPA’s supposedly-not-final report in court hearings to suggest glyphosate is safe, but the plaintiffs’ attorneys asked for documents detailing Monsanto’s interactions with Rowland to be released. In March 2017, a judge unsealed the documents, which revealed two disturbing collusions.
EPA Implicated in Monsanto Glyphosate-Cancer Coverup
Email correspondence showed Rowland helped stop a glyphosate investigation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on Monsanto’s behalf.
In an email, Monsanto regulatory affairs manager Dan Jenkins recounts a conversation he’d had with Rowland, in which Rowland said, “If I can kill this I should get a medal,”9 referring to the ATSDR investigation, which did not end up occurring.
Jenkins also noted that Rowland was planning to retire in a few months and “could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.”10 And it gets even worse. According to The New York Times:11
“Court records show that Monsanto was tipped off to the determination by a deputy division director at the EPA, Jess Rowland, months beforehand. That led the company to prepare a public relations assault on the finding well in advance of its publication.”
The court records also show that in making the decision that glyphosate does not cause cancer, the EPA used two studies that had been ghostwritten by Monsanto’s toxicology manager but were published using names of academic researchers.12 Bloomberg reported:13,14
” … Monsanto’s toxicology manager and his boss, Bill Heydens, were ghost writers for two of the reports, including one from 2000, that Rowland’s committee relied on in part to reach its conclusion that glyphosate shouldn’t be classified as carcinogenic.
… Among the documents unsealed was a February 2015 internal email exchange at the company about how to contain costs for a research paper …
The names of outside scientists could be listed on the publication, ‘but we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak,’ according to the email, which goes on to say that’s how Monsanto handled the 2000 study.”
Nearly 150 New Cancer Cases Filed Against Monsanto
In March 2017, a Los Angeles, California-based law firm, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, filed three bundled cases against Monsanto on behalf of 136 plaintiffs who allege exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.15 Co-counsel Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said:
“We’re bringing the lawsuit to address the injuries that have been caused by Roundup and glyphosate to mainly farmers and farm workers, but we also think that consumers and home gardeners have also been affected.”16
While more than 700 cases have been filed against Monsanto related to Roundup health risks, Kennedy said he expects this to increase to 3,000 cases in the months to come.17 The lawsuits use the recent revelations between Monsanto and the EPA to support their case. According to the law firm’s website:
“The lawsuits allege that Monsanto championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies that revealed the dangers of Roundup in order to prove that Roundup was safe, while also leading a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers, and the general population that Roundup wasn’t dangerous.”
California to List Glyphosate as a Chemical Known to Cause Cancer