TO: CAROLYN FORREST, GREG JONES

FROM: JANE AKRE, STEVE WILSON - WTVT TAMPA

DATE: FEBRUARY 24, 1997

RE: MONSANTO ISSUE

 

CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY-CLIENT COMMUNICATION

________________________________________________________

We believe Monsanto’s position outlined in the five-page letter from a New York law firm is only the first step in its campaign to kill this story. We are concerned about their initial success in getting management to postpone the broadcast by making false claims of alleged "new information" they suggest we never reviewed or understood, and by lying about us and our ethical conduct throughout this investigation.

For the purposes of keeping this brief, we will not deal here with their blatant misrepresentations about complex scientific issues. What’s most important to us now is that you see their claims in the context of their efforts to deliberately mislead you in order to raise doubts about the ethics of your reporters and the reliability of their information. Whenever you like, we can show you how they’ve done the same with the scientific claims they’ve made.

  • 1. "…there is information available to my client that Ms. Akre and Mr. Wilson…have misrepresented themselves and their purposes in order to get information from the chairman of a university department and Florida dairy farmers, and also to obtain a dairy farmers rBST starter kit from a Monsanto sales representative."
  • At no time have either of us misrepresented to anyone our true identities, our affiliation with WTVT,or the fact that we were researching a story about the dairy industry and the growing use of Bovine Growth Hormone.

    The "chairman of a university department" is Roger Natske. Lisa Harleman initially contacted him by telephone in December. She told him of our interest in BGH. He discussed with her the UF’s involvement in research of BGH. He offered to discuss it freely on camera and even show how the product is administered.

    Jane followed-up with a phone call to Natske in early January. She identified herself as Jane Akre, a reporter for WTVT in Tampa. She reminded him of our interest in a story about diary farming. She requested an on-camera interview which he agreed to. Her scheduled visit to his UF office and farm on January 30 was extremely cordial and lasted about three hours.

    In addition to the on-camera interview with Natske, he gave a complete tour of the facility and invited and authorized us to shoot whatever else we wanted to. In addition to general video establishing the location, we shot staff treating animals in the barn area and researchers in a lab.

    The visit was extremely friendly. The interview to establish UF’s role in Posilac research was not at all confrontational at any time.

    Consider the timing of this claim: it was not until almost three weeks later Natske called to voice any concern whatsoever. My understanding is that he admitted to assistant news director Sue Kawalerski his sudden complaint was prompted by discussions he had Monsanto officials who invited him (and presumably others?) to a meeting at a posh resort location. In fairness, we do not know the purpose of the meeting but it’s important to note the kind of relationship Monsanto has developed with researchers who regularly benefit from the company’s research grants and outright gifts to them and their schools.

    With regard to claims about how Steve acquired the Monsanto "starter-kit": This groundless charge was made to Steve by Monsanto p-r man Gary Barton days before it was re-asserted in the lawyer’s letter.

    Steve explained to Barton in detail that no misrepresentation was made or required, that he simply dialed a toll-free Monsanto hotline widely advertised as the place to call for more information about the product. The friendly order-fulfillment lady on the other end merely asked for name, address and telephone number. Steve answered every question honestly. At no time did she ask how many cows he owned or his occupation. Barton knows all this and presumably passed it along to the lawyer who obviously isn’t bothered by repeating the accusation even after he knows the truth.

  • 2. "…journalists who have arrived at a closed view about the subject, as opposed to keeping an open mind…"
  • Jane traveled to St. Louis more than two weeks ago and met for nearly two hours with Monsanto’s senior scientist Robert Collier and p-r representative Gary Barton. Her on-camera interview with the scientist was cordial, non-confrontational, and about lasted about 80 minutes.

    Neither Monsanto men ever expressed to her or her photographer any concern whatsoever about their open-mindedness or fair approach to the story. At no time was there any criticism of the tone or content of the interview Akre had just conducted with Collier. In fact, to the contrary, both Barton and Collier were cordial and friendly, discussing lunch options in St. Louis and the travel time to the airport. Barton even escorted Akre to the lobby where they jokingly discussed "Judy The Posilac Cow" who was decorated with Valentines Day hearts. He explained they decorate her for all seasons. Photographer Joel Fagen was unrestricted in his efforts to shoot with his open camera both inside and outside headquarters.

    These charges come now in a letter dated February 21st—two weeks after the interview! Why? In our view, only because the list of detailed questions we sent them last week, coupled with their own snooping about the range of people we’ve talked with, convinced them they were dealing with people who were obviously spending more time and going into more depth about the controversy than most local news operations they generally deal with.

  • 3. "... a lack of understanding about the state and federal programs that ensure milk quality has been exhibited by the reporters."
  • It is, in fact, Monsanto which either doesn’t understand the milk inspection programs in place in Florida or, more likely, is intentionally misrepresenting the truth about them to make their point.

    On tape, Monsanto senior scientist Collier says: "In 1993, FDA adopted new tests for evaluating milk that will pickup these antibiotics (to fight udder infections) and they are tested on every tanker truck that comes into a plant, so every tanker load is tested with new tests." That re-assurance sounds great to consumers but it is not true.

    The lab director for the Tampa Independent Dairy co-op is the only man who routinely tests every single load of raw milk that comes from farms in this area. In an on-camera interview, he admits he tests for dangerous and illegal antibiotic drug residue ONLY in the penicillin family. As a back-up spot check to assure the co-op is doing its job, Florida state officials test only 8 samples every 6 months for the same, limited types of drug residue. Only Federal authorities test for a wider array of antibiotics but that, too, is only on a spot basis of 5 each quarter and not just from the local co-op but from the entire state of Florida!. And even those tests check for one family of antibiotics per quarter, i.e. sulfa, tetracycline, etc. (One milk producer (Publix) says it picks a single antibiotic family each month and does an additional test for those limited drugs as a matter of diligence, not a requirement of law or regulation.)

    Bottom line: "every tanker truck that comes into a plant" is NOT tested for the wide variety of antibiotic residue as claimed by Collier and Monsanto.

    This lack of adequate screening is an important part of our story because when farmers use the Monsanto product, their cows get udder infections (called Mastitis) much more frequently. We have the company’s own data which shows a whopping 79% increase following injection of Monsanto’s artificial hormone. (You’ll notice, by the way, not a single word about Mastitis problems in the lawyer’s letter.) These infections can be deadly if not treated and farmers resort to all kinds of treatments including the use of antibiotics. After cows build an immunity to the penicillin drugs usually used to treat the infection, farmers are forced to look for a cure by administering a wider, sometimes illegal, array of over 60 other kinds of non-penicillin antibiotics. It is these drugs for which tests are not routinely conducted.

    This is such a serious concern, Newsweek recently devoted a cover story about dozens of antibiotics routinely used on farms for which there is no routine screening. We know this to be a potential problem based on our own observations of non-penicillin antibiotics being used on Florida farms we visited.

    In conclusion, please review these additional points which go the heart of what we believe is the issue here: Monsanto’s credibility, both in its claims about its product and its charges against us of bias and reckless disregard for the truth.

    • Monsanto says: "Posilac is the most thoroughly tested new product ever to be brought to market." (Monsanto makes this claim on its sales promotional videotape.)

     The truth is: It is not. Although Monsanto snowed the FDA with voluminous short-term test reports 70 stories tall, tests designed to pick up long-term human toxicity problems (so-called "chronic testing") consisted of a 90-day study on 30 rats! It is a generally accepted principle in science that two years is the minimal time for long-range problems to present themselves in studies on animals used to mimic human reaction.

    • Monsanto says: "There are no human or animal safety issues that would prevent approval in Canada once they’ve completed their review." (Monsanto’s chief scientist makes this claim in his on-camera interview with us.)

    The truth is: Monsanto claims the scientific body that recommends approval in Canada has already established the product is safe. Nonetheless, so many serious questions have been raised in the process, Canadian government health officials have placed a seven-year moratorium on any such approval. It runs into the next decade and we have the memo the standing Committee on Health in Canadian Parliament telling the government’s Minister of Health that seven years isn’t long enough to ban the stuff. The letter says the moratorium should be extended at least two more years "to allow Members of Parliament to further examine the human health implications…"

    • Monsanto says: "It was declared there would be a BGH moratorium (in all of Europe) based on market issues, not health issues." (Monsanto’s chief scientist makes this claim in his on-camera interview with us.)

    The truth is: We have an angry letter sent in 1994 when the FDA apparently attempted to pressure the European Union into following step and approving the hormone. The letter, from a top official of the European Parliament, to then-FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler, cites "more and more scientific evidence to demonstrate the sfaety of European citizens who consume BGH products cannot be guaranteed".

    • Monsanto says: Monsanto believes in the voluntary labeling of products that do not contain the hormone.

    The truth is: One of Monsanto’s lawyers, in a revolving door move to the FDA, went to the agency and reportedly tried to block such voluntary labeling with an FDA regulation against it. When he found out even the agency didn’t have the authority to do that, he wrote a pro-Monsanto "labeling guideline". The company then misled dairy producers into believing the guideline had the force of law and it threatened to sue any dairy which didn’t follow it to the letter.

    Two small dairies which couldn’t afford to defend themselves were sued and forced to agree to a settlement which Monsanto insisted be kept confidential. The company then spread news about the suit to others in an effort to successfully pressure them not to even think about labeling a jug of milk as "free of synthetic hormones".

    Concurrently, the company also used its financial largesse to support efforts to pass state laws that do ban BGH labels and the efforts of various state agriculture secretaries (including Florida’s) to do the same.



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