Pesticide producer monsanto: the secret glyphosate money

Pesticide producer Monsanto claimed in the lobby register to have paid 1.5 million euros in Europe. But it was ten times as much – just for glyphosate.

People protested against Monasanto in Lyon last year Photo by Nicolas Liponne/ZUMA Press/imago.

Pesticide manufacturer Monsanto has paid much more for lobbying for the re-approval of glyphosate than it had declared in the EU transparency register. The U.S. company transferred about 14.5 million euros to PR agency FleishmanHillard for the 2016/2017 campaign, according to a report commissioned by Bayer Group, which acquired Monsanto in 2018. However, Monsanto told the official register that it spent a maximum of 1.45 million euros on all its lobbying work from September 2016 to August 2017 – the same as the year after.

"Monsanto has misled the public," Nina Holland, researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), told the taz on Tuesday. The transparency register of the EU Commission and the European Parliament is supposed to disclose how organizations influence politics with financial and human resources.

The goal of Monsanto’s lobbying campaign was the re-approval of glyphosate in the EU, which actually took place in 2017 – although the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency classified the world’s best-selling pesticide active ingredient as "probably carcinogenic" in 2015.

Editor’s note as of 08.06.2020: when editing the article, it was unfortunately deleted that the WHO’s "cancer research agency" made the classification of glyphosate. We have now added this.

FleishmanHillard compiled lists of a total of 1,500 industry and association representatives, politicians, lobbyists and journalists in several EU countries. The agency was tasked with developing arguments and, for example, helping farmers to promote the pesticide in letters to politicians. The campaign involved 59 lobbyists from FleishmanHillard or its subcontractors. The companies made all of this public only after media outlets came across the PR people’s data collections in 2019.

Register must include all lobbying

Now the European Union’s transparency register wants to tighten its rules

"There was no doubt that the sum of 14.5 million euros should have been disclosed," said CEO activist Holland. According to the rules, the register must include any lobbying "for the purpose of directly or indirectly influencing EU institutions, regardless of where the activities are carried out."

"The re-authorization of glyphosate was an EU decision, with a final vote by EU member states," the activist argues. FleishmanHillard specifically influenced decision-makers in Brussels as well as in EU countries, she said. The firms should have mentioned the costs in their registry entries. "That would have given the public and decision-makers a more realistic picture of the pesticide industry’s lobbying power," Holland said. Monsanto and FleishmanHillard would have to be removed from the register – and thus lose access to European Parliament buildings.

The registry’s secretariat replied to CEO that Monsanto had only reported the costs of lobbying in Brussels, but not the activities in the member countries. In order to prevent interpretations in this sense in the future, the rules would be changed. Since Monsanto no longer had its own entry in the register after the acquisition and Bayer had finally published the figures, no further sanctions were necessary, he said.

CEO welcomed the clarification announced. But "structural problems" with the registry, which is why underreporting of lobby spending went undetected for a long time, would persist: The secretariat has too few staff to check the data, Holland said. Bayer spokesman Holger Elfes wrote to the taz that the group had "acted differently [than Monsanto] and also included activities in EU member states in its declaration." "We will, of course, continue to maintain the highest standards of transparency," Elfes said.