Who is Carey Gillam?

Working for Reuters in Kansas City


To people who are skeptical about pesticides and leery of global agri-companies, 
Carey Gillam is a truth-telling hero.

To Monsanto and supporters of modern agriculture, Gillam is a campaigner, a spreader of misinformation and an irrational activist.

Gillam, who was an agricultural reporter for Reuters in Kansas City from 1998 to 2015, sees it differently.

She said she is just doing her job as an independent, investigative journalist: gathering data, talking to smart people and trying to share the best possible information about pesticides and public safety.

But, Gillam added, she is definitely not a campaigner.

“You’re never going to see me in a march with a sign. That’s never going to happen,” said Gillam, who lives near Kansas City with her husband and three kids.

“Tell me where I had campaigned for anything, or advocated for anything, other than truth or transparency?… It’s not anti-industry or pro-organic…. It’s about, let’s get the information out there that’s truthful.”

Gillam left Reuters in 2015 and became research director with U.S. Right to Know, which campaigns for transparency in the food system and mandatory GMO labelling.

For the last few years she has dedicated most of her research and attention to one pesticide and one company: glyphosate and Monsanto.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and the most popular herbicide in the world.

The herbicide and Monsanto are the subjects of Gillam’s book, Whitewash: the story of a weed killer, cancer and the corruption of science.

The book, which is set to be re-leased this fall, is timely because glyphosate might be the most controversial chemical on the planet right now. In March of 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, concluded that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans.

Some toxicologists condemned the IARC finding as invalid, biased and alarmist.

A long list of regulatory bodies and scientific groups — including Health Canada, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency — also criticized IARC scientists and their methods.

Those organizations have reviewed the safety of glyphosate and decided it’s not a carcinogen.

Among those who reject the IARC’s conclusion is Monsanto.

“Her (Gillam’s) main argument that glyphosate is carcinogenic is based on a 2015 classification of glyphosate by IARC, which excluded critical data, is fatally flawed and is a complete outlier from every regulatory agency globally,” the company said in a statement.

“No regulatory agency in the world has concluded that glypho-sate is a carcinogen.”

Despite the pushback, the IARC report has had a massive impact:

  • Europe came close to banning the herbicide last year, and its approval will likely become a political issue this fall because the European Commission is proposing to extend the herbicide’s registration for 10 years.
  • This summer California added glyphosate to a list of chemicals known to cause cancer. The product will now be sold with a warning label in the state.
  • The IARC classification as “probably carcinogenic” also opened the door for numerous lawsuits over the herbicide’s safety.
  • Hundreds of journalists have been reporting on the scientific, legal and political bickering over glyphosate in North America and Europe, but few have covered it more intensely than Gillam.

“I’ve been FOIAing (using the Freedom of Information Act) government agencies like crazy, including suing the EPA a year ago for documents pertaining to glyphosate and Monsanto,” she said in an email.

“I get about 1,000 new FOIA documents a month coming in to go through.”

She has used those documents to break a number of stories on the herbicide. She was the first to report that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tested for glypho-sate in honey and found residues in many samples, spurring lawsuits against honey packers in the United States.

Gillam also broke the news that the FDA was planning to test food samples for residues of glyphosate for the first time ever. Then she reported that the FDA had suspended the testing.

Most people wouldn’t have the focus or interest to wade through 1,000 government documents a month about a herbicide, but Gillam is an exception.

“I’m a glyphosate geek. I don’t know of many people that have … spent thousands of hours of research on glyphosate,” she said.

“I am never happier than when I’m sitting here, surrounded by stacks of documents and data that I can just pore through.”

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Members of the European Parliament believe Gillam has a unique knowledge of glyphosate.

They’ve invited her to present, in October, before a parliamentary committee looking into the herbicide’s safety.

“The aim is to discuss the credibility of scientific studies behind the decision of U.S. regulatory agencies to authorize Roundup … as well as the conclusions of the EU risk assessment agencies ECHA and EFSA regarding (the) active substance glyphosate,” a European Parliament representative said in an email that Gillam shared with The Western Producer.

In her articles on Roundup, Gillam has alleged that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted in ways to protect Monsanto instead of protecting public safety.

Gillam wasn’t always obsessed with glyphosate. Twenty years ago she wasn’t even interested in agriculture.

In the 1990s Gillam was working on the U.S. east coast, covering the banking industry for Reuters.

One day, managers with Reuters asked her to move to Kansas City to report on U.S. commodity markets and agriculture. She had lived in Kansas City until she was four, but covering agriculture was unappealing.

“I thought it sounded like a terrible job,” she recalled.

However, she accepted the transfer and embraced her new role. She went on wheat and corn tours, spoke with hundreds of farmers and interviewed executives with Monsanto for stories on Roundup Ready seeds, which had just hit the market.

Initially, Gillam was impressed with the advanced technology and the scientists behind Roundup Ready crops. But in the early 2000s she became more skeptical.

She began to talk more frequently to farmers and scientists critical of biotech and pesticides.

The shift happened around the time that Monsanto was trying to bring Roundup Ready wheat to market.

It became clear, to Gillam at least, that Monsanto was pushing RR wheat onto a reluctant market.

“The farmers really didn’t want Roundup Ready wheat. I was at all the meetings…. They weren’t asking for it, they didn’t want it. What they really wanted was a disease resistant wheat,” she said.

“The Japanese went crazy and said, ‘we’re going to boycott all U.S. wheat if you put this on the market.’ ”

Gillam came to the conclusion that the corporate message of feeding the world and helping farmers was nothing but public relations.

“Maybe that crystallized (it) for me. This is not about … this wonderful kumbaya storyline…. This (was) about selling a lot of chemicals and a lot of high-priced, specialized seed,” she said.

“They needed a way to control and continue to (get) that revenue stream for their Roundup Ready products…. It was a brilliant business strategy, but it didn’t jive with what they were telling the farmers.”

Gillam continued to report on the risks of Roundup Ready crops, including scientific warnings that overuse of the herbicide could lead to glyphosate resistant weeds.

She routinely wrote pieces that highlighted problems with biotech crops, including reports on efforts to keep GM technology out of Africa.

Monsanto and biotech supporters took notice. Gillam said the company put pressure on her and editors at Reuters, accusing her of bias.

Editors stood behind her reporting — for a while.

“Editors changed at Reuters. Right around the time that GMO labelling became a big issue: 2012 and 2013,” Gillam said.

“Editors came in who were less interested in reporting the concerns that were developing in farm country and in scientific circles.”

Monsanto global communications lead Sara Miller said in a 2016 blog post that the company did talk to Reuters’ editors about Gillam.

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“Well, honestly, we did think she was biased,” Miller wrote.

“The fact that she went directly from being a supposedly objective agriculture reporter to working at an anti-GMO organization suggests that we probably weren’t too far off in our conclusion.”

Gillam said her job really hasn’t changed since joining U.S. Right to Know.

She says she continues to re-search, analyze and publish the best possible information on ag biotech and pesticides, without restrictions.

“My role is to provide information,” she said.

“How (people) choose to interpret it and act on it (is up to them).”

She may not view herself as a campaigner, but anti-pesticide activists adore her work.

Bloggers and social media mavens who carp against modern agriculture frequently post links to Gillam’s articles.

They may think she’s a truth teller, but some agricultural scientists see it differently.

Kevin Folta, a University of Florida horticulture professor and frequent commentator on agricultural biotechnology, didn’t pull punches when talking about Gillam.

She is an activist, not a journalist, he said.

“She always has been an activist … who doesn’t care about facts and only wants to advance an agenda,” he said from Colombia, where he was speaking to university professors.

“She is somebody who has notoriously ignored all science, only to follow the morsels (of evidence) that support her beliefs.”

Monsanto also said that Gillam is prejudiced.

“She is currently a paid employee of an activist group that is funded by organic marketing interests that oppose modern agricultural tools, including glyphosate-based herbicides,” the company said.

“(Her) book is designed with a very specific purpose: to push an activist agenda and distract from the science (around glyphosate), which is not in question.”

Folta said it’s fair and necessary to report on the risks of biotechnology and pesticides, but Gillam takes it much further.

Her coverage distorts and exaggerates the risk.

“That’s not good reporting,” he said. “That’s waving an activist agenda. Everything is off the charts about the danger.”

He said it’s absurd that Gillam views herself as agnostic on biotechnology and pesticides.

“She is a tremendously anti-GMO and anti-glyphosate person,” he said.

“She has been an aggressive voice against biotechnology … and she’s been extremely aggressive with people like me who do report the science.”

Although she spends most of her time on research and digging up information, Gillam has shared her thoughts on the glyphosate controversy.

She wrote an opinion piece that was published in October 2016 in The Hill, a website covering U.S. politics. In it, she defended the integrity of IARC panel members, describing them as independent scientists with no social or political agenda.

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  • Factchecker

    Any article like this one that cites both Monsanto and Kevin Folta as credible sources is clearly a pro-GMO industry PR piece written by a shill. Instead of relying on this drivel, read her book…it’s very well written and fully referenced…and then make up your own mind.

  • Hank Campbell

    The article leaves out that US Right To Know is an industry front group created by Organic Consumers Association. And that she was fired from Reuters after detailed scrutiny of her work due to concerns about activist bias. Which led to her joining the trade group her employer was concerned about.

    • patzagame

      citations,please…

    • Harold

      Isn’t it funny how the GE folk are BIAS, ACT identical, they are ACTIVISTS themselves too, and yet the GE are throwing stones like hypocrites, as if they are somehow GOD justified. Is Monsanto a DEITY? Are scientists a DEITY?
      I for one am tired of the word-speak double-talk that surrounds the GE complex. It is damn ordinary for an industry to have a front group that represents them. Monsanto has a front group too; damn ordinary. Do you believe that identifying a legitimate front group exposes a conspiracy? When did bias become a bad thing and fence sitting become the good thing? A bias is simply a strongly held opinion based upon known facts. When did activism become a bad thing? Activism by dictionary meaning is a good thing. Anyone wishing to disclose Monsanto to the public is a good thing. If Monsanto is truth then why has exposure to truth become a bad thing? (thousands of document not made public; what are they hiding – truth?) Anyone promoting their own product; it is called advertising. Damn ordinary. When did full disclosure become a bad thing? A journalist is unbiased (a fence sitter) in that they provide both sides to a topic and thereafter the public decides from the report their own individual bias. Stupid are those who cannot understand that US Right to Know vs Monsanto are the two sides of a story. What fence sitting unbiased reporter is covering that event and feeding the report to the public to enable the public to gain their individual bias? There isn’t one. The reason there isn’t one is because Monsanto, as Gillam has testified, interferes with the media and reporters are fired. Not having a media Job one seeks employment in areas of their own personal skills and knowledge. Damn ordinary. Anyone covering up dirt and deception certainly doesn’t want to see an activist seeking the truth at their door and that is how the term activism truly got a bad name. Damn ordinary. Those who have truth want an activist and they are welcome. Damn ordinary. As I have said, I am tired of word-speak double-talk parroting that surrounds the GE complex and I am not moved by it.

    • StopGMO

      No it’s not. Where exactly did you get that misinformation from? Got proof? https: //usrtk. org/about/

    • John Zohn

      Industry front group? Are you kidding? Are you aware that around 95% of organic labels are owned by corporations associated with the GMA? That’s ripe calling the Organic Consumers Association “the organic industry” considering their annual revenue is less than what Monsanto alone spends on lobbying and campaign donations every year.

  • Rob Bright

    She’s a hero and a role model to any journalism student who believes in solid research and journalistic integrity. Quite remarkable (and admirable) that she continues to withstand the slander from the corrupt agrochemical industry and their antiscience supporters.

    • patzagame

      What better way to become an “activist” journalist disclosing the truthful facts than having to use The Freedom Of Information act on your own government ? Actually found Kevin Foltas’ statement “She is an activist, not a journalist, he said.” quite amusing. Coming from an industry “activist” scientist is very ironic. Here he is slamming Carey and yet when the shoe is on the other foot and he himself was the subject of the N.Y. Times,he launches a defamation lawsuit. Hilarious,except for the simple fact Ms.Gilman is not lying and Kevin does.

    • ed

      Wow! Right on. A real hero that states what should be the obvious but is not due to the spread of disinformation. Doesn’t take long to figure that this women is salt of the earth type of thing.

  • patzagame

    What better way to become an “activist” journalist disclosing the truthful facts than having to use The Freedom Of Information act on your own government ? Actually found Kevin Foltas’ statement “She is an activist, not a journalist, he said.” quite amusing. Coming from an industry “activist” scientist is very ironic. Here he is slamming Carey and yet when the shoe is on the other foot and he himself was the subject of the N.Y. Times,he launches a defamation lawsuit. Hilarious,except for the simple fact Ms.Gilman is not lying and Kevin does.

    • Harold

      Humorous indeed. According to Folta, a person who reads only from Folta’s personal Journals and diaries is a journalist. Large ego one would say. Apparently Folta thinks that Carey in keeping her own records and journals and diaries and then reporting from them – is not journalism/journalist. Folta is lying.
      Folta may be in need of a good dictionary and perhaps while there expand his horizons and look up the word activist. (I’m serious) It is a good thing that Folta doesn’t have the keys to anything important to me.

  • lilikoi744

    She is no hero but someone who disinforms the public and conflates biotech and pesticides. The fact that she works for a group known to misinform people spells out her MO.

  • Harold

    In journalism – when you are covering the two sides of a story and you cannot get the information from one of the sides, you are by default made bias. This is not of a journalist’s own doing. An activist is the person or journalist in pursuit of the missing information in that story.
    Many do not understand when the media has handed them double speak. What does “detailed scrutiny” and “activist bias” mean exactly?
    I certainly do understand how ordinary became un-ordinary and now a “rocket science” that no one can understand.
    Gillian was only seeking sensitive information from Monsanto and for that she was fired, but she continues in her engagement. (FOIA) Are we all expected to believe that while at Reuters she wasn’t engaged in doing the same thing? Do we know a giant “shut up”!! – when we see one? Too much Media smoke and mirrors? We should be asking questions like: Why is Monsanto a threat to Reuters? Why does Reuters have a bias to Monsanto? There are many reasons to be fired; why the Sara Miller (Monsanto) reason? It’s a money trail – not a content trail as it should be.

  • Brian Duggan

    I always figured Carey Gillam was funded by people who opposed glyphosate. Her articles are never objective. US Right to Know is her funder, and they received $479,500 in donations from Organic Consumers Association. We can safely dismiss her ramblings. https://usrtk.org/donors/

    • Harold

      Gee, you have exposed the damn obvious. Can I expose another one? Reuters paid Carey too – and they are also funded. What about one more. Monsanto funds scientific research and those scientists receive a pay cheque from that fund. Oh, I can’t resist; here’s one more. The politicians are funded by mandatory tax dollar donations, and also by the lobbyists. Do you think that you and I might be on to something startling? Does it even occur to you that Carey is gaining – not public – but secret information from Monsanto? Those would be things that Monsanto has never told you. To be safe in what you are doing, make sure that you DO NOT look in Monsanto’s files. I get it. “Ignorance is bliss – let’s safely dismiss.” I know the GMO Street-Chant shout-out. Somehow the word fool comes to mind and I cant seem to find the word – intelligent.

      • Brian Duggan

        Yeah but here is the difference; Carey Gillam is paid to ignore all the scientific evidence that shows that demonstrates that glyphosate is safe. It’s like this; 2,000 scientific papers says glyphosate is safe. 2 say it is unsafe. Do you run around with your hair on fire over those 2 papers because your biases and your employer tell you to do so? Or do you say ‘gee, I wonder why those 2 differ from the overwhelming body of evidence that shows that glyphosate isn’t harmful?’
        I can’t resist; what about all the scientists who aren’t paid by Monsanto who find that glyphosate is safe? 😂

        • Harold

          Your facts and figures are incorrect but it made for an interesting tale. Do you think that I have not heard your same lines over and over and over again? Your lines, which aren’t really yours, are copy and paste from the top all the way down to the ground level. If the fiction is repeated over and over again people will soon believe it’s a fact.
          If you couldn’t resist, why didn’t you name those scientists and really put me in my place; just hit me HARD!!!. While you’re at it, bring me Monsanto’s top-secret truth files; you know – the truth you know.
          To be clear on glyphosate; personally, I don’t give a damn about what any human mortal mind says about glyphosate: I will not consume it, and do you know what I really like? Looking at the people, who can’t stand, can’t tolerate, melt down, and despise, my freedom in doing so. It’s like watching children having a temper tantrum for not getting their own way. I’m sure that a growing number sees it in the same way. If just a clean apple from the Garden of Eden were proven safe by billion scientists am I therefore obligated to eat it, or can I have an orange instead? So, if you think that I am waiting upon Carey or your 5 billion scientists to give me my decision or to give me my opinion, you’re sadly mistaken. One opinion is good enough for me. Don’t you just hate me and have some more of those nasty and derogatory corporate words that they have given you to use? I really like the one about – if Monsanto doesn’t profit and gain in intellectual property ownership – the world will die and it will be my entire fault – so eat your glyphosate. That one makes me warm and fuzzy and now from a nothing I’m transformed into – a somebody important – and really makes me feel like I matter. Can you tell it to me again? I also like star trek; another tale of science fiction.