Monsanto Says Its ‘Watch Lists’ Are Not Illegal Surveillance

FRANKFURT, Germany (AFP) — Lawyers hired by German chemical giant Bayer found no illegal activity in “watch lists” of hundreds of pro- and anti-pesticide figures kept by its subsidiary Monsanto, the firm said Thursday.

“We did not find evidence to support … allegations regarding the illegality of the campaign stakeholder lists,” U.S.-based law firm Sidley Austin wrote in a report published online by Bayer.

The lawyers found 1,475 politicians, journalists and others “located primarily within the EU” on “stakeholder lists” maintained by seeds and pesticides maker Monsanto’s public relations agency FleishmanHillard.

Sidley Austin said it had offered all of them copies of the data kept by the PR firm.

Agence France-Presse has filed a complaint with a French data protection regulatory body because some of its journalists were on the list, originally revealed by a French television channel.

FleishmanHillard compiled the lists of people active in the pesticide debate around the time the European Union was considering renewal of the license for controversial weed-killer glyphosate, sold as RoundUp, in 2016-17.

“We found no evidence to suggest that the campaign stakeholder lists were developed based on the ‘illegal’ surveillance of individuals, as alleged,” Sidley Austin wrote.

Rather, “lists appear to have been developed using publicly available information” and direct contacts with the people concerned, the lawyers said.

Bayer took over Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018 and was immediately bogged down in controversy over its agrichemical products.

It faces more than 13,000 lawsuits in the United States, with plaintiffs claiming glyphosate caused different kinds of cancer, and has suffered several expensive defeats in court, which it plans to appeal.

The European Union decided in 2017 to renew the chemical’s license for a shorter than usual period of five years.

Several countries, including France and Germany, have announced plans to ban glyphosate.

“The ruling ignores decades of scientific judgment from independent regulatory agencies around the world that glyphosate is safe when used properly,” Bayer said Wednesday of the German cabinet decision on the pesticide.

© Agence France-Presse

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