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Q&A: Carey Gillam, Author

Carey Gillam doesn’t mince words about glyphosate. “It’s the pesticide on our dinner plates, a chemical so pervasive it’s in the air we breathe, our water, our soil, and even found increasingly in our own bodies.”

That’s a promotional lead-in for her book Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science. It received top honors from the Society for Environmental Journalists as a Rachel Carson Environmental Book Award winner. It’s also garnered the ire of the agrichemical industry, which has criticized her work as a journalist, and now author, as biased. “The truth hits hard,” she says. 

Here’s what she has to say about the book, glyphosate litigation, and other issues. 

SF:  How long did it take you to write the book? 

CG: Nine months; the research took nearly 20 years (including her stint as a Reuters journalist). I did not intend for my reporting to go down the path of trouble and risk, but that’s where the facts led me. Example after example finds conclusions (about glyphosate) being suppressed and altered if they don’t fit the agenda of powerful corporate interests. The Roundup Ready system encouraged overuse of glyphosate and is struggling in parts of the country with weed resistance. Anyone who thinks this treadmill will be successful very long is not paying attention.

SF: Were you surprised when a California court ruled in August that Bayer (now Monsanto’s owner) is liable for $289 million for a worker who applied glyphosate formulations and developed cancer?

CG: I thought the trial could have gone either way. Still, it took three and a half days to get a jury seated. The Monsanto attorneys were pleading to the judge that a lot of potential jurors didn’t really like them. 

This case is so important and illuminating. It is the first time that scientific evidence surrounding the safety of the world’s most-used herbicide has been brought into the spotlight. 

SF: Should farmers be concerned about their health while applying glyphosate formulations? 

CG: Farmers need to be aware of the risks and need to be cautious and informed about them, just as they are with a whole range of pesticides. The trouble with glyphosate-based formulations is farmers have been led to believe they are so safe, they don’t need to take precautions. That is just not the case with glyphosate-based formulations. 

SF: Are you antipesticide? 

CG: I’ll tell you this anecdote. When I was asked by the European Parliament in October 2017 to testify as an “expert,” I agreed and traveled there (funded by the European Parliament). I reiterated that I would not join in the calls for a ban on glyphosate, which were rampant at that time. My role is to provide truthful information and relevant facts pertaining to food policy based on the documents and data that I spend my life researching. 

There are many factors to consider when regulators look to allow, limit, restrict, and/or ban any pesticide product. It’s important to have all the facts about the risks and the rewards when making policy. 

SF Bio:

Name: Carey Gillam

Title: Research director for U.S. Right to Know

Background: Gillam started her current position in 2016. U.S. Right to Know describes its mission as a nonprofit public interest research group that works for transparency and accountability in the U.S. food system. Gillam formerly covered agriculture for Reuters after moving to Kansas City in 1998. 

“I thought it was going to be awful. I had to cover farming!” she says. “But I really got to know the business. I learned so much going on wheat tours in April. I got to know the farmers, the land, and wheat. Farming affects every person in a profound way.” 

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