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9.5.2018
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Monsanto’s Legal Action Against Advocacy Group Avaaz Shows Just How Far the Chemical Company Will Go to Silence its Critics


While Dewayne Johnson’s recent $289M victory against Monsanto captured the attention of people everywhere, the chemical giant’s very aggressive action against a consumer advocacy group has garnered little notice.

Avaaz, an activist group with 46 million members around the world, has been an outspoken critic of glyphosate and the company’s activities. Among other things, it urged the European Union not to rubberstamp a 15-year renewal of Monsanto’s license to market and sell glyphosate, campaigned to stop the merger between Monsanto and Bayer, and successfully blocked a Monsanto seed factory in Argentina.

As part of the Peterson vs. Monsanto case pending in the Circuit Court in St. Louis, Missouri — a case that involves the allegation that two men in Illinois contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer from exposure to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup — Avaaz was served a subpoena in February to deliver copies of essentially all documents concerning Avaaz’s advocacy around Monsanto and glyphosate.

Such documents would include and reflect Avaaz’s internal deliberations about its political efforts, its strategies for dealing with public officials in the U.S. and Europe, its communication with its 46 million members, and its communication with allies and other persons concerned about glyphosate.

In a letter to Monsanto’s lawyers, which has been obtained by Organic Insider, Avaaz’s lawyers sought to dismiss the subpoena and claimed that:

* The information sought by Monsanto is irrelevant to the legal cases of the two men suing the company in St. Louis and has nothing to do with how these two individuals got cancer.

The advocacy efforts by Avaaz, which have been referenced by Monsanto in the subpoena, occurred after the two men had already stopped using Roundup and after they had already been diagnosed with cancer. Furthermore, attempts to stop the Bayer/Monsanto merger and the building of a seed factory in Argentina have absolutely nothing to do with the lawsuit of these two men in St. Louis.

* The subpoena is unconstitutionally intrusive, and it violates Avaaz’s speech and associational rights.

* The subpoena is overbroad and imposes an undue burden on Avaaz. With an organization that employs more than 100 people in 23 countries around the globe and conducts communication in many different languages, it would require thousands of man-hours and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While Avaaz claims that Monsanto asking for all of these documents is unconstitutional and overly burdensome, the company argues that it is merely following standard protocol to uncover links between Avaaz and the two men in the St. Louis lawsuit. Avaaz, however, denies having any connection to these two men and said it never knew who they were until the organization was served the subpoena.

Over the past few months and through negotiations between the two sides, Avaaz’s lawyers were able to restrict Monsanto’s subpoena, so that it would only require all information related to glyphosate. Presumably, Monsanto acquiesced because of a fear that demanding every single document related to anything about the company would damage its credibility in front of a judge.

Even though Monsanto retreated from its initial demands, the pared-down subpoena is still completely unacceptable to Avaaz. It has no desire to hand over any information to the company.

“It doesn’t make any sense for Monsanto to come after Avaaz. Two people, who are suing Monsanto in St. Louis for giving them cancer, mentioned in the case that European countries are regulating glyphosate. And since Avaaz has members in Europe who wrote to their government to regulate this chemical, Monsanto served a subpoena to Avaaz merely as a basis to get private documents and information about our organization,” said Emma Ruby-Sachs, Deputy Director of Avaaz.

“Avaaz is not relevant to this case at all, and they should be looking at whether these two people got cancer from glyphosate, a chemical that is absolutely everywhere and is being sprayed on our breakfast cereal. To ask a government regulator if this chemical is safe — which is what our members are doing — is a reasonable course of action, and this subpoena feels punitive. To be hauled into court and be forced to reveal our private conversations is not only ridiculous but is a scary vision of the world. It is not the kind of world we want to live in,” she continued.

Tomorrow morning in a New York court, lawyers for both sides will make their case in front of a judge, and Avaaz will be attempting to quash the subpoena altogether. The judge can either make a ruling on the spot or write a ruling and release it later.

While this ruling may not make international headlines, it will be a very important harbinger as to where we are going as a society and whether individual citizens can feel safe to speak out against the potentially harmful actions and products of the world’s most powerful corporations.

It is not hyperbole to say that our liberty is at stake here.

We will keep you informed about what decision the judge makes.

Have a great day!

Max Goldberg, Founder

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* Christopher Walken and Christina Ricci are in Canada filming Percy, a movie based on Percy Schmeiser’s legal fight against Monsanto and the GMO-contamination he suffered. This is certain to get a huge amount of attention, and more details about the film are here.


* Politico and IEG Policy both reported that the national GMO-labeling bill, which was supposed to have been finalized by July 29th, has been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). When the OMB will sign off on it is uncertain.


* At Natural Products Expo East next week, Dr. Bronner’s will be hosting a Regenerative Organic Happy Hour at its booth (#2419) on Friday, September 14th from 4:30-5:30pm. There will be a discussion about the Regenerative Organic Certified Pilot Programs and the new Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance (see below) will be introduced.


* At the University of Delaware, students are growing and then selling produce at their certified organic food stand Fresh to You. They are also donating 100 pounds of organic produce each week to a local cancer center. Very cool!


* Pura Vita is an organic, vegan wine bar and restaurant that opens this weekend in West Hollywood.


* THE WELL, a new wellness club in New York City which has been getting a decent amount of buzz, has signed a lease in the Flatiron district and will have its own organic restaurant.


* Campbell’s is launching a Non-GMO hydration drink exclusively online.


* An orchard will be the site of the University of Idaho’s new Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center.


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