Carey Gillam is a veteran investigative journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering corporate news, including 17 years as a senior correspondent with Reuters international news service (1998-2015). She is the author of Whitewash- The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, an expose of corporate corruption in agriculture. The book won the coveted Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists in 2018. Her second book, a narrative legal thriller titled The Monsanto Papers, was released March 2. 2021.
She also has contributed chapters for a text book about environmental journalism and a book about pesticide use in Africa.
Gillam testified as an invited expert before the European Parliament in 2017 about her research, and was a featured speaker at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France in 2019. She also has been a keynote and/or panel speaker at events and universities throughout North America, Australia, The Netherlands, Brussels, and France.
Gillam writes regularly for The Guardian. Her work has additionally published in The New York Times, Huffington Post, Time, and other outlets. She also spent six years (2016-2021) working as researcher for the nonprofit investigative group US Right to Know.
In May of 2022, Gillam helped launch a non-profit environmental news outlet called The New Lede as a journalism initiative of the Environmental Working Group.
Gillam is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists and North American Agricultural Journalists.
It’s refreshing to know that a new independent journal like The Lede is out there to keep the public aware of environmental issues and solutions and mitigations. Why did you decide to start it up and how is it going?
After I left Reuters in late 2015, I joined a nonprofit environmental research group to focus on gathering data and documents and writing in-depth stories on a freelance basis for The Guardian and other outlets. I also wrote my first book and started doing some public speaking about all that I had learned – and was learning – about the ways in which we’re poisoning our world and sickening our population with harmful chemicals and other pollutants. When you take a hard look at the legacy we are leaving for future generations, it is quite alarming. I wanted to have a home for environmental stories that often go untold in the bigger outlets, stories that matter, and hopefully motivate people to engage in ways that protect our health and the environment. I happened to be having a conversation last fall with Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, about a potential story in California when I learned he had an interest in creating a new environmental news outlet to supplement the research his organization does. We decided the time was right for both of us to give it a try.
We are encouraging other outlets and freelance writers to work with us and after a soft launch in late April we already have co-published two pieces with The Guardian.
Can you explain in more detail the Environmental Working Group and why The New Lede’s affiliation with it is so important?
EWG was started in 1993 and has grown to be a very powerful force in terms of environmental research and education. Like other reporters around the world, I had long been familiar with EWG as a source for data and other information about environmental issues involving pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture; drinking water quality; energy; etc. The group routinely examines data from the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for instance, to inform consumers about pesticide residues on commonly consumed foods. EWG has the financial strength to support this journalism initiative in its infancy, with the hope that foundations and individual donors will also want to bring support to the project.
Can you tell us about the book you published last year, The Monsanto Papers? Is it about the GMO crisis?
My first book was published in 2017 and is titled Whitewash. The book, won the Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists, exposes how Monsanto and other industry players hid the health and environmental risks of repeated high use of the company’s glyphosate weed killer, commonly known as Roundup. The book exposed internal communications between the EPA and Monsanto that I obtained through Freedom of Information requests, and other secret communications. My second book, The Monsanto Papers — Deadly Secrets, Corporation Corruption and One Man’s Search for Justice was released in 2021 and tells the narrative real-life story of a man dying from cancer who decided to try to take Monsanto to court before he dies. He alleges his use of the company’s herbicide caused his terminal disease, and becomes the first person in the world to challenge Monsanto on this issue in court. The book goes behind the scenes of the historic court case, and explores now only the man’s battle to survive cancer, but also the legal theatrics of the dramatic case.
Can you tell us one of the “deadly secrets” you talk about in your book?
Gosh, there are so many secrets that have come to light. There are documents in which Monsanto discusses that they know that a group of scientists affiliated with the World Health Organization are probably going to classify the chemical glyphosate as linked to cancer when they evaluate the scientific research done on the chemical, and they create a very elaborate secret plan to discredit this group of world-renowned scientists. Then when it played out as they expected and the scientists classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” Monsanto kicked off a global campaign to attack and harass the scientists, with most of the attacks coming from third parties that Monsanto deployed because company officials didn’t want it to be obvious that Monsanto was behind the smear campaign. There are many documents that discuss how the company ghostwrote scientific papers; there are email chains in which company officials discuss how they want to block a toxicity study of glyphosate by a certain government agency that they think will find cancer connections, and so they reach out to certain EPA officials to help them kill the study. There are documents that show how the company funneled funds secretly to front groups that were set up to appear as though they were independent scientific organizations when they pushed out safety messaging on Monsanto’s weed killer and other chemicals. I could go on… or people could just read the book!
What do you regard as the most significant environmental hazard Americans and other nationalities face today?
I don’t think there is just one – I think there are many, and they are all pushing us deeper and deeper into a dark and unhappy, and unhealthy world. The National Cancer Institute tells us roughly 40 pct of us are forecast to get cancer in our lifetimes. Several childhood cancers are rising. Sperm counts are falling, reproductive problems are on the rise. Insect and bird populations are declining. We’ve willfully allowed a range of toxins to become pervasive in our world, toxins known to be harmful to our health. At the same time, we’ve been allowing policies that worsen harmful climate change. Many of these problems are because profit-motivated corporations and our elected leaders stand together to protect their own interests rather than the interests of the public.
If you could envision things people can do about the malfeasance you describe, what would some solutions look like?
I am not in any way a policy expert, but I believe if enough of us ‘regular people’ are educated on issues that pertain to the intersection of human and environmental health, we can use that knowledge to create changes that in turn create a healthier future.