Major corporations, panicked by activists, have failed to cite science and economic fact in their defense.

Steve Dittmer

July 22, 2020

6 Min Read
mashabuba / Getty Images

I’ve been to see “the faces,” as Mount Rushmore locals call them, multiple times. I can’t fathom how anyone could imagine something like that, much less execute that imagination. I cannot stand there underneath that magnificence, reflect on the visionary deeds of the men depicted on that mountain, without being moved.

So even with the conditioning of my mind to the horrible things activists and anarchists and uninformed youngsters have taken to saying about our country and its Founding Fathers, I was still a bit surprised at the media’s “reporting” on President Trump’s speech at Mt. Rushmore.

I don’t believe either those media folks or the marchers and rioters fully comprehend the courage and the sacrifices of the men on that mountain. All of them in some fashion or another pledged their honor and their fortunes for this country. It was all about liberty and freedom.

That is a far cry from today, with mostly favored citizens pledging their fealty to groups devoted to tearing the country down. Some blame the schools for teaching the last couple generations that there is nothing wrong with Marxism, socialism and communism. That may be where a lot of it started, but too many of our major corporations have nurtured and encouraged such thinking with their kowtowing to groups and individuals who have been offended by something.

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These groups have been aided and abetted by the media willing to help attack any large business, lawyers willing to file suit over both the trivial and the nonsensical and corporate public relations departments terrified of bad social media, a twitter attack, a threatened boycott or now, the threat of broken plate glass windows or inventory looted in certain localized areas. Major corporations have gone to great lengths to profess green proclivities, feature eggs from free-range hens, makeup that has only been tested on live human beings and react to claims of human-caused climate change as if it is significantly caused by cattle and sheep.

Activist groups buy a few shares of stock, so they can go to public shareholder meetings and attempt to shame multi-million dollar companies into adopting their beliefs, regardless of good corporate policy or shareholder interests. 

Groups like PETA and HSUS have used stunts like this to push agendas damaging animal agriculture down the throats of American companies. Maybe we should buy some stock, go to annual meetings and speak up for animal agriculture.

Agriculture targeted

Now, a company familiar to all of us is the latest example of proposed capitulation to envirozealots and lawyers—without the opponents having valid scientific evidence. That is the settlements Bayer and Monsanto are pursuing over glyphosate—Roundup.

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The U.S. EPA has not ruled it harmful. It actually refused to approve a label claim that it causes cancer because that would “constitute a false and misleading statement.” Countries like Australia and Japan and government agencies like the EU, hardly pushovers for chemicals, have not found glyphosate harmful. 

But some people, with lawyers trolling for clients, have claimed it harmed them. Some of these cases involved formulations and dosages very different from modern day uses but juries have declared it responsible for billions in damages.

These people have no understanding of the genetic advances Monsanto made to make crops better able to withstand drought and disease, to yield good crops under conditions that would have meant crop failures in the past. This type of management system reduces weed control trips through the fields, something the activists should like.

But the juries have Bayer, the now parent company of Monsanto, spooked beyond belief. Their lawyers, no doubt influenced by risk averse, easily terrified young folks in the PR suite, have capitulated, agreeing to pay almost $10 billion to settle some 125,000 cases the lawyers have windrowed.  Bayer proposed a deal to set aside another $1.25 billion for future class-action suits gathered by another set of lawyers.

Bayer and the second treeful of vultures proposed to set up a five-member panel of scientists to consider within the next four years whether glyphosate causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That conclusion would bind future litigants. No new suits could be filed in the meantime.

The judge has not officially ruled on the latter proposed settlement but in comments reported in the media, he expressed skepticism regarding such a scientific panel, indicating he would be unlikely to sign off on that concept. Bayer’s attorneys have signaled they would revise and return.

The California judges in three trials setting the stage for all this, limited or even disallowed Bayer from introducing EPA’s findings of no harm from glyphosate. But one court did allow evidence from WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which considers nearly everything cancer causing (“The Roundup Settlement,” Wall Street Journal, 6/29/20). Those three cases are not covered in the big settlements and the $2.4 billion jury award as been whittled down to a mere $190 million, while Bayer appeals.

Bayer faces another 52,000 similar claims not covered in the above deals.

So a major international company has set aside $11 billion as part of an effort to deal with claims having almost no valid scientific basis. That follows the pattern of other major corporations pledging billions to claim they are “green” and environmentally conscious or have mandated production changes in egg and pork production methods. 

Then there’s climate change

We have data to document that climate change is occurring. What many hold as questionable is proof of human effects on our overall climate. But the latter possibility is moving corporations to take some dramatic steps affecting agriculture. All to satisfy less-than-informed consumers, easily offended, who might someday be customers.

That corporate fear, that reluctance to even try to educate and inform the public, to fight back against sheer effrontery and nonsense, is the same thread running through our current political environment.

Everyone is going to pay in higher prices, fewer cleared products and lower stock prices for corporate reluctance to defend their stances and products. In my humble opinion, avoiding the “battle,” refusing to attempt or sustain an explanation or refutation, may be considered prudent legal advice but it is how we got here; i.e. false activist or popular opinion becoming unassailable or not-worth-fighting conventional wisdom. It is similar to how animal agriculture became the victim of 50 years of inaccurate dietary advice regarding coronary heart disease.

For agriculture, it means it is just that much harder for us to educate the public and politicians about our contributions to a sustainable ecosystem, our contributions to the health and usability of public and private grazing lands, the 900 million acres of wasted forage if there are no cows or sheep to harvest it and the lack of scientific evidence against eating beef for nutrition and health reasons. Major corporations have failed to cite science and economic fact and run panicked before the latest activist fad, encouraging the illogical and the ill-informed.

That is why more and more, those most easily offended among us—those who have been taught victimhood from childhood, those who think everyone middle-aged and up is brain damaged and racist, that only the last couple generations know the way—are beginning to take over our country through the influence of government entitlements and by demonstrations or riots rather than the vote of an informed electorate convinced of the rightness of American principles.

Dittmer is a longtime beef industry commentator and executive vice president of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation. The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

About the Author(s)

Steve Dittmer

Steve Dittmer is a longtime industry commentator and principal of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation.

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