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Pesticide Manufacturer Targeted UC Berkeley Professor

Newly released documents reveal that Syngenta, the maker of atrazine, attempted to personally discredit a Cal professor whose research suggests that the herbicide feminizes male frogs.



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"These are great clips for us because they get out some of our messages from someone (Lehr) who comes off sounding like an unbiased expert," Thompson wrote. "Another strength is that the messages do not sound like they came from Syngenta."

The Heartland Institute fought a subpoena all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2012 that would have forced it to disclose any financial relationship with Syngenta and the source of its articles supporting atrazine. The Heartland Institute argued disclosure would violate its First Amendment rights. The case settled before a ruling was issued, so the relationship remains undisclosed.

In response to an emailed question, the Heartland Institute did not deny receiving funding from Syngenta. Any money it receives, the institute maintained, is considered a donation to a nonprofit, and Heartland is not obligated to disclose donor information. Its president, Joseph Bast, has said he would go to jail for contempt of court "rather than share a single note he had ever made during a meeting with a donor."

In addition to working with third-party allies, another Syngenta effort to fight the class-action lawsuit was to go directly to plaintiffs, both actual and potential. In her deposition, Ford confirmed the company convened focus groups and contacted managers at community water systems to discuss the lawsuit, explain the financial and political implications of participation in the suit, and help them evaluate whether they should stay in the class action or opt out.

In her deposition, Ford confirmed a discussion with Syngenta attorneys about how to pressure homeowners and real estate agents in Holiday Shores to drop out of the lawsuit by telling them the suit would harm property values.

Ford insisted the strategy was not carried out, but was then asked to read from a meeting agenda that stated: "assign who will identify groups and assemble lists of Realtors/Holiday Shores residents/growers" and "determine collateral materials needed for briefing these folks. Determine who will actually be reaching out to these individuals."

She said that according to her recollection, these contacts did not take place.

Syngenta released a statement about the settlement agreement, saying: "This settlement ends the business uncertainty and expense of protracted litigation surrounding this critical product that has been the backbone of weed control for more than 50 years. It allows farmers to continue to realize the benefits of atrazine to agriculture, the economy, and the environment."

Following the settlement, Tillery has shifted his legal strategy. He does not plan on filing another class-action lawsuit over atrazine in drinking water. Instead, he said, he plans to start filing individual lawsuits on behalf of children with birth defects.

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