Book Review: Whitewash by U.S. Right To Know’s Carey Gillam
Whitewash: The Story Of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science, Carey Gillam’s first book, is a must read for anyone interested in agriculture and food in the 21st century. The book’s 12 chapters focus on the world’s most widely used weed killer: glyphosate. This is the active ingredient found in Monsanto’s widely-used Roundup. Gillam is an experienced journalist who has spent over 25 years covering corporate America, food and farming. She goes into great detail to bring to light the startling world of corporate influence over our food supply—and the highly controversial information the public is fed about the safety of glyphosate. Gillam starts the book off by describing how she first became involved with Monsanto as a national correspondent for Reuters, before becoming a “target of Monsanto’s ire” after her reporting and research began to shift towards doubts about the benefits of genetically modified organisms and the chemicals used on them. Hoping she’d just keep quiet and simply regurgitate industry talking points, her shift to the other side resulted in bullying, intimidation, and attempted charming from Monsanto representatives. As the most heavily-used agricultural chemical in history, glyphosate is big business. As Gillam points out, its use has skyrocketed in the past 20 years following the introduction of glyphosate-tolerant soy-beans, corn, canola, sugar beets, and more. In the U.S. alone, Gillam reports, farmers applied about 276 million pounds of glyphosate in 2014, compared with 40 million pounds in 2005. The chemical is not only used with glyphosate-tolerant crops—it’s also sprayed on staples like wheats, oats, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Over the 12 chapters, Gillam brings forward many unsettling parts of the glyphosate story. She describes U.S. farmers, farmworkers and residents who’re struggling to find justice and alleging connections between diseases like non-Hodgkins lymphoma and glyphosate-based Roundup. She writes about how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is falling behind when it comes to measuring glyphosate residues in food headed to America’s dinner tables. Likewise, Whitewash details how Monsanto has been able to influence the Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to setting tolerance levels and safety margins for glyphosate exposure in the first place. Reading Whitewash will also open your eyes to the hidden connections between Monsanto and scientists. This company seems to know just how important qualifications and scientists’ views are to the public—and Gillam uncovers many examples of the company employing scientists and researchers to write media articles and blog posts touting the benefits of Monsanto products and biotech crops. Gillam finishes her book off with a chapter called “Seeking Solutions”—the shortest chapter of the entire book, sadly. She writes that organic agriculture, bio pesticides, and agroecology are ways forward for rebuilding soil health, reducing pesticide use, and protecting our soils and the environment. She notes that change is hard, and how some economists, along with herself, suggest financial incentives from government to move farmers towards long-term conservation. As the current research director for the U.S. Right To Know, Gillam really does seem like the perfect fit to have authored this book. A well researched, candid, and tenacious investigation to the core, Whitewash will impart all you need to know about Monsanto, glyphosate, and what’s behind the scenes. You just may be left wondering what to do about the many other chemicals used to grow our non-organic food today (more than 16,000 are registered for use in the U.S. alone, according to Gillam)—and whether or not the story’s the same for them, too.