The Long Battle Against Monsanto

The Monsanto Papers

Carey Gillam. Island Press, 2021. 335 pages

Reviewed by: Brototi Roy

What does it take to fight and win against a pharmaceutical giant legally? Carey Gillam’s The Monsanto Papers takes us on a journey showing just that. Since the first leak of the internal Monsanto documents in 2017, much has been written on glyphosate and its carcinogenic effects, the company’s policy of putting profits over people and the environment, and pesticides and genetically modified crops in general. In this book, however, we come to know the story behind the landmark lawsuit of Dewayne Lee Johnson and how he ended up being the first person to take Monsanto to trial, being awarded $289 million in damages by the jury. 

The focus of the book is on the legal processes and the lawyers who came together from different parts of the United States of America, and the journey they took to see this lawsuit to fruition. As we read the book, we discover along with the lawyers how scientific evidence was manufactured, false media articles circulated, and the truth was kept hidden about the potential risks of using glyphosate for more than 5 decades. 

Through a rich and evidence-based investigative narration, the author makes you feel like you are in the room with the protagonists, sharing their disbelief at the enormity of the task in some instances, frustration and wariness in others. The book is a brilliant work of narrative non-fiction, tracing the many months of work put in by the lawyers to reach the final historic verdict of 2018. The long years of engagement of the author is obvious in the pages, as she describes the places, people and circumstances with careful attention to detail. At the same time, in the concluding section, it also shows how the landmark victory was contested, and how all the other cases that followed suit were also in the end not what the plaintiffs wanted. It showed that this was only the beginning of the long battle against a company, which doesn’t exist in paper anymore. 

The Monsanto Papers is a must read for anyone who wishes to understand more about how issues of environmental justice are fought legally, and the enormity of the tasks needed for judicial socio-environmental activism. 

Brototi Roy holds a PhD in Ecological Economics from Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona. Her research and activism is focused on socio-ecological justice and equity, particularly in the Indian context.