Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley released a scathing letter in response to Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the state last week, in which he claimed on more than one occasion that Hawley had been sued by two federal agencies for his involvement in litigation against Monsanto. In his letter, Hawley cited a Buzzfeed News article with what he called “a single, dubious statement” as evidence of the “double standard” at play. That statement comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department, and happened on page 50 of Biden’s report.
I’m not sure what Buzzfeed was looking for in that particular passage, but here’s the context. It appears on page 33 of his report, and is picked up by the article headlined “Biden proposes withholding leadership’s action on food safety from public.” The article notes that “He was the chief federal trade negotiator in the 1990s and early 2000s, leading many trade agreements that were negotiated under a Republican administration.” The report continues: “In its ‘supplemental assessment,’ the Environmental Protection Agency in April 2010 said that federal trade agreements were ‘excellent’ for U.S. farmers and ranchers.” This paragraph is highlighted for emphasis.
That paragraph is followed by this one:
In May 2010, however, the Justice Department, under former Attorney General Eric Holder, sued Monsanto, claiming that the company had violated the deceptive trade practices law by claiming that Roundup and other herbicides didn’t cause cancer. In court filings, Monsanto acknowledged that the company misled consumers and farmers with false advertising. But the company denied wrongdoing and said the Justice Department overreached, and the case was later dismissed on the basis of a procedural issue.
The report goes on to cite the Monsanto lawsuit as part of the “narrow exception” to the “regular procedure of naming the states a complainant, if there is a pending suit alleging similar violations or a possible joint consent decree.” There is, in fact, a lengthy DOJ-Monsanto consent decree, which defines the scope of the EPA’s complaint against Monsanto. It was signed in 2012.
That section of the report is cited by both Biden and Hawley, as well as several other media outlets including the New York Times, New York Daily News, Washington Post, Washington Examiner, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Investor’s Business Daily. It’s the specific section of the DOJ-Monsanto consent decree cited by Hawley and most other news outlets.
But here’s what Buzzfeed had to say about the matter in response to Hawley’s letter:
“Hawley said in the letter that Biden’s statement to the press wrongly linked his own reported lawsuit against Monsanto in 2013, which seeks a $1.5 billion class-action judgment, with separate EPA and Justice Department cases. Hawley instead notes that he “wrongly” highlighted the EPA lawsuit in his response to Biden’s comment.”
Hawley’s response to that statement:
“I may have misunderstood where he was going with this statement. I should have said that I was surprised and disappointed that the EPA is seeking a billion dollar judgment against a taxpayer-funded American citizen over a deceptive marketing scheme.”
A full response from Hawley to Biden’s report can be found here.