Q: What is at stake for industry with this issue of endocrine disruption?
DF: Everything is at stake for the industry on this one. They thought that
they had the cancer question answered -- the uproar over Rachel Carson. They
have spent 20, 30 years answering those charges. This is entirely new for
them. It was a day of reckoning that they didn't want to see, and everything
depends on what they find out with endocrine disruption.
Q: But specifically what kinds of things are they scared of?
DF: First of all, they are afraid of things that they don't understand. All
the testing that has been developed since 1960 is based on the dose-response:
"the dose makes the poison." With endocrine disruption, and the effects on
neonatals or development, this is something that they don't even understand.
No chemical company had an endocrinologist on staff. They have toxicologists
who were raised in the 1960's, 1970's, were educated then, looking for cancer
end-points. So this took a long time to come to grips with it.
I can remember when it first came out and I was talking to these main
scientists with the industry group. I said, "What about Fred vom Saal's
inverted-U theory?" He didn't know what I was talking about. I had to draw a
picture for him. This is something that Theo Colborn and Fred vom Saal have
been looking at for years, and we didn't even know that it was happening.
I don't think they thought it was going to catch. So many times there is a new
charge about pesticides -- pesticides and baby foods, pesticides in the water
-- and I can remember the vice president for communications for an industrial
group saying, "Don't worry, this is just like water off a duck's back." I don't
think that they quite realized the staying power of this one issue.
Q: But what does it mean for them? Does it mean dollars? Does it mean having to change the way they do
DF: It definitely means dollars. When a pesticide is tested and registered, it
goes through a battery of tests and the EPA then registers that pesticide for
use. Now say, for instance, a new test has been developed. It might be 10, 15
years before that specific pesticide is coming around, looping through that
registration process again and has to go through that test. So what the
industry tries to do, especially for their big sellers, is keep that on the
market as long as they can and when that test becomes due just quietly take it
off the market. So it is a staying power: how many years can you squeeze into
the life of this pesticide that may be a huge seller?
Q: Are you saying, they know it is bad? And they are just trying to get as much money out of the
product as they can?
DF: Well, when you say they know it's "bad", that brings up another situation
because EPA has a rule called the "adverse effects rule". If somebody, even
the mailman in a pesticide company office, knows of an adverse effect of that
pesticide, they are under legal obligation to report it to the EPA. You don't
want to have to report anything bad about your own pesticide. That ruins your
career within your company. So, you don't look for it. You don't test for it.
You don't want to know any adverse effects of that pesticide. If you don't look
for it, you don't know.
Q: So it's your opinion that with the issue of endocrine disruption, they are not looking?
DF: They haven't been. I left the industry at the end of 1996, just six months
after the final congressional bill was passed [mandating that chemicals be
tested for endocrine disrupting effects], and I know that everybody was all a
twirl but I don't know how the industry has reacted since then.
Q: Tell me what you did in your job.
DF: I was the sole lobbyist for Sandoz Agro, which is part of the
multi-national Sandoz Corporation [now Novartis]. They have ExLax, they have
Gerber baby foods, but I just had the pesticide division and I was the lobbyist
for all fifty states. My job was to keep track of what the state legislatures
were doing, what the state departments of agriculture were doing, and just run
around the country trying to put out fires.
Q: How would the industry defend itself against the environmental problems?
DF: There are a couple of different arguments that you could always rely on the
pesticide industry to use. One is that there is no proven cause and effect.
When you are dealing with animals, little mice that you are testing, or birds
or something else, it is very hard to prove for certain that this pesticide is
causing this effect in this animal. One of the other arguments that we always
use- is used - is that the amount of pesticide in the -- blank -- is negligible. Now
that "blank" could be in the air, water, rain, or in the breast tissue. It is
all "negligible". So there are some basic arguments that you can always use
and just frame it toward the specific issue.
Q Did the industry have the evidence to say this?
DF: No, they don't have any proof because they are not looking. What you do is you
attack the attacker -- you try and destroy their credibility. "It's not peer
reviewed," you know, "They didn't use enough frogs or mice," or whatever the
situation is. So you either attack their credibility or you get somebody to
speak for you. One of the major spokesmen, whether he intended to be or not,
was C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General. Industry liked to bring him out a
lot whenever they were under attack. He would say that pesticides help grow the
food that feeds the world.
But one of the problems is that there are only so many times that you can
trot out C. Everett Koop. Pretty soon you've got to find somebody else who can
speak up for you.
Q: But, with this issue of endocrine disruption, you would think some of the
companies would want to know about a potential threat to their product if only
to avoid future liability issues. How do you explain this?
DF: You would think that they would want to know everything bad that could
happen to a pesticide. But there was one case where my company was coming out
with a new pesticide. One of the ideas that they had was to combine it with
atrazine, to buy atrazine from another company and put it in there. Now
atrazine is a corn herbicide. It's found in drinking water all over the
Midwest, especially in May and June and July, and this is what first alerted me
to the whole issue.
When we were thinking about combining the two chemicals, I started doing a
media search and found in the Iowa paper a study that showed a link between
atrazine and breast cancer. So I brought that up. Before a new product is
introduced, everybody comments on it and it goes up the chain of command, all
the way to Switzerland in our case. And I wrote in that paper against putting
atrazine in that product because of the link with breast cancer.
Somewhere along the line, my whole section on breast cancer was dropped from
the paper. I don't know if Switzerland ever saw that or knew that was an
implication. I don't know where in the chain of command it was dropped. I
don't know if even my CEO knew at that time that atrazine was being implicated
as a causal effect in breast cancer.
Q: So, in your opinion, you talking about an industry that is under attack?
DF: Yes. First of all, they know that they are some of the most hated people on
earth. You go to a neighborhood block party and someone says, "What do you
do?" and you say, "Well, I work for a pesticide company." It's not the greatest
thing to admit to. But they are in a bad position where they want to be viewed
as responsible -- saving the world from hunger -- but on the other hand
refusing to look at any new science.
It is their science or it's no science. They are so intricately involved with
pesticides that who is anybody else to tell them that pesticides can react in a
way that is totally unsuspected? It's hard to describe the personal attachment
that many in the industry have towards the industry. They grow up as a
pesticide salesman or a bench scientist and they climb up the ladder. You
don't move from the pesticide industry to another industry usually. I know that
our CEO started out as a salesman.
It is something that is their life, and when an issue comes up that tries to
show them that their whole life may be a lie -- I would have problems with
that. You have to justify it to yourself. You have to believe that you are
not intentionally putting children or women or men in danger. And they are not
intentionally doing it. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Q: On this issue of endocrine disruption, it's curious to me
that they haven't been as aggressive in fighting it, as aggressive with their
public relations, as they have been with previous issues. When you look at the
industry's response to Rachel Carson, they are right out there calling her
crazy. But you don't hear that this time.
DF: You hear it privately. The comments that I heard about Theo Colborn would
match right up with the comments about Rachel Carson. But they are not going to
say it publicly because they want to try to show the American public that they
do care. The first statement that I ever saw the industry make was, "We are
deeply concerned about women with breast cancer. We feel compassion for them.
We will do any research, any study that is necessary to find out what is
happening." I truly believed that. That was in October of 1993, I think, and
by May of 1994 they were trying to defeat amendments that would require more
research and more testing.
Q: But, again, the industry's response has not been blatantly aggressive....
DF: A lot of how the industry reacts is due to focus groups and surveys. They
say what they think the public wants to hear. They want to reassure the public
so they will have, for instance, a focus group. You would have a group of
people around from so-and-so Ohio and they would say, "What do you think of
pesticides?" "Oh, they are awful. They are terrible." "Well, what if we told
you that you would have to eat 17 heads of lettuce every day for the rest of
your life before you would get this end point. Would that make you feel any
better?" "Oh yes, that would make me feel a lot better."
So what do they do? They come out and they say, "You know, you would have to
eat 17 heads of lettuce for the rest of your life," not taking into
consideration that this pesticide isn't only on this head of lettuce. It's in
the strawberries. In Minnesota they are finding it in the rain. It's in the
water. They don't bring that up. But they want to make it simple for the
simple folk to understand and be reassured that we really do care.
So if they came out against Theo Colborn, nails out, fists blazing, that
wouldn't fit in with their public image that they are trying to cultivate. If
they say, "We care. We will look at this issue. We will study it," and then
behind the scenes then try and defeat the amendments or then try and work with
EPA to get their way, that works better.
Q: Do you have a specific example of what is said privately versus publicly?
DF: The industry association in October 1993 puts out a news release saying
that they are ready to conduct additional tests. It's put out by Jay Vroom,
the president of the association. You have, in May 1994, Jay Vroom's
confidential memo to the industry, where Senator D'Amato was actually going to
put in an amendment that would mandate those additional tests, and Jay says,
"We will work to modify or defeat any such amendment." It is the difference
between what they say publicly and what they say confidentially.
Q: What is the difference between these two things?
DF: The problem with industry is that it is either their science or it is no
DH: And in the end, what is the difference between those two?
Q: The difference between what they say publicly and what they say
Q: When we asked the Chlorine Chemistry Council to be interviewed, they said
no. We did talk to the Chemical Manufacturers Association, their parent
organization. They said they were concerned about this issue and that "We are
doing all we can to get to the bottom of it, and as soon as we know we will
DF: When do you define how you know? As long as industry can keep on saying, "We need
additional research, we need additional studies, we need to verify whether
these tests actually tell us anything," it is the difference between the
absolute, complete certainty that this product is doing this and the
precautionary principle, which is: does it look like something is happening
here, and if it is maybe that's a little bit more important than whether this
company makes their big bucks off of agriculture.
How much research do you need before, as human beings, as a CEO, before you can
say, "I don't want to subject my wife and my kids to this?" If someone's wife had breast cancer,
you would think then that he would feel
especially responsible for urging additional work to see if a pesticide is
implicated in breast cancer.
Let's take it off the market until we find out what is going on. Why do you
want to keep it on the market until you find out that it is definitely causing
breast cancer, when how many women have you subjected to this? It's just very
surprising to me the way that industry dollars are more important than peoples'
Q: However, industry also makes the point that there is a cost to taking some of
these products off the market. They help produce abundant agriculture. They
prevent serious diseases. So, isn't it legitimate that we have solid evidence
DF: It is legitimate, but they talk about the cost to agriculture. For a while
there was a big movement on going toward safer pesticides, biological pesticides,
a pesticide that
only affects caterpillars. That was going on in the 1980's. In the 1990's
they have found out that they weren't going to make the kind of dollars that
they thought they were going to make. There wasn't that demand from
conventional agriculture for safer pesticides. It is more dollars for them to
keep the high cost chemicals rather than to introduce biological chemicals
which they don't earn as much on.
They have an attitude that they are saving the world because with pesticides
you can do high yield pesticide-intensive agriculture. This means that you can
free up more of the rain forests: you don't have to slash and burn. So you are
really saving the world.
In one year they spent $1.3 billion for research and development of their
products. You would think that with billions of dollars for research and
development that they could find out whether their chemicals were causing
endocrine disruption, but they don't want to look.
Q: When the Chemical Manufacturers Association says to us that they are
concerned about this issue, and are investigating, and just believe that we
need more evidence, what is your opinion, your reaction to that statement?
DF: For instance, a lot of money went into a study of DDT and whether that was
a contributor to breast cancer. It is really easy to study DDT because if you
find out that it is a problem, no one loses any money. Because DDT is off the
market. By finding out about DDT, you are not jeopardizing anybody's current
products. Remember, the thing is to keep those products on the market as long
as they can before they finally have to take them off, if, in fact, they are
contributing to endocrine disruption.
Q: How would you define the industry's PR strategy? You've mentioned that they
didn't want to push too hard because they were afraid of certain coalitions on
the other side of the issue: breast cancer groups and the environmentalists.
DF: They are used to this constant battle with environmentalists. The thing
that happened with endocrine disruption, however, is that you brought women's
groups into the picture. When you had the women's health coalition on one side
and the environmentalists on the other, you have a very strong coalition. You
are talking about 52% of the population. Do you want to tick them off?
There was an article, I think it was in Good Housekeeping, that talked about
it. How much more Americana can you get than Good Housekeeping? Privately,
they attacked the publisher of Good Housekeeping. But publicly, what can you
say? Can you attack Americana?
The coalition, and I don't even think it was a formal coalition, in New York --
especially where you had clusters of breast cancer cases on Long Island -- that
wasn't the environmentalists. How do you tell somebody who has had breast
cancer, "Hey it doesn't really matter." You can't be aggressive on something
One company had a product that helped women stop lactating, and the FDA came
out and said, "Look, we are afraid that this product may not be as good as we
thought. It may have some adverse effects. Can you take it off the market?"
A couple of other companies did, but this company didn't. It wasn't until, I
think it was, a Tom Brokaw special came out and they were interviewing one of
the women from the company. They said, "Look, women are dying. Women are
going into comas with this product. Why doesn't your company take it off the
market? Why are you killing people?" The response was, "Sometimes bad things
happen to good people, and sometimes it is just God's will." I turned to my
vice president and said, "Excuse me, is God's will the official story now?"
When you are talking about devastating diseases you can't say your concerns
Q: In your opinion, what is the strategy behind the industry's being a little less aggressive in
condemning those who are accusing them?
DF: The industry finds it hard, as anybody would, to look a woman in the eye
who has had breast cancer, or who has had a lump removed, and has been through
the scare of breast cancer. Do you look that woman in the eye and say, "Your
concern isn't valid?" The pesticide industry cannot shirk off 52% of the
population who are more concerned than ever about breast cancer. To denigrate
them or to attack them or to say that "your concern isn't valid" is simply not
a good PR move. You have to validate them, empathize with them, sympathize
with them. That's why you won't see a big PR movement or a big effort to
trivialize endocrine disruption.
Q: There were wildlife biologists who worked for industry. They came together
to write a paper looking at the state of the evidence on this issue of
endocrine disruption. What happened to that effort?
DF: They went through a couple of drafts. The industry association looked at
it for a while and said, "You can't call it 'endocrine disruption'. You ought
to call it 'endocrine modulation', because 'disruption' has negative
connotations." I saw the paper that they did. It was thorough. It was
responsible. And then I never saw it again.
Q: Was it stopped?
DF: I have no idea. I just know that on the questions about whether our testing
is sufficient for endocrine disruption, industry didn't come forward and say,
"Look, we've identified some gaps and we've identified ways to test for that
Q: The biologists wrote a paper saying they had some concerns about the
DF: I think they went beyond concerns. I think they said that there are
endocrine end-points that our testing does not address. A draft position
paper, put together by wildlife biologists who work for the various pesticide
companies, states that there is convincing scientific evidence that some
organic chemicals -- including pesticides -- have caused reproductive effects.
They then go on to say that in their testing, in this battery of tests, there
isn't any specific test that addresses endocrine disruption
Q One industry group's stated goal is to "demoralize the anti-pesticide
DF: The pesticide industry has an unlimited amount of money, scientists that
are working around the clock and multinational industries that they can call
on. The environmental organizations don't have those kinds of resources. So,
the industry wants to demoralize environmental groups. So you figure if you
keep spending money and if you keep wining and dining government officials,
pretty soon the environmentalists will be demoralized.
The industry spends a lot of money entertaining state officials. I remember we
spent $10,000 to take industry officials on a cruise off of West Palm Beach. We
entertained them all over the country. The industry has those resources where
they can become very friendly with the regulators. Where the environmentalists
usually can't even afford to go to the meetings because it's $225 for
registration. Pretty soon they just hope that the environmentalists will run
out of money or will run out of guts and will just go home.
Q: When they talked about demoralizing anti-pesticide groups, did they mean the
breast cancer coalition?
DF: In New York, the industry felt that the environmentalists were simply using
the breast cancer activists. That if the breast cancer activists realized that
pesticides don't cause breast cancer, pesticides aren't endocrine disrupters,
that they would focus elsewhere. So even though it was the breast cancer
activists who were saying, "We want this legislation," the industry knew that
the environmentalists were behind that one. I don't think that they were even
looking seriously at the women who were involved.
Q: What does it mean for industry that Al D'Amato (R-NY) took on this issue?
DF: Industry has many friends within the Republican party. Their usual enemies
were Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and Congressman Waxman (D-CA). For D'Amato to pipe
up, it's political: the women who have breast cancer on Long Island. D'Amato's
got to do this. That was sort of a new tact that they had to look at.
Remember back in '94 when the Republicans took over? There was absolute joy in
the pesticide industry, knowing that the Republicans, the conservatives, were
going to control Congress.
Q: But they must have been shocked that a potentially strong, new regulation
got through this conservative, anti-regulation, Republican-controlled
DF: They couldn't believe it when the Food Quality Protection Act passed the
House unanimously, passed the Senate unanimously. What happened to their
friends? What happened to all that political money: the campaign
contributions, the soft money? Years of contributing to Republicans and a
couple of Democrats from agricultural states? Their friends voted against
them. The industry was reeling.
Q: How did the bill get through?
DF: The industry didn't know how it got through. One of the industry's biggest
supporters was Congressman Bliley (R-VA). Congressman Bliley is also a tobacco
guy. The rumors were rampant in the industry. Maybe Bliley traded off with
Waxman: Waxman would lay off tobacco if Bliley would vote against pesticides.
Why does somebody who's been supported their whole career by an industry just
--(Finger snap)-- like that, vote against them? On one of the most
far-reaching, all-encompassing bills that the industry's had to face? Who
knows what goes on in Washington.
Q: What is industry most concerned about in your opinion?
DF: The basic concern is that they're going to find pesticides that are
endocrine disrupters, eventually, and they're going to have to take them off
Q: Explain to somebody who doesn't know anything about the chemical industry
how much is at stake here.
DF: In all of the world, with the billions of pounds of pesticides that are
going on the ground, there are basically eleven major companies. Maybe it'd be
twenty-four if you count the little guys. They're the Dows, the DuPonts, the
Monsantos. Novartis is a combination of Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy.
When all of that industry is concentrated so closely, when you lose a class of
pesticides, you've wiped out a company. If something is found wrong with one
pesticide, it could wipe out an entire company. If they lose a pesticide, they
lose their market.
Q: So what do you think industry is doing while all of this is going on?
DF: Based on how I've seen industry handle prior challenges, the tactic is to
delay. There is a process called "re-registration" where, since 1988, EPA was
supposed to be looking at every pesticide, re-testing it, seeing what it's
health effects are. Here it is 1998, and they still haven't gotten through all
If you can hold off that testing for endocrine disruption, you've got another
couple of decades before your pesticide is potentially subjected to those
tests. So I would imagine that right now their tactic is to speak words of
comfort, and then to use everything within their power to delay.
Q: As somebody who has worked with a variety of scientific issues in industry,
do you see this as a scientific debate?
DF: When I first came to the industry, I saw too much skirting around the
question. When you say, "Why don't you look specifically at this?" it's either
"we don't have to", "we don't need to", or, "it would cost too much money".
So, no. I didn't see the science done. I saw trained toxicologists
looking at the regulatory question and strictly answering that regulatory
They're not looking for answers. They're not looking for knowledge. They're
looking to answer EPA's requirements.
Q: So you are saying, if it's not in the law, they're not going to find it?
DF: If it's not in the law, they're not going to look for it.
Q: Did you see others in industry working to manipulate the science?
DF: I don't pretend to understand why, test results are thrown
away. Set aside. Explained by another factor. You don't have anybody
replicating the results. You basically take that company's word for it.
There's been some cases in the past where laboratories have faked the results.
EPA's had to come in and find them. You had to figure out what pesticides they
were testing, and that the results were faked.
Q: Would industry try to find scientists who would support its particular point
DF: There's a whole industry for finding scientists out there. Supporting
university researchers. Stephen Safe, from Texas, used to be one of
pesticides' harshest critics. Suddenly he turned around and he was one of the
industry's firmest supporters. When some congressional committees were looking
at inviting some industry witnesses, they were asked the question of whether
Stephen Safe received industry funding. They obviously felt that it wouldn't
serve justice to have him testify.
The industry does fund different scientific research papers. I would never see
the industry helping to fund Fred vom Saal. You have to find somebody who
wants to prove your case.
Q: In the presentation you saw by the Chlorine Chemistry Council, what was
DF: Our pesticides go through a lot of testing, unlike many of the other
chemicals that are out there. The chlorine industry, this was a new area for
them. But they were on to endocrine disruption before the pesticide industry
The state lobbyist for the pesticide industry invited one of the lobbyists from
the Chlorine Chemistry Council to come in and share what they were doing. What
he basically told us was that the Chlorine Chemistry Council was putting
together a campaign and the message was "benefits". They weren't even going to
engage in a discussion on these effects or that testing. Just show the
American people the benefits of chlorine.
Q: What was the reaction in your company, in your circles, to Theo Colborn and
DF: The reaction to Theo Colborn's book was amazing. The industry somehow got
an advance copy of the manuscript. The industry got it and spread it through
all of the companies. We all read it before it was released. There were,
however, some industry people -- my colleague from DuPont for instance -- who
wouldn't buy the book. Who wouldn't read it. And so wouldn't even explore the
When Theo's book first came out, industry immediately got together and formed a
cohesive strategy on how to deal with that. Part of it was looking for
journalists who would take the pesticide industry's point of view. They were
hiring firms to track Theo, to be in the audience when she was speaking to
environmental groups, to report back to industry what was being said. They took
Theo's book seriously: more seriously than I've ever seen any issue since
My CEO, the day that the book came out, had me go and find twenty copies. We
sent copies to Japan, to Switzerland, all over the world so that our colleagues
within Sandoz would know what Theo was saying. We put out a position paper
where our head scientist said, "There might be something to this, there might
not. But we have to take a look at it." Unfortunately, that position wasn't
adopted by the industry.
Q: But the industry did not attack her in a really vicious way.
DF: No. Theo is not an attackable person. You can attack a CEO of a tobacco
company. You know he's lying. But Theo is gracious. She doesn't rant and
rave and accuse people of unspeakable acts. How do you attack somebody who's
reasoned in their approach? Remember, this is all for the public. This is all
political. Anything goes politically, PR-wise. Just look like you're being
Q: What was the bottom line for them on this book?
DF: The bottom line for this book is that, since 1960, they've been testing
their pesticides wrong. Again, it comes down to the money: what will it mean
to their profits? I was never involved in a discussion on what it meant to
their daughters, or what it meant to their grandchildren. It was what did it
mean for those products.
Since the 1960s, they have been working off of the cancer question, where "the
dose makes the poison". They've been assuming that people have to receive
massive doses, or at least doses lasting a lifetime, before cancer forms.
Theo's book is saying that a small amount, at the right time, can cause an
effect. It destroys their scientific basis for testing. And if they don't have
a scientific basis for testing, then those products are vulnerable on the
market. Companies could fail if their product is an endocrine disrupter.
Q: Do you think there was an element of your experience with the industry that came down to
your being a woman?
DF: The pesticide industry is very male. Whenever I would raise the argument
that maybe there is something to endocrine disruption, I was called an
eco-feminist terrorist. I was told that I was too emotional -- that I was
letting the emotions of breast cancer carry me away. There is a very pronounced
male-female tension in the industry on this issue.
Q: Was there a moment of reckoning for you?
DF: I can't say when the exact moment came when I knew I'd have to leave the
industry. Maybe it was just the gradual realization that what they wanted me to
say was a lie.
When you went to school back in the sixties and seventies, didn't we all have
this image that we wanted to help save the world? And here I was in my
position as a lobbyist for the pesticide company, saying things that I couldn't
believe in and that I couldn't say anymore. I almost felt like a werewolf.
When that transformation came, I can't say, but I just went home and told my
husband I couldn't do it anymore.
When EPA and EDSTAC finally came to sitting down and really examining the issue
and saying, "Is this right? Are you telling the truth or are you lying?" there
is no way that I could sit there and listen to industry give a story that I
felt was not complete, at a time in history when everything was riding on what
the answers would be. My heart and my guts are behind Theo and behind Fred vom
Saal. I know that I couldn't be representing industry now, knowing how they're
scheming and strategizing against doing it.