This article was originally published in Environmental Health News.
“Parks should be for playing not pesticides”
By Carey Gillam
Two New York City council members introduced legislation today that would ban city agencies from spraying glyphosate-based herbicides and other toxic pesticides in parks and other public spaces.
The move is the latest in a groundswell of concern over pesticide use, particularly exposures to weed killing products developed by Monsanto, which is now a unit of Bayer AG. Cities, school districts and suppliers across the U.S. are increasingly halting use of the pesticides.
It is also a further sign that a growing number of people – consumers, educators, business leaders and others – are rejecting assurances from Monsanto and Bayer that glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup are safe for widespread use.
Bayer has recently taken out large advertisements in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and has been running television and Internet ad campaigns to defend the safety of its weed killing products. But concerns continue to mount.
“Parks should be for playing not pesticides,” said New York City council member Ben Kallos, a co-sponsor of the measure. “All families should be able to enjoy our city parks without having to worry that they are being exposed to toxic pesticides that could give them and their families cancer.”
The New York City measure would prohibit the application of synthetic pesticides within 75 feet of a natural body of water. And it would encourage city agencies to move to the use of biological pesticides, which are derived from naturally occurring substances rather than synthetic substances.
Glyphosate is commonly used in New York City, sprayed hundreds of times a year onto public greenspaces to treat weeds and overgrowth. Kallos told EHN he fears letting his young daughter play in famed Central Park because of the dangers of pesticide exposure.
Science, public awareness grow
Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide and is the active ingredient in not only Roundup brands but also hundreds of others sold around the world.
Since patenting glyphosate as a weed killer in 1974, Monsanto has always asserted it does not cause cancer and is much safer for people and the environment than other pesticides.
But scientific research developed over the last several decades has contradicted those corporate claims. Concerns escalated after the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.
More than 11,000 cancer victims are suing Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate products the company sells caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The lawsuits also claim the company has long known about the cancer risks but has worked to keep that information from the public, in part by manipulating scientific data relied on by regulators.
The first two trials have ended in unanimous jury verdicts in favor of plaintiffs. A third trial is underway in California now.
Kallos is hoping that public awareness generated by the trials will drive support for his bill. A similar measure introduced in 2015 failed to gather enough support to pass.
“The science gets stronger and stronger every day, and public interest around the issue is getting stronger,” said Kallos.
Latest effort to limit or ban
The effort in New York is just one of many around the United States to ban or limit applications of glyphosate products and other pesticides.
City commissioners in Miami voted in favor of a ban on glyphosate herbicides in February. In March, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued a moratorium on glyphosate applications on county property to allow for a safety evaluation by public health and environmental experts.
The list of school districts, cities and home owners groups that have banned or limited the use of glyphosate and other similarly hazardous pesticides includes many in California where the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) lists glyphosate as a known carcinogen.
This week, a group of Leesburg, Virginia, residents called on the town’s officials to stop using glyphosate along area stream banks.
Some large suppliers have also started backing away from glyphosate products. Harrell’s, a Florida-based turf, golf course and agricultural product supplier, stopped offering glyphosate products as of March 1.
Harrel’s CEO Jack Harrell Jr. said the company’s insurance provider was no longer willing to provide coverage for claims related to glyphosate, and the company was unable to secure adequate coverage from other insurers.
Costco has stopped selling Roundup—a corporate spokesperson says that they’ve removed the product from inventory for 2019. Salespeople at various stores contacted confirmed that they no longer offer the products.
And large independent garden center company Pike Nurseries in Georgia said earlier this month it is not restocking Roundup supplies due to declining sales.
The shunning of Monsanto’s products has not been helped by global publicity surrounding the first three Roundup cancer trials, which have placed internal Monsanto emails and strategic planning reports into the public spotlight and elicited testimony about the company’s handling of sensitive scientific concerns about perceived hazards of its herbicides.
In the trial currently underway, a case brought by a husband and wife who both have non-Hodgkin lymphoma they blame on their use of Roundup, evidence was introduced last week about the ease with which the weed killer can absorb into human skin.
Evidence was also laid out showing that Monsanto worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to block a toxicity review of glyphosate by a separate government agency.
The current trial, and the two previous trials, have all included evidence that Monsanto engaged in ghostwriting certain scientific papers that concluded glyphosate products were safe; and that Monsanto spent millions of dollars on projects aimed at countering the conclusions of the international cancer scientists who classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
Bayer’s annual shareholders meeting is set for April 26 and angry investors are calling for answers from Bayer CEO Werner Baumann who drove the acquisition of Monsanto, closing the $63 billion deal just before the first Roundup cancer trial started last June.
The company maintains glyphosate herbicides are not carcinogenic and it will ultimately prevail.
But Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Tom Claps has warned shareholders to brace for a global settlement of between $2.5 billion and $4.5 billion. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ Bayer will reach a global Roundup settlement, it is a matter of ‘when,'” Claps told investors in a recent report.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has ordered Bayer to enter into mediation, to discuss just such a potential settlement of the Roundup litigation.
This article was originally published in The Guardian.
By Carey Gillam
The chickens are coming home to roost, as they say in farm country.
For the second time in less than eight months a US jury has found that decades of scientific evidence demonstrates a clear cancer connection to Monsanto’s line of top-selling Roundup herbicides, which are used widely by consumers and farmers. Twice now jurors have additionally determined that the company’s own internal records show Monsanto has intentionally manipulated the public record to hide the cancer risks. Both juries found punitive damages were warranted because the company’s cover-up of cancer risks was so egregious.
The juries saw evidence that Monsanto has ghost-written scientific papers, tried to silence scientists, scuttled independent government testing and cozied up to regulators for favorable safety reviews of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
Even the US district judge Vince Chhabria, who oversaw the San Francisco trial that concluded Wednesday with an $80.2m damage award, had harsh words for Monsanto. Chhabria said there were “large swaths of evidence” showing that the company’s herbicides could cause cancer. He also said there was “a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product … and does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”
Monsanto’s new owner, the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, asserts that the juries and judges are wrong; the evidence of a cancer risk is invalid; the evidence of bad corporate conduct is misunderstood and out of context; and that the company will ultimately prevail.
Meanwhile, Monsanto critics are celebrating the wins and counting on more as a third trial got underway this week and 11,000 additional plaintiffs await their turn. As well, a growing number of communities and businesses are backing away from use of Monsanto’s herbicides. And investors are punishing Bayer, pushing share prices to a seven-year low on Thursday.
Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Tom Claps has warned shareholders to brace for a global settlement of between $2.5bn and $4.5bn.
“We don’t believe [Monsanto] will lose every single trial, but we do believe that they could lose a significant majority,” he told the Guardian.
Following the recent courtroom victories, some have cheered the notion that Monsanto is finally being made to pay for alleged wrongdoing. But by selling to Bayer last summer for $63bn just before the Roundup cancer lawsuits started going to trial, Monsanto executives were able to walk away from the legal mess with riches. The Monsanto chairman Hugh Grant’s exit package allowed him to pocket $32m, for instance.
Amid the uproar of the courtroom scuffles, a larger issue looms: Monsanto’s push to make use of glyphosate herbicides so pervasive that traces are commonly found in our food and even our bodily fluids, is just one example of how several corporate giants are creating lasting human health and environmental woes around the world. Monsanto and its brethren have targeted farmers in particular as a critical market for their herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, and now many farmers around the world believe they cannot farm without them.
Studies show that along with promoting illness and disease in people, these pesticides pushed by Bayer and Monsanto, DowDuPont and other corporate players, are endangering wildlife, soil health, water quality and the long-term sustainability of food production. Yet regulators have allowed these corporations to combine forces, making them ever more powerful and more able to direct public policies that favor their interests.
The Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren this week called for taking back some of that power. She announced on Wednesday a plan to break up big agribusinesses and work against the type of corporate capture of Washington we have seen in recent years.
It’s a solid step in the right direction. But it cannot undo the suffering of cancer victims, nor easily transform a deeply contaminated landscape to create a healthier future and unleash us from the chains of a pesticide-dependent agricultural system.
And while Bayer may dole out a few billion dollars in damages, who is really being made to pay?
We all are.
Study is the latest evidence that glyphosate herbicides are so pervasive that residues can be found in foods not produced by farmers using glyphosate.
This article was originally published in Environmental Health News.
By Carey Gillam
As U.S. regulators continue to dance around the issue of testing foods for residues of glyphosate weed killers, government scientists in Canada have found the pesticide in 197 of 200 samples of honey they examined.
The authors of the study, all of whom work for Agri-Food Laboratories at the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, said the prevalence of glyphosate residues in honey samples – 98.5 percent – was higher than what was reported in several similar studies done over the last five years in other countries.
Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide and is the active ingredient in Roundup brands as well as hundreds of others sold around the world for agriculture and other purposes. Use has grown dramatically over the last 25 years and consumers have become concerned about residues of the herbicide in their food.
The data provides fresh evidence that glyphosate herbicides are so pervasive in the environment that residues can be found even in a food that is not produced by farmers using glyphosate. The researchers noted in their report that they ran into delays trying to calibrate their testing equipment “due to difficulties encountered in obtaining a honey sample which did not contain traces of glyphosate.”
Bees pick up traces of pesticides as they move from plant to plant, unintentionally transferring residues from crops or weeds sprayed with glyphosate back to their hives.
In a different study, researchers on the Hawaiian island of Kauai took honey directly from 59 bee hives and found glyphosate residues in 27 percent of them. The Hawaiian researchers said bee hives located near farming areas as well as golf courses where glyphosate is used had higher concentrations of the pesticide.
The Canadian report also comes amid growing evidence that glyphosate herbicides can cause cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. On Tuesday a jury in San Francisco unanimously found that Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide made popular by chemical manufacturer Monsanto Co., use was a “substantial factor” in causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in a California man. That echoed a similar unanimous jury verdict handed down in August in a separate case in which a cancer victim also alleged his disease was due to exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides.
Both verdicts came after plaintiffs’ lawyers presented evidence of multiple studies showing the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, including one published last month in a journal whose editor is a senior scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Canadians’ decision to examine honey samples for glyphosate comes after a similar look at honey samples by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration chemist in 2017. That FDA scientist found all 28 honey samples he looked at had traces of glyphosate, with 61 percent of the samples having enough glyphosate to be measured. The other samples had residues of the herbicide too slight to measure.
The Canadian report, published in a journal called Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, said that glyphosate is currently an active ingredient in 181 herbicides registered for use in Canada and its widespread use has made it commonly found in the environment.
The study authors pointed out that Canada, like the United States, does not have a legal standard for how much of the herbicide is considered safe in honey. Regulators in different countries set what are referred to as “maximum residue limits” (MRLs) and tell consumers their food is safe if pesticide residues remain below the MRLs. In Europe, the MRL for glyphosate in honey is 0.05 mg/kg, also expressed as 50 μg/kg.
The Canadian study authors said that all of the levels they found were below the European limit, though the highest was just barely within the legal limit. Because the residues did not exceed the MRL, they said, “the risk to consumer health appears to be quite low based on the residues detected.”
Several of the residue levels found by the FDA scientist in U.S. honey were above that so-called safe level that applies in the European Union. But the FDA, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA, assert that as long as pesticide residues are below the legal MRLs, they are not harmful.
Many scientists do not agree that MRLs actually are protective of public health, however.
“People think the standards are protective of public health but they are not,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College, told EHN. “The optimal amount” of pesticide residues in food is “zero,” he said. “Remember, many of the people eating honey are children.”
A team of Harvard scientists published a commentary in October stating that more research about potential links between disease and consumption of pesticide residues is “urgently needed” as more than 90 percent of the U.S. population has pesticide residues in their urine and blood.
The United States has fallen behind Europe, Canada and other countries in testing foods for residues of glyphosate. Though both the FDA and the USDA annually test thousands of food samples for pesticide residues and report the data in reports, both agencies have not included glyphosate in their yearly testing programs.
In fact, the honey test data gathered by the FDA chemist was never published by the FDA and was not included in the agency’s first-ever glyphosate testing data that was released late last year as part of the annual test data report.
The USDA has similarly balked at testing foods for glyphosate residues for decades. The agency planned to start limited testing in 2017 but dropped the plan with little explanation only a couple of months before testing was to have started.
Legislative push for testing
Amid all the concerns about glyphosate and residues in food, U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut this month introduced a measure called the “Keep Food Safe From Glyphosate Act.” The bill would require the USDA to routinely test food samples for glyphosate residues.
The bill would also ban the spraying of glyphosate as a desiccant on oats. The practice is employed by some farmers to dry their oats before harvesting. It makes harvest more efficient but leaves higher residues on finished oat-based foods.
Monsanto, now a unit of Bayer AG, has marketed glyphosate for use on oats as a desiccant for years, and the company also has successfully convinced the EPA to raise the MRL for glyphosate residues allowed in oat products. In 1993, for example, the EPA had a tolerance for glyphosate in oats at 0.1 parts per million (ppm) but in 1996 Monsanto asked EPA to raise the tolerance to 20 ppm and the EPA did as asked. In 2008, at Monsanto’s suggestion, the EPA again looked to raise the tolerance for glyphosate in oats, this time to 30 ppm.
In her bill, DeLauro is looking to slash the MRL for glyphosate residues in oats to 0.1 ppm.
Canadian farmers are among the world’s top producers of oats, and desiccation with glyphosate has been a common practice there.
Health Canada has rejected concerns about glyphosate safety, saying: “No pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed.”
In addition to testing for glyphosate residues, the Canadian scientists also tested for residues of glyphosate’s main degradation product, a metabolite called aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA). Like glyphosate, AMPA has long been considered to have low toxicity. AMPA was detected in 198 of the 200 samples up to a concentration of 50.1 μg/kg.
“The contribution of glyphosate and AMPA residues present in the ambient environment to contamination of plant nectar and subsequently honey itself is further complicated by the variations in the levels of these compounds in environmental matrices such as soil and surface water,” the scientists said in their report.
The scientists also looked for residues of the weed killer glufosinate and found residues of that herbicide in 125 of 200 samples, with the maximum concentration detected being 33 μg/kg.
Glufosinate is the active ingredient in BASF’s Liberty herbicide.
Study says evidence ‘supports link’ between exposure to glyphosate and increased risk
This article was originally published in the Guardian.
By Carey Gillam
A broad new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, the most widely used weedkilling products in the world, has found that people with high exposures to the popular pesticides have a 41% increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The evidence “supports a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the authors concluded, though they said the specific numerical risk estimates should be interpreted with caution.
The findings by five US scientists contradict the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assurances of safety over the weed killer and come as regulators in several countries consider limiting the use of glyphosate-based products in farming.
Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG face more than 9,000 lawsuits in the US brought by people suffering from NHL who blame Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides for their diseases. The first plaintiff to go to trial won a unanimous jury verdict against Monsanto in August, a verdict the company is appealing. The next trial, involving a separate plaintiff, is set to begin on 25 February, and several more trials are set for this year and into 2020.
Monsanto maintains there is no legitimate scientific research showing a definitive association between glyphosate and NHL or any type of cancer. Company officials say the EPA’s finding that glyphosate is “not likely” to cause cancer is backed by hundreds of studies finding no such connection.
The company claims the scientists with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) who classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015 engaged in improper conduct and failed to give adequate weight to several important studies.
But the new analysis could potentially complicate Monsanto’s defense of its top-selling herbicide. Three of the study authors were tapped by the EPA as board members for a 2016 scientific advisory panel on glyphosate. The new paper was published by the journal Mutation Research /Reviews in Mutation Research, whose editor in chief is EPA scientist David DeMarini.
The study’s authors say their meta-analysis is distinctive from previous assessments. “This paper makes a stronger case than previous meta-analyses that there is evidence of an increased risk of NHL due to glyphosate exposure,” said co-author Lianne Sheppard, a professor in the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences department at the University of Washington. “From a population health point of view there are some real concerns.”
Sheppard was one of the scientific advisers to the EPA on glyphosate and was among a group of those advisers who told the EPA that it failed to follow proper scientific protocols in determining that glyphosate was not likely to cause cancer. “It was wrong,” Sheppard said of the EPA glyphosate assessment. “It was pretty obvious they didn’t follow their own rules. “Is there evidence that it is carcinogenic? The answer is yes.”
An EPA spokesperson said: “We are reviewing the study.” Bayer, which bought Monsanto in the summer of 2018, did not respond to a request for comment about the study.
A Bayer statement on glyphosate cites the EPA assessment and says that glyphosate herbicides have been “extensively evaluated” and are proven to be a “safe and efficient weed control tool”.
The study authors said their new meta-analysis evaluated all published human studies, including a 2018 updated government-funded study known as the Agricultural Health Study (AHS). Monsanto has cited the updated AHS study as proving that there is no tie between glyphosate and NHL. In conducting the new meta-analysis, the researchers said they focused on the highest exposed group in each study because those individuals would be most likely to have an elevated risk if in fact glyphosate herbicides cause NHL.
Looking only at individuals with real-world high exposures to the pesticide makes it is less likely that confounding factors may skew results, the authors said. In essence – if there is no true connection between the chemical and cancer then even highly exposed individuals should not develop cancer at significant rates.
In addition to looking at the human studies, the researchers also looked at other types of glyphosate studies, including many conducted on animals.
“Together, all of the meta-analyses conducted to date, including our own, consistently report the same key finding: exposure to GBHs are associated with an increased risk of NHL,” the scientists concluded.
David Savitz, professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, said the work was “well conducted” but lacking “fundamentally new information”.
“I would suggest it sustains the concern and need for assessment but doesn’t put the question to rest in any definitive sense,” Savitz said.
In a statement Bayer later said, “[The study] does not provide new epidemiology data; instead, it is a statistical manipulation that is at odds with the extensive body of science, 40 years of real world experience and the conclusions of regulators.”
It added: “[The study] provides no scientifically valid evidence that contradicts the conclusions of the extensive body of science demonstrating that glyphosate-based herbicides are not carcinogenic.”
Scientific scrutiny of pesticide residue in food grows; regulatory protections questioned
This article was originally published in Environmental Health News.
By Carey Gillam
Weed killers in wheat crackers and cereals, insecticides in apple juice and a mix of multiple pesticides in spinach, string beans and other veggies – all are part of the daily diets of many Americans. For decades, federal officials have declared tiny traces of these contaminants to be safe. But a new wave of scientific scrutiny is challenging those assertions.
Though many consumers might not be aware of it, every year, government scientists document how hundreds of chemicals used by farmers on their fields and crops leave residues in widely consumed foods. More than 75 percent of fruits and more than 50 percent of vegetables sampled carried pesticides residues in the latest sampling reported by the Food and Drug Administration. Even residues of the tightly restricted bug-killing chemical DDT are found in food, along with a range of other pesticides known by scientists to be linked to a range of illnesses and disease. The pesticide endosulfan, banned worldwide because of evidence that it can cause neurological and reproductive problems, was also found in food samples, the FDA report said.
U.S. regulators and the companies that sell the chemicals to farmers insist that the pesticide residues pose no threat to human health. Most residue levels found in food fall within legal “tolerance” levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regulators say.
“Americans depend on the FDA to ensure the safety of their families and the foods they eat,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press release accompanying the agency’s Oct. 1 release of its residue report. “Like other recent reports, the results show that overall levels of pesticide chemical residues are below the Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerances, and therefore don’t pose a risk to consumers.”
The EPA is so confident that traces of pesticides in food are safe that the agency has granted multiple chemical company requests for increases in the allowed tolerances, effectively providing a legal basis for higher levels of pesticide residues to be allowed in American food.
But recent scientific studies have prompted many scientists to warn that years of promises of safety may be wrong. While no one is expected to drop dead from eating a bowl of cereal containing pesticide residues, repeated low level exposures to trace amounts of pesticides in the diet could be contributing to a range of health problems, particularly for children, scientists say.
“There are probably many other health effects; we just haven’t studied them”
A team of Harvard scientists published a commentary in October stating that more research about potential links between disease and consumption of pesticide residues is “urgently needed” as more than 90 percent of the U.S. population has pesticide residues in their urine and blood. The primary route of exposure to these pesticides is through the food people eat, the Harvard research team said.
Several additional Harvard-affiliated scientists published a study earlier this year of women who were trying to get pregnant. The findings suggested that dietary pesticide exposure within a “typical” range was associated both with problems women had getting pregnant and delivering live babies, the scientists said.
“Clearly the current tolerance levels protect us from acute toxicity. The problem is that it is not clear to what extent long-term low-level exposure to pesticide residues through food may or may not be health hazards,” said Dr. Jorge Chavarro, associate professor of the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and one of the study authors.
“Exposure to pesticide residues through diet is associated [with] some reproductive outcomes including semen quality and greater risk of pregnancy loss among women undergoing infertility treatments. There are probably many other health effects; we just haven’t studied them sufficiently to make an adequate risk assessment,” Chavarro said.
Toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, who directs the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), has also raised concerns about pesticide dangers through exposures once assumed to be safe. Last year she called for “an overall reduction in the use of agricultural pesticides” due to multiple concerns for human health, stating that “existing US regulations have not kept pace with scientific advances showing that widely used chemicals cause serious health problems at levels previously assumed to be safe.”
In an interview Birnbaum said that pesticide residues in food and water are among the types of exposures that need greater regulatory scrutiny.
“Do I think that levels that are currently set are safe? Probably not,” said Birnbaum. “We have people of different susceptibility, whether because of their own genetics, or their age, whatever may make them more susceptible to these things,” she said.
“While we look at chemicals one at a time, there is a lot of evidence for things acting in a synergistic fashion. A lot of our standard testing protocols, many that were developed 40 to 50 years ago, are not asking the questions we should be asking,” she added.
Legal doesn’t mean safe
Other recent scientific papers also point to troubling findings. One by a group of international scientists published in May found glyphosate herbicide at doses currently considered “safe” are capable of causing health problems before the onset of puberty. More research is needed to understand potential risks to children, the study authors said.
And in a paper published Oct. 22 in JAMA Internal Medicine, French researchers said that when looking at pesticide residue links to cancer in a study of the diets of more than 68,000 people, they found indications that consumption of organic foods, which are less likely to carry synthetic pesticide residues than foods made with conventionally grown crops, was associated with a reduced risk of cancer.
A 2009 paper published by a Harvard researcher and two FDA scientists found 19 out of 100 food samples that children commonly consumed contained at least one insecticide known to be a neurotoxin. The foods the researchers looked at were fresh vegetables, fruits and juices. Since then, evidence has grown about the harmful human health impacts of insecticides, in particular.
“A number of current legal standards for pesticides in food and water do not fully protect public health, and do not reflect the latest science,” said Olga Naidenko, senior science advisor to the non-profit Environmental Working Group, which has issued several reports looking at potential dangers of pesticides in food and water. “Legal does not necessarily reflect ‘safe,'” she said.
One example of how regulatory assurances of safety have been found lacking when it comes to pesticide residues is the case of an insecticide known as chlorpyrifos. Marketed by Dow Chemical, which became the DowDuPont company in 2017, chlorpyrifos is applied to more than 30 percent of apples, asparagus, walnuts, onions, grapes, broccoli, cherries and cauliflower grown in the U.S. and is commonly found on foods consumed by children. The EPA has said for years that exposures below the legal tolerances it set were nothing to worry about.
Yet scientific research in recent years has demonstrated an association between chlorpyrifos exposure and cognitive deficits in children. The evidence of harm to young developing brains is so strong that the EPA in 2015 said that it “cannot find that any current tolerances are safe.”
The EPA said that because of unacceptable levels of the insecticide in food and drinking water it planned to ban the pesticide from agricultural use. But pressure from Dow and chemical industry lobbyists have kept the chemical in wide use on American farms. The FDA’s recent report found it the 11th most prevalent pesticides in U.S. foods out of hundreds included in the testing.
A federal court in August said that the Trump Administration was endangering public health by keeping chlorpyrifos in use for agricultural food production. The court cited “scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children” and ordered the EPA to revoke all tolerances and ban the chemical from the market. The EPA has yet to act on that order, and is seeking a rehearing before the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
When asked how to explain its changing positions on chlorpyrifos, an agency spokesman said that the EPA “plans to continue to review the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects” of the chemical.
The fact that it is still in wide use frustrates and angers physicians who specialize in child health and leaves them wondering what other pesticide exposures in food might be doing to people.
“The bottom line is that the biggest public health concerns for chlorpyrifos are from its presence in foods,” said Dr. Bradley Peterson director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. “Even small exposures can potentially have harmful effects.”
The EPA decision to continue to allow chlorpyrifos into American diets is “emblematic of a broader dismissal of scientific evidence” that challenges human health as well as scientific integrity, according to Dr. Leonardo Trasande, who directs the Division of Environmental Pediatrics within the Department of Pediatrics at New York University’s Langone Health.
Epidemiologist Philip Landrigan, director of Boston College’s Global Public Health initiative, and a former scientist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, is advocating for a ban on all organophosphates, a class of insecticides that includes chlorpyrifos, because of the danger they pose to children.
“Children are exquisitely vulnerable to these chemicals,” said Landrigan. “This is about protecting kids.”
Increased tolerances at industry request
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act authorizes the EPA to regulate the use of pesticides on foods according to specific statutory standards and grants the EPA a limited authority to establish tolerances for pesticides meeting statutory qualifications.
Tolerances vary from food to food and pesticide to pesticide, so an apple might legally carry more of a certain type of insecticide residue than a plum, for instance. The tolerances also vary from country to country, so what the U.S. sets as a legal tolerance for residues of a pesticide on a particular food can – and often is – much different than limits set in other countries. As part of the setting of those tolerances, regulators examine data showing how much residue persists after a pesticide is used as intended on a crop, and they undertake the dietary risk assessments to confirm that the levels of pesticide residues don’t pose human health concerns.
The agency says that it accounts for the fact that the diets of infants and children may be quite different from those of adults and that they consume more food for their size than adults. The EPA also says it combines information about routes of pesticide exposure – food, drinking water residential uses – with information about the toxicity of each pesticide to determine the potential risks posed by the pesticide residues. The agency says if the risks are “unacceptable,” it will not approve the tolerances.
The EPA also says that when it makes tolerance decisions, it “seeks to harmonize U.S. tolerances with international standards whenever possible, consistent with U.S. food safety standards and agricultural practices.”
Monsanto, which became of unit of Bayer AG earlier this year, has successfully asked the EPA to expand the levels of glyphosate residues allowed in several foods, including in wheat and oats.
In 1993, for example, the EPA had a tolerance for glyphosate in oats at 0.1 parts per million (ppm) but in 1996 Monsanto asked EPA to raise the tolerance to 20 ppm and the EPA did as asked. In 2008, at Monsanto’s suggestion, the EPA again looked to raise the tolerance for glyphosate in oats, this time to 30 ppm.
At that time, it also said it would raise the tolerance for glyphosate in barley from 20 ppm to 30 ppm, raise the tolerance in field corn from 1 to 5 ppm and raise the tolerance of glyphosate residue in wheat from 5 ppm to 30 ppm, a 500 percent increase. The 30 ppm for wheat is matched by more than 60 other countries, but is well above the tolerances allowed in more than 50 countries, according to an international tolerance database established with EPA funding and maintained now by a private government affairs consulting group.
“The Agency has determined that the increased tolerances are safe, i.e, there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue,” the EPA stated in the May 21, 2008 Federal Register.
“All these statements from EPA – trust us it’s safe. But the truth is we have no idea if it actually is safe,” said Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a clinician scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute, BC Children’s Hospital, and a professor in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Lanphear said that while regulators assume toxic effects increase with dose, scientific evidence shows that some chemicals are most toxic at the lowest levels of exposure. Protecting public health will require rethinking basic assumptions about how agencies regulate chemicals, he argued in a paper published last year.
In recent years both Monsanto and Dow have received new tolerance levels for the pesticides dicamba and 2,4-D on food as well.
Raising tolerances allows farmers to use pesticides in various ways that may leave more residues, but that doesn’t threaten human health, according to Monsanto. In a blog posted last year, Monsanto scientist Dan Goldstein asserted the safety of pesticide residues in food generally and of glyphosate in particular. Even when they exceed the regulatory legal limits, pesticide residues are so minuscule they pose no danger, according to Goldstein, who posted the blog before he retired from Monsanto this year.
About half of foods sampled contained traces of pesticides
Amid the scientific concerns, the most recent FDA data on pesticide residues in food found that roughly half of the foods the agency sampled contained traces of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other toxic chemicals used by farmers in growing hundreds of different foods.
More than 90 percent of apple juices sampled were found to contain pesticides. The FDA also reported that more than 60 percent of cantaloupe carried residues. Overall, 79 percent of American fruits and 52 percent of vegetables contained residues of various pesticides – many known by scientists to be linked to a range of illnesses and disease. Pesticides were also found in soy, corn, oat and wheat products, and finished foods like cereals, crackers and macaroni.
The FDA analysis “almost exclusively” is focused on products that are not labeled as organic, according to FDA spokesman Peter Cassell.
The FDA downplays the percentage of foods containing pesticide residues and focuses on the percentage of samples for which there is no violation of the tolerance levels. In its most recent report, the FDA said that more than “99% of domestic and 90% of import human foods were compliant with federal standards.”
The report marked the agency’s launch of testing for the weed killer glyphosate in foods. The Government Accountability Office said in 2014 that both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should start regularly testing foods for glyphosate. The FDA did only limited tests looking for glyphosate residues, however, sampling corn and soy and milk and eggs for the weed killer, the agency said. No residues of glyphosate were found in milk or eggs, but residues were found in 63.1 percent of the corn samples and 67 percent of the soybean samples, according to FDA data.
The agency did not disclose findings by one of its chemists of glyphosate in oatmeal and honey products, even though the FDA chemist made his findings known to supervisors and other scientists outside the agency.
Cassell said the honey and oatmeal findings were not part of the agency’s assignment.
Overall, the new FDA report covered sampling done from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016, and included analysis of 7,413 samples of food examined as part of the FDA’s “pesticide monitoring program.” Most of the samples were of food to be eaten by people, but 467 samples were of animal food. The agency said that pesticide residues were found in 47.1 percent of the samples of food for people produced domestically and 49.3 percent of food imported from other countries destined for consumer meals. Animal food products were similar, with pesticide residues found in 57 percent of the domestic samples and 45.3 percent of imported foods for animals.
Many imported food samples showed residues of pesticides high enough to break the legal limits, the FDA said. Nearly 20 percent of imported grain and grain product samples showed illegally high levels of pesticides, for example.
Thisarticlewas originally publishedinSanFranciscoChronicle.
By Nathan Donley and Carey Gillam
It’s been three weeks since a San Francisco jury found that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides contributed to former school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson’s terminal cancer and awarded a stunning $289 million in damages to the 46-year-old father. And during that time, we’ve seen repeated assertions from the pesticide giant and its allies that, in fact, the jury was wrong and the weed killer of choice for millions of Americans is perfectly safe.
Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge repeated the familiar mantra: Hundreds of scientific studies, as well as reviews by regulatory agencies across the globe, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have found that glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — does not cause cancer. Monsanto’s new owner, Bayer AG, went further. Bayer CEO Werner Baumann told investors that the jury was just flat-out “wrong” and that Bayer would work to ensure that sales of the weed-killing products were not interrupted. “More than 800 scientific studies and reviews” support glyphosate safety, he told investors.
Unchallenged, the carefully honed talking points sound impressive and conclusive — exactly as intended.
But in the wake of the jury’s award, many people across the United States who have been spraying the pesticide on their lawns and gardens for years doubt those reassuring words. And with good reason.
Corporate assurances of safety leave out one important word — a word that is critically important to anyone who wants to make an informed decision about the cancer risk associated with Roundup and the hundreds of other glyphosate-based herbicides on the market.
That word is “independent,” as in “independent scientific studies and reviews.”
As was laid out in the trial, there is a wealth of evidence, much of it from within Monsanto’s own internal documents, detailing how much of the research suggesting that Roundup is safe has been orchestrated and/or influenced by Monsanto and its chemical industry allies.
But truly independent research has shown that there is reason for concern. As Roundup use on U.S. farms, residential lawns and gardens has soared from roughly 40 million pounds a year in the 1990s to nearly 300 million pounds in recent years, the dangers of the chemical have been documented in numerous peer-reviewed studies.
It was those independent and peer-reviewed works that convinced the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization to determine that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. In the wake of that WHO finding, California added glyphosate to the state’s list of cancer-causing chemicals.
Monsanto’s response to that 2015 classification was more manipulated science. An “independent review” of glyphosate showed up in a peer-reviewed scientific journal decrying the IARC classification. The review not only was titled as being independent, but declared that no Monsanto employee had any involvement in the writing of it. Yet the company’s internal emails, turned over in discovery associated with the litigation, revealed that a Monsanto scientist in fact aggressively edited and reviewed the analysis prior to its publication.
That was but one of multiple examples detailed in the unsealed documents of similar efforts, referred to by Monsanto’s own employees as “ghostwriting.”
The EPA has sided with Monsanto over independent scientists, declaring the pesticide is not likely to cause cancer. By doing so, the agency has ignored the fact that its own Office of Research and Development expressed unease with the EPA’s handling of the glyphosate evaluation, as did a scientific advisory panel convened by the agency to peer-review the evaluation.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the trial evidence also included communications detailing what can only be described as cozy collaborations between Monsanto and certain EPA officials.
Americans deserve better from their regulators, whose priority should be to put the public’s health far before corporate profits.
Instead, it took a brave man dying of cancer and jury of 12 ordinary citizens to step up and face the challenge of taking a hard look at the scientific facts and calling for justice.
What “ghostwriting” by Monsanto means, how it has influenced, and still is influencing, material found in peer-reviewed scientific journals
This article was originally published in Environmental Health News.
By Carey Gillam and Nathan Donley
Consumers and journalists around the world were stunned earlier this month when Monsanto, after being forced in a court of law for the first time to defend the safety of its popular weed killer Roundup, was found liable for the terminal cancer of California groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson.
The unanimous 12-member jury found that Mr. Johnson’s exposure to Monsanto’s weedkiller was a “substantial” contributing factor to his disease and that there was “clear and convincing” evidence that Monsanto acted with “malice or oppression” because the risks were evident and Monsanto failed to warn of those known risks.
Aside from dueling expert testimony on both sides, the jury was provided with internal company emails and work plans indicating that Monsanto had been corrupting the scientific record by ghostwriting literature asserting safety.
As the jury’s decision sets in, and thousands of additional plaintiffs who have filed similar suits wait for their day in court, it is worth taking time to understand exactly what “ghostwriting” by Monsanto means, how it has influenced, and still is influencing, material found in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
We offer this example:
When the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology (CRT) published a series of papers reviewing the carcinogenic potential of weed-killing agent glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, in September 2016, the findings were so significant that they were widely reported by media outlets around the world.
The papers, published in a special issue of CRT entitled “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate,” directly contradicted the findings of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in 2015 found glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen. The authors of the 2016 review found that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people.
The findings were critical to Monsanto – the company was facing doubts by European regulators about allowing glyphosate to remain on the market. As well, Monsanto was facing a growing mass of lawsuits claiming its weed killer caused people to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Sixteen scientists from “four independent panels” signed their names to the published work, declaring to readers that their conclusions were free of Monsanto’s intervention. Underscoring the supposed independence of the work, the declaration of interest section stated: “Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”
It has since become evident that these papers were anything but independent. Internal Monsanto documents forced into the public spotlight through litigation show that the papers were conceptualized from the outset as a deceptive strategy for Monsanto. One of Monsanto’s top scientists not only reviewed the manuscripts but had a hand in drafting and editing them. The finished papers were aimed directly at discrediting IARC’s classification.
In one internal email, Monsanto’s chief of regulatory science, William Heydens, told the organizer of the panel: “I have gone through the entire document and indicated what I think should stay, what can go, and in a couple spots I did a little editing.”
The internal documents show that Heydens even argued over statements that he wanted included but that author John Acquavella deemed “inflammatory” and “not necessary” criticisms of IARC. Draft documents show Heydens’ edits contradicted Acquavella’s edits even though Heydens was not supposed to have even reviewed the papers. Heydens went so far as to state: “I would ignore John’s comment” and “I don’t see a reason for deleting the text that John did below.”
Other edits show Heydens attempting to control the tone of the manuscript, stating: “The deleted statement below has nothing to do with IARC criticism and should be put back in, John over-stepped the bounds here” and “I can live with deleting the text below, assuming that exposure text above … is added back in.” He also argued for putting a deleted phrase back in because it gave “clarity about IARC’s approach.” “This is not inflammatory, it is descriptive,” he wrote.
The importance of the papers to Monsanto as a tool to counter IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was laid out in a confidential document dated May 11, 2015, naming several of the scientists who could be used as authors to give the papers credibility. The internal documents speak of “ghost-writing” strategies aimed at using non-company scientists as authors to lend credibility to the findings.
When placed under oath in a deposition, Heydens acknowledged that the manuscripts were sent to him and he read “parts of some of them,” prior to their submission to the journal. He said he did not “recall” whether or not he made the 28 edits that plaintiffs’ attorneys counted in the internal records.
All of this was among the evidence presented to jurors in San Francisco Superior Court as they considered Johnson’s claims. But the evidence of ghostwriting and misconduct have far broader implications than one lawsuit.
How many ghostwritten papers declaring pesticide safety are littering the scientific literature? And given the evidence of misconduct in this instance, why are these papers still in publication? Why has there been no retraction, no clarification, no correction to the obviously deceptive disclosure?
Last August, after the documents gained media attention CRT editor Roger McClellan said the “serious accusations” deserved “careful investigation,” and he and CRT publisher Taylor & Francis would take “appropriate action.”
Shortly thereafter the Center for Biological Diversity and three other national environmental-health organizations sent a letter to CRT and Taylor & Francis detailing the ethical misconduct and formally asking for a retraction. It’s been more than a year since this investigation was begun and, despite multiple follow-up requests by the organizations, no action has been taken.
With Taylor & Francis’s own policy being to issue a retraction for misconduct “when there has been an infringement of publishing ethics,” the case for retraction couldn’t be more clear.
Monsanto’s fingerprints are all over this “independent” review, as laid out in Monsanto’s own internal documents.
Taylor & Francis must determine the standards to which it is willing to hold scientists who publish in its journals – if not for the reputation of the journals themselves, then for the sake of scientific integrity itself and the public’s right to the truth.
Jury finds that the popular Roundup weed killer causes cancer
This article was originally published in Sierra.
By Carey Gillam
It was a blistering closing argument: In concluding the world’s first-ever court case against Monsanto Company over claims its Roundup herbicide causes cancer, attorney Brent Wisner asked jurors to deliver a message so powerful that Monsanto would have to be called to change.
“Every single cancer risk that has been found has this moment, every single one, where the science finally caught up, where they couldn’t bury it anymore,” Wisner told the jury of seven men and five women. “This is the day Monsanto is finally held accountable.” He implored them to return a verdict that said, “Monsanto, no more.” The jurors hearing the case in San Francisco Superior Court held the power to return a verdict “that actually changes the world,” Wisner told them. This trial, he said, was the company’s “day of reckoning.”
It is unclear at this point if the jury verdict—$289.25 million, which includes the staggering sum of $250 million in punitive damages—will significantly change the widespread global use of glyphosate. Still, glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup are facing increasing questions both about their impact on human health, and what damage they might be doing to the environment.
The verdict handed down August 10 was on behalf of just one individual: school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who is dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) he claimed resulted from exposure to Monsanto’s herbicide. But with roughly 4,000 additional plaintiffs with similar cancer-claim lawsuits pending, Monsanto could be facing a tsunami of litigation that could persist for many years and amount to billions of dollars in damage awards to cancer victims and their families. Discovery documents obtained from within Monsanto’s once-secret files in connection with the litigation have fueled outrage at not just the evidence of harm but also of the deceptive tactics Monsanto and chemical industry allies have employed to suppress such evidence.
Shortly before the verdict, a federal judge in Brazil ruled that new products containing glyphosate could not be registered in the country and existing registrations would be suspended. And in Germany, home to Monsanto’s new parent company, Bayer AG, the environment minister called for the use of glyphosate-based herbicides to be phased out within three years.
After the San Francisco jury verdict, Italy’s deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, said that there is no longer any doubt about the dangers of the herbicide, and the country needed to fight against further use of it. France’s environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, said the substance must be banned. Hulot said it was not a fight against the interest of farmers but for their benefit. Some British retailers said they were considering pulling the weed-killing products from their shelves.
Bayer shareholders have reacted with alarm to the verdict, sending shares sliding. While Monsanto has said it will appeal, and insists that it still has the science on its side, legal experts are not confident the company can succeed.
United States lawmakers and regulators have largely shrugged off the mounting evidence of harm associated with glyphosate herbicides so far. The EPA has issued a review of glyphosate safety that concludes it is not likely to cause cancer and has taken no meaningful actions to limit its use. But as the litigation expands and foreign leaders take action restricting glyphosate products, that could change.
Glyphosate is considered the world’s most widely used weed killer. Globally, approximately 1.8 billion pounds of the herbicide is used per year, 15-fold increase from the mid-1990s. In the United States, use has grown from roughly 40 million pounds to close to 300 million pounds in that same stretch, according to data compiled by agricultural economist Charles Benbrook.
Though best known as the active ingredient in Roundup and other Monsanto products, the off-patent chemical is key in many other brands sold by rival chemical companies. Monsanto engineered the rise in use of glyphosate when it introduced genetically altered glyphosate-tolerant crops in the mid-1990s, designed to withstand direct doses of the chemical.
The “Roundup Ready” cropping system made farming easier and more efficient, but as the use of glyphosate expanded, research surrounding the chemical’s impacts also grew. Researchers have documented a decline in soil health because of overuse of glyphosate, and the chemical has been tied to the declining health of important pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Weed resistance to glyphosate has prompted farmers to combine glyphosate with dicamba and 2,4-D, older herbicides also tied to human health problems. Extensive use of glyphosate leaves residues in food and water, and studies show the chemical is routinely found in human urine. It is so pervasive in the environment that U.S. government researchers have found traces in rainfall.
The ubiquitous presence of the chemical makes the evidence of ties to disease particularly worrisome. By 2015, the body of scientific evidence tying glyphosate-based herbicides to cancer was strong enough that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen.
That IARC classification, issued in March 2015, triggered the onslaught of litigation, including Johnson’s lawsuit. All of the lawsuits directly challenge Monsanto’s position that its herbicides are proven safe and assert that the company has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide products. The evidence of deception includes ghostwriting of scientific literature that proclaimed glyphosate herbicides safe and collaborations with certain officials with the EPA to suppress scrutiny of glyphosate-herbicide toxicity.
Monsanto insists it has done nothing wrong, and Bayer officials are standing behind the subsidiary. Monsanto officials said jurors acted on emotion rather than on sound scientific evidence, and they accused Wisner of engaging in misconduct—a “punch below the belt”—by imploring jurors to become part of history with a large damage award for Johnson. They also complained about comparisons between Monsanto’s actions regarding glyphosate and the actions of tobacco industry players in protecting cigarettes, even though lead Monsanto attorney George Lombardi is known in part for also defending tobacco companies in litigation.
But in issuing punitive damages, the jury found that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Monsanto’s officials acted with “malice or oppression” in failing to adequately warn of the risks. As defined by the court, those words translate to a determination that Monsanto’s actions were “vile, base, or contemptible” enough to be “looked down on and despised by reasonable people.”
In the days following the verdict, hundreds of potential new clients were inundating law firms with requests to be added to the litigation. Lawyers estimate there could be 10,000 or more plaintiffs in all who will ultimately file claims.
The next Roundup trial is slated to begin October 22 in St. Louis, Missouri, and involves an Arkansas man diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup for years. Several more are set for 2019. Lawyers for plaintiffs say they have new evidence that will be presented in the upcoming trials that is even more disturbing than the evidence seen to date.
“It’s the beginning of the end of an era for Monsanto,” said attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who assisted in the Johnson case. “This sends a message . . . there are a lot of problems with this product.”