By Stacy Malkan (article originally posted June 2018 and updated in May 2019)
DeWayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, became the first person to face Monsanto in trial last June over allegations the company hid evidence about the cancer-causing dangers of its Roundup weedkiller. Juries have since returned with three unanimous verdicts finding that glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides were a substantial cause of cancer, and leveling massive punitive damages against Bayer (which now owns Monsanto). Thousands more people are suing Monsanto in state and federal courts. The litigation, and documents coming to light because of it, are shining light on the heavy-handed tactics Monsanto used to deny cancer risk and protect the chemical that is the lynchpin of its profits.
Examples revealed in the documents include ghostwriting studies, interfering with regulatory agencies, refusing to conduct long-term safety studies and spending millions of dollars on secretive PR campaigns to attack scientists and critics. In May 2019, journalists in France obtained a secret “Monsanto File” created by the public relations firm FleishmanHillard listing a “multitude of information” about 200 journalists, politicians, scientists and others deemed likely to influence the debate on glyphosate in France. Prosecutors in France have opened a criminal probe and Bayer said it is investigating its PR firm.
The revelations have caused a drumbeat of PR trouble for Bayer. “Monsanto was its own ghostwriter for some safety reviews,” Bloomberg reported, and an EPA official reportedly helped Monsanto “kill” another agency’s cancer study. An award-winning investigation in Le Monde details Monsanto’s effort “to destroy the United Nations’ cancer agency by any means possible” to save glyphosate. Journal articles based on reviews of the Roundup trial discovery documents report on corporate interference in a scientific publication and a federal regulatory agency, and other examples of “poisoning the scientific well.”
“Monsanto’s ghostwriting and strong-arming threaten sound science and society,” wrote Tufts University Professor Sheldon Krimsky. The discovery documents, he said, “uncover the corporate capture of science, which puts public health and the very foundation of democracy at risk.”
This corporate war on science has major implications for all of us, considering that half of all men in the U.S. and a third of women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The documents the food industry doesn’t want you to see
For years, the food and chemical industries have set their sights on one particular target in the science world: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the independent research group that for 50 years has worked to identify cancer hazards to inform policies that can prevent cancer.
“I’ve been fighting IARC forever!!! :)” one former Kraft Foods scientist wrote to a former Syngenta scientist in an email obtained through a state open records request. “Foods and ag are under siege since Glyphosate in March 2015. We all need to gather somehow and expose IARC, as you guys did in the paper. Next priorities are all food ingredients: aspartame, sucralose, dietary iron, B-carotene, BPA, etc. IARC is killing us!”
The IARC expert panel decision to classify glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” created a rallying point for the panel’s foes to gather forces. A key Monsanto document released via litigation reveals the plan of attack: discredit the cancer scientists with the help of allies across the food industry.
Monsanto’s public relations plan assigned 20 corporate staffers to prepare for the IARC carcinogenicity report on glyphosate, with objectives including “neutralize impact,” “establish public perspective on IARC,” “regulator outreach,” “ensure MON POV” and “engage industry associations” in “outrage.”
The document identified four tiers of “industry partners” to help advance the three objectives named in the PR plan: protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies” to keep allowing the use of glyphosate.
Uncovering Monsanto’s network of “industry partners”
The industry partner groups Monsanto tapped to discredit the IARC scientists included the largest pesticide and food industry lobby organizations; industry-funded spin groups that portray themselves as independent sources such as GMO Answers and the International Food Information Council; and “science-y” sounding front groups like Sense about Science, the Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review – all using similar messaging and often referring back to each other as sources.
One set of documents revealed how Monsanto’s PR operatives organized “Academics Review” as a neutral-sounding platform from which they could launch attacks against a target list of foes, including the Sierra Club, author Michael Pollan, the movie Food, Inc. and the organic industry.
The architects of Academics Review – co-founders Bruce Chassy and David Tribe, Monsanto executive Eric Sachs, former Monsanto communications director Jay Byrne, and former VP of the biotech industry trade group Val Giddings – talked openly in the emails about setting up Academics Review as a front group to promote industry interests and attract industry cash, while keeping corporate fingerprints hidden.
Even now with their playbook exposed – and their primary funding identified as coming from a trade group funded by Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and DowDuPont – Academics Review still claims on its website to accept donations only from “non-corporate sources.” Academics Review also claims that the “IARC glyphosate cancer review fails on multiple fronts,” in a post sourced by the industry-funded PR website GMO Answers, the industry-funded front group American Council on Science and Health, and a Forbes article by Henry Miller that was ghostwritten by Monsanto.
Miller and the Academics Review organizers Chassy, Tribe, Byrne, Sachs and Giddings are members of AgBioChatter, a private email forum that appeared in Monsanto’s PR plan as a tier 2 industry partner. Emails from the AgBioChatter list suggest it was used to coordinate industry allies on lobbying and promotional activities to defend GMOs and pesticides. Members included senior agrichemical industry staff, PR consultants and pro-industry academics, many of whom write for industry media platforms such as GMO Answers and Genetic Literacy Project, or play leadership roles in other Monsanto partner groups.
Genetic Literacy Project, led by longtime chemical industry PR operative Jon Entine, also partnered with Academics Review to run a series of conferences funded by the agrichemical industry to train journalists and scientists how to better promote GMOs and pesticides and argue for their deregulation. The organizers were dishonest about the sources of their funding.
These groups cast themselves as honest arbiters of science even as they spread false information and level near hysterical attacks against scientists who raised concerns about the cancer risk of glyphosate.
A key example can be found on the Genetic Literacy Project website, which was listed as a “tier 2 industry partner” in Monsanto’s PR plan to protect Roundup against cancer concerns raised by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. A search for “IARC” on the Genetic Literacy Project website brings up more than 200 articles, many of them attacking the scientists who raised cancer concerns as “anti-chemical enviros” who “lied” and “conspired to misrepresent” the health risks of glyphosate, and arguing that the global cancer agency should be defunded and abolished.
Many of the anti-IARC articles posted on Genetic Literacy Project, or pushed by other industry surrogates, ignore the many news reports based on the Monsanto Papers documenting corporate interference in the scientific research, and instead promote the claims of chemical industry PR operatives or the false narratives of a journalist with cozy ties to Monsanto. The political battle against reached all the way to Capitol Hill, with Congressional Republicans led by Rep. Lamar Smith calling for investigations and trying to withhold U.S. funding from the world’s leading cancer research agency.
Who is on the side of science?
Monsanto’s lobbying and messaging to discredit the IARC cancer panel is based on the argument that other agencies using risk-based assessments have exonerated glyphosate of cancer risk. But as investigative reports and journal articles based on the Monsanto Papers have detailed, evidence is piling up that the regulatory risk assessments on glyphosate, which rely heavily on industry-provided research, have been compromised by undisclosed conflicts of interest, reliance on dubious science, ghostwritten materials and other methods of corporate strong-arming that puts public health at risk, as the Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky wrote.
“To protect the scientific enterprise, one of the core pillars of a modern democratic society, against the forces that would turn it into the handmaiden of industry or politics, our society must support firewalls between academic science and the corporate sectors and educate young scientists and journal editors on the moral principles behind their respective professional roles,” Krimsky wrote.
Policy makers must not allow corporate-spun science to guide decisions about cancer prevention. Media must do a better job reporting and probing into conflicts of interest behind the corporate science spin. It’s time to end the corporate war on cancer science.
Stacy Malkan is co-director of the consumer group U.S. Right to Know and author of the book “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.”
Propaganda: information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view
Just four corporations now control more than 60% of the global supply of seeds and pesticides. Public oversight of their activities is crucial for a safe and healthy food supply. Yet all of these companies – Monsanto/Bayer, DowDuPont, Syngenta/ChemChina and BASF – have documented histories of hiding the health risks and environmental impacts of their products. Since their records do not inspire trust, they rely on third-party allies to promote and defend their products.
The public has a right to know about the groups and people who work with industry to push industry agendas. U.S. Right to Know has uncovered many documents that shine light on how corporations work behind the scenes with professors, journalists, regulators and front groups to promote genetically engineered foods and pesticides, and to keep those products unregulated. The following fact sheets provide more information:
Glyphosate Spin Check: Tracking claims about the most-widely used herbicide
Academics Review: The Making of a Monsanto Front Group
Alison Van Eenennaam: Key Outside Spokesperson and Lobbyist for the Agrichemical and GMO Industries
American Council on Science and Health is a Corporate Front Group
Biofortified Aids Chemical Industry PR & Lobbying Efforts
Center for Food Integrity Partners with Monsanto
Cornell Alliance for Science is a PR Campaign for the Agrichemical Industry Agenda
Drew Kershen: Agrichemical Industry Front Group Ringleader
Food Evolution GMO Documentary is a Propaganda Film
Geoffrey Kabat: Ties to Tobacco and Chemical Industry Groups
GMO Answers is a Crisis Management PR Tool for GMOs & Pesticides
Hank Campbell’s Maze of Monsanto-Loving Science Blogs
Henry I. Miller Dropped by Forbes for Monsanto Ghostwriting Scandal
Independent Women’s Forum: Koch-Funded Group Defends Pesticide, Oil, Tobacco Industries
International Food Information Council: How Big Food Spins Bad News
Jay Byrne: Meet the Man Behind the Monsanto PR Machine
Jon Entine, Genetic Literacy Project: Key Messengers for Monsanto, Bayer and the Chemical Industry
Keith Kloor: The Agrichemical Industry’s Favorite Writer
Kevin Folta’s Misleading and Deceptive Claims
Monsanto named these “industry partners” in 2015 PR Plan to Confront Glyphosate Cancer Ruling
Pamela Ronald’s ties to chemical industry front groups
Science Media Centre Promotes Corporate Views of Science
Sense About Science/STATS Spin Science for Industry
Tamar Haspel Misleads Readers of the Washington Post
Val Giddings: Top Operative for the Agrichemical Industry
More fact sheets about key front groups, trade groups and PR writers:
Science fact sheets:
Glyphosate: Health Concerns About Most Widely Used Pesticide
You can learn more about the findings of the U.S. Right to Know investigation here and see here for a list of global news coverage about our top findings. If you like our work, please consider donating here to keep the USRTK investigation cooking.
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.
Bayer AG, which bought Monsanto last summer, said Monday that it was making scientific studies available for public scrutiny in an effort to counter growing concerns about the safety of Monsanto’s flagship glyphosate-based herbicide products.
“Transparency is a catalyst for trust, so more transparency is a good thing for consumers, policymakers and businesses, Liam Condon, president of Bayer’s crop science division, said in a statement. Safety, he said, is the company’s top priority.
The comments come as pressure is mounting on Bayer management as roughly 11,000 people are suing Monsanto alleging glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Monsanto has hidden the risks and manipulated the scientific record. The first Roundup cancer trial resulted in a jury verdict of $289 million in damages against Monsanto, though a judge later lowered that to $78 million. The second such trial ended last month with a jury verdict of $80.2 million against Monsanto. The third trial is now underway.
Last week U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria told Bayer attorneys and plaintiffs’ attorneys that he would like the parties to enter into mediation to discuss a possible settlement. He vacated a fourth trial set to begin in May.
Monsanto and Bayer deny the allegations and say the weight of science supports the safety of glyphosate herbicides. They also deny claims that company scientists ghost-wrote seemingly independent scientific papers and otherwise manipulated the scientific record.
“By making our detailed scientific safety data available, we encourage anyone interested to see for themselves how comprehensive our approach to safety is. We embrace the opportunity to engage in dialogue so we can build more trust in sound science,” said Condon.
The company said it was providing access to 107 Bayer-owned glyphosate safety study reports that were submitted to the European Food Safety Authority as part of the substance authorization process in the European Union. The studies are accessible on Bayer’s transparency platform.
The news from Bayer comes ahead of an April 26 shareholders meeting in which some investors are calling for the head of Bayer CEO Werner Baumann for leading the company into the Monsanto acquisition. Monsanto’s top management walked away with millions of dollars in exit packages just before the first Roundup cancer trial, leaving Bayer holding the bag for the litigation losses and the bad publicity. Since last summer, the company has seen an exodus of customers as retailers, cities, school districts and others say they are backing away from the Monsanto herbicides.
As Bayer focuses on its messaging outside the court room, epidemiologist Beate Ritz, professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health, is due to take the stand today in Pilliod v. Monsanto, the third Roundup cancer trial. Ritz has testified in the two prior trials that her analysis of several scientific studies shows that there is a “credible link” between glyphosate-based herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The current case was brought by Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a married couple who both have non-Hodgkin lymphoma they allege is due to years of Roundup use.
Following Ritz will be testimony from Dennis Weisenburger, a pathologist specializing in studying the causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Weisenburger testified in the Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto trial that Roundup is a “substantial cause” of cancer in people who are exposed.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ attorneys continue to worry about what they believe to be “geofencing” by Monsanto. Geofencing is a popular advertising technique that delivers specific messaging/content to anyone within a specific geographic area designated by the company or group paying for the ad. The area can be very small, a mile radius around a specific address, for instance. Anyone within that designated area using an app on a smart phone – such as a weather app or a game – would then be delivered the ad. Targeted individuals don’t have to be searching for information; it just appears on their smart phone.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys raised the issue in the Hardeman case, and had concerns that Monsanto was pushing messaging to jurors through geofencing in the first Roundup cancer trial, which was brought by groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson.
In the Pilliod case, the issue was discussed Thursday in court as the plaintiffs attorneys sought a judicial order to prohibit Monsanto from the tactic, but the judge was skeptical and declined to issue such an order.
Here is part of the exchange. All can be seen in the trial transcript.
PLAINTIFFS’ ATTORNEY BRENT WISNER: Your Honor, I think there’s one — and I get your point. I think just to clarify one procedural factual thing. Right? If I were to walk over to a juror personally and say to you, “Hey, Juror Number 3, Monsanto’s stuff causes cancer and all these studies show it,” I mean, that would be a mistrial. Instantaneously. That’s jury tampering. Right? Now if they do that same thing — if I did the same thing by targeting every person’s phone in this courtroom or every single person’s phone in this courthouse and pushing that information, that same message to them on their phone — and what happens is - I don’t know if you use your phone for this kind of purposes, but, for example, when I look at my ESPN app and I’m looking at the scores for the UCLA water polo team, or whatever, you know, there’s little ads that pop up.
THE COURT: Sure.
MR. WISNER: And those ads are saying “Federal judge says Roundup is safe.” That’s the kind of stuff
we’re seeing. We saw this happening with quite intensity in the Johnson trial. Numerous jurors during voir dire mentioned that they were having these things pushed on them as soon as they walked in the building. And so whether or not Monsanto is or is not doing that, I think that if they are, that should be
prohibited. That’s not really a point of First Amendment. That is now clearly targeting people that
they know they can’t speak to.
THE COURT: And you’re asking me to assign a subjective intent that I don’t know exists and it’s
still prior restraint. I mean, technology has taken us places probably we never thought it would go… I guess if I were picking sides, I might believe that. But I can’t pick sides.
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.
This article was originally published in Time Magazine.
By Carey Gillam
Dewayne Anthony Lee Johnson has always just gone by Lee. He lived a modest life for 42 years, and was devastated when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2014. Now 46, as he struggles with his advancing illness, Johnson has found sudden celebrity with a historic victory over one of the world’s most powerful and controversial corporations – Monsanto Co.
Johnson sued Monsanto alleging that he developed a deadly form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being drenched with the company’s herbicides, which he sprayed as part of his job as school groundskeeper. In Aug. 2018, a jury in San Francisco unanimously found that Monsanto had failed to warn of the carcinogenic dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide and related products, which Johnson sprayed regularly. Thousands of other cancer victims are also suing Monsanto and awaiting their own day in court, but Johnson was the first to take the company to trial. The jury awarded Johnson a jaw-dropping $289 million, which a judge slashed to $78 million on Oct. 22. Evidence revealed in the trial included internal Monsanto records that included discussions of “ghostwriting” scientific papers that asserted the safety of its products and plans to discredit an international agency that declared the main ingredient in Roundup, a chemical called glyphosate, to be a probable human carcinogen.
Monsanto, now a unit of Bayer AG, maintains that its products do not cause cancer. On Nov. 20, the company further appealed, seeking to overturn even Johnson’s reduced award and the trial court judge’s refusal to grant Monsanto’s request for a new trial. But the initial verdict already put Johnson’s life on a very different trajectory, bringing him international attention and heartbreak. He spoke with TIME about the aftermath of his case.
Before I got sick life was pretty good. I had a good job. We were renting this nice house; we found it through some friends. It was almost in foreclosure so we were able to rent it for a good price. Three bedrooms and a nice big backyard. I didn’t have a car so my wife Araceli would drop me off at work or I would ride my bike to the bus stop and take the bus to work. My job title at the school district was integrated pest manager, IPM. I did everything – caught skunks, mice, and raccoons, patched holes in walls, worked on irrigation issues. And I sprayed the pesticides, the “juice.” I had to be at work by sun up to make sure we had time to spray before the kids got to school. One of the guys I worked with didn’t want to wear protective gear but I told him he had to. You got to be careful with this stuff. On a typical day I would fill up my little container with raw pesticide liquid and then put that in the back of my truck and then mix a load before I would leave the yard. I’d mix it all in a tank and take that on the back of my truck and then head out to start spraying. I did not like using the chemicals but I loved that job. I would have been making $80,000 a year now if I was still there.
That day of the accident, the day the sprayer broke and I got drenched in the juice, I didn’t think that much about it. I washed up in the sink as best I could and changed my clothes. Later I went home and took a good long shower but I didn’t think, “Oh my god, I’m going to die from this stuff.” Then I got a little rash. Then it got worse and worse and worse. At one point I had lesions on my face, on my lips, all over my arms and legs.
When I first saw a doctor he was totally confused and didn’t know what was happening on my skin. He sent me to see a dermatologist who did a biopsy of a lesion on my knee. They sent me to UCSF (University of California San Francisco) and then to Stanford. A bunch of doctors came and checked me out. Then one day I got a call. They told me it was urgent, I had to come in to discuss my test results. When the doctor said I had cancer, my wife was sitting there with me. She started crying. I didn’t take it in right away. I don’t think I have still taken it in.
People want to say it’s Johnson v. Monsanto. They want me to talk about the company. I don’t want to do that. I don’t even want to say the company name. I just say ‘the big company.’ I don’t want to be slanderous. I’ve seen reports that I want an apology but that’s not true. I’m not a person who would think an apology would make me feel better – it certainly would not heal my cancer. This isn’t about me and that big company. It is important for people to know this stuff, to know about what they’re being exposed to. If people have the information they can make choices, they can be informed and protect themselves. I’m just a regular guy from a small town called Vallejo in the California Bay Area who happened to seek the truth about my failing health and found answers.
It’s not to say that I didn’t get mad. Plenty of things upset me as the evidence came out in court. I had called the big company early on when I was sick trying to get some answers and at the time the woman I talked to on the phone was real nice. But you see in the emails that came out that there was really no concern for me. They never called me back, that made me mad. I think not getting a call back is what made me pursue legal action. And then when I was in court and heard about the ghostwriting of the science and you see in the emails that everybody is just on a script; they program everybody to stick to the script about safety even if the science says different. [Editor’s Note: Internal Monsanto emails presented at trial showed that Johnson called the company in November 2014 reporting his concerns that his cancer was triggered by being “soaked to the skin” in a Monsanto herbicide during a work accident. “He’s looking for answers,” a Monsanto product support specialist wrote to Monsanto Dan Goldstein, the company’s medical sciences and outreach executive. Goldstein replied that the “story is not making any sense to me at all,” and said he would call Johnson back. But Johnson said he never received a call and Goldstein testified he could not remember whether or not he called Johnson.]
It seemed like the whole world was watching when the judge read that verdict, line by line, and then they announced a quarter billion dollar settlement, $289 million dollars. I think I immediately was paranoid; I literally asked the young bailiff if he could roll out of court with me because I knew the attention this would get and I’ve never really been a fan of attention or fanfare. And now it seems like that’s taken over my life. I get requests for media interviews from all over the world, and people ask me to come to their events and speak, and I’ve had people telling me they want to buy my “life rights” to try to get movie deals. I’ve had strangers try to suddenly become my best friend on Facebook, and then there was this kind of voo-doo priestess who somehow got my number, calling and calling and texting nonstop, promising she could heal me. When I shunned her, she said I would remember her on my death bed, wishing I had let her help me. It’s crazy. My kids are handling it well but they don’t dig the attention — we’re a small family and we’ve just been trying to deal with becoming nationally known.
Sometimes it really gets overwhelming with so many calls and requests for interviews or speaking events. At the same time, though, I see myself now as a major contributor for a conversation that’s been brewing for years, but since the verdict the conversation is a lot louder. I try to give each request my attention but just can’t due to my health and trying to help take care of my kids. But I am trying to make this a priority. I want to see all these schools stop using glyphosate, first California, then the rest of the country. That is my small mission. And as overwhelming as it is, I do feel a lot of support and positive energy from many people who’ve reached out to me. I have felt the love and support of people all across the world and that gives me a whole new sense of drive and responsibility. Some people send small gifts, trinkets. They write to me about their own cancers. One woman wrote about her husband and how he had died. I would say I’ve received thousands of letters. It helps.
A lot of people ask me what I want to do with my life now. I don’t think I’m superman. I go through those little moments when my head is down and my elbows are on my knees and asking myself what am I going to do? But if I can get healthy, not give in to what my doctors say is a terminal situation, if I can get treatments and get closer to a cure then I see myself doing good things. I would love to start a foundation. And I want to do more with my music and art. I paint with oil or acrylic and I do some charcoal drawings. I also like to write; I’ve self-published two books – “My Opinion” and “The Perfect Front.”
Some people think I’m a rich man, they speak to me as if I’ve been paid already, which is far from reality. The truth is the appeals could go on well past my life expectancy. We can’t really celebrate or make plans or go on vacation because we don’t have that money. I get a social security check now every month. It doesn’t even cover the cost of the rent. People are trying to help me out, but I’m basically broke. It’s exciting sometimes to think that we may get millions of dollars, but right now we know we’re not. We’re living the ghost money life.
I’m not even sure I would know how to be a rich man. I would like to buy a house, something close to my kids’ schools, something to give them security. But there are only so many things you can buy. I don’t think there is very much you can or should do with millions of dollars other than try to help people. As for the judge cutting the $289 million down to $78 million, I never thought of that $289 million as anything that would go in my pockets. I knew there would be legal limits striking it and so I never really thought of it as mine. I don’t know if I’ll ever see the jury award in my lifetime. Hopefully my boys will though.
Mostly what I want is for my sons, all three of them, to feel like they have a solid security blanket and to know that they are taken care of. I want to show them the good path and give them the quality of life that allows them to get educated, to understand life and culture and people. I hope that one day they will look back and say, “My dad made history and stood up for himself and for us.”
My chemo has stopped because I am supposed to have more surgery for this thing they biopsied on my arm. Apparently, it’s some new melanoma. And I’ve got this pain that I call “hot spots” on my foot and my arm, burning my wrist. Sometimes I call them “burners.” But it is what it is. I used to be all shiny and a handsome guy – now I’m all messed up. I feel like if you’re sick, you shouldn’t hide it though. Share it with the world and maybe you can help someone.
So much is going on, but the most important thing to me is my boys. I’m so proud of my boys. I hate to think about dying. Even when I feel like I’m dying, I just make myself move past it. I feel like you can’t give in to it, the diagnosis, the disease, because then you really are dead. I don’t mess around with the death cloud, the dark thoughts, the fears. I’m planning for a good life.
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.
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.”