Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists

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By Stacy Malkan (updated May 17, 2019)

DeWayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, was 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 in state and federal courts, and corporate documents coming out of the trials are shining light on the heavy-handed tactics Monsanto used to deny cancer risk and protect the chemical that was the lynchpin of its profits.

“Monsanto was its own ghostwriter for some safety reviews,” Bloomberg reported, and an EPA official reportedly helped Monsanto “kill” another agency’s cancer study (that study, now out, did confirm a cancer link to glyphosate). An award-winning  investigation in Le Monde details how Monsanto has tried “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 in June 2018. The discovery documents, he said, “uncover the corporate capture of science, which puts public health and the very foundation of democracy at risk.”

Since then, with the trials underway, more documents have come to light about the extent of Monsanto’s manipulations of the scientific process, regulatory agencies, and public debate. 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.

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.

Documents obtained by the U.S. Right to Know investigation illuminate on how these partner groups work together to promote the “MON POV” about the safety and necessity of pesticides and GMOs.

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 Giddingstalked 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.

Email from Eric Sachs, Monsanto’sScience, Technology & Outreach Lead, to Bruce Chassy

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.”

SF Roundup Case Demonstrates Importance of Independence in Scientific Evidence

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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.

A Day of “Reckoning” for Monsanto

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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.”


One Man’s Suffering Exposed Monsanto’s Secrets to the World

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Company’s own records revealed damning truth of glyphosate-based herbicides’ link to cancer

This article was originally published in The Guardian.

By Carey Gillam

It was a verdict heard around the world. In a stunning blow to one of the world’s largest seed and chemical companies, jurors in San Francisco have told Monsanto it must pay $289m in damages to a man dying of cancer which he claims was caused by exposure to its herbicides.

Monsanto, which became a unit of Bayer AG in June, has spent decades convincing consumers, farmers, politicians and regulators to ignore mounting evidence linking its glyphosate-based herbicides to cancer and other health problems. The company has employed a range of tactics – some drawn from the same playbook used by the tobacco industry in defending the safety of cigarettes – to suppress and manipulate scientific literature, harass journalists and scientists who did not parrot the company’s propaganda, and arm-twist and collude with regulators. Indeed, one of Monsanto’s lead defense attorneys in the San Francisco case was George Lombardi, whose resumé boasts of his work defending big tobacco.

Now, in this one case, through the suffering of one man, Monsanto’s secretive strategies have been laid bare for the world to see. Monsanto was undone by the words of its own scientists, the damning truth illuminated through the company’s emails, internal strategy reports and other communications.

The jury’s verdict found not only that Monsanto’s Roundup and related glyphosate-based brands presented a substantial danger to people using them, but that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Monsanto’s officials acted with “malice or oppression” in failing to adequately warn of the risks.

Testimony and evidence presented at trial showed that the warning signs seen in scientific research dated back to the early 1980s and have only increased over the decades. But with each new study showing harm, Monsanto worked not to warn users or redesign its products, but to create its own science to show they were safe. The company often pushed its version of science into the public realm through ghostwritten work that was designed to appear independent and thus more credible. Evidence was also presented to jurors showing how closely the company had worked with Environmental Protection Agency officials to promote the safety message and suppress evidence of harm.

“The jury paid attention throughout this long trial and clearly understood the science and also understood Monsanto’s role in trying to hide the truth,” said Aimee Wagstaff, one of several attorneys around the US who are representing other plaintiffs making similar claims to Dewayne Johnson.

This case and the verdict specifically concern the 46-year-old father who developed a severe and fatal form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while working as a school groundskeeper, repeatedly spraying large quantities of Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate herbicide brands. Doctors have said he probably does not have long to live.

The ramifications, however, are much broader and have global implications. Another trial is set to take place in October in St Louis and roughly 4,000 plaintiffs have claims pending with the potential outcomes resulting in many more hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in damage awards. They all allege not only that their cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides, but that Monsanto has long known about, and covered up, the dangers. The team of plaintiffs’ attorneys leading the litigation say they so far have brought to light only a fraction of evidence collected from Monsanto’s internal files and plan to reveal much more in future trials.

Monsanto maintains it has done nothing wrong, and that the evidence has been misrepresented. Its attorneys say they have the bulk of scientific research firmly on their side, and that they will appeal against the verdict, meaning it could be years before Johnson and his family see a dime of the damage award. In the meantime, his wife, Araceli, works two jobs to support the couple and their two young sons as Johnson prepares for another round of chemotherapy.

But as this case and others drag on, one thing is clear: this is not just about one man dying of cancer. Glyphosate-based herbicides are so widely used around the globe (roughly 826 million kg a year) that residues are commonly found in food and water supplies, and in soil and air samples. US scientists have even recorded the weed killer residues in rainfall. Exposure is ubiquitous, virtually inescapable.

Acknowledgement of risk is essential to public protection. Regulators, however, have failed to heed the warnings of independent scientists for too long, even shrugging off the findings of the World Health Organization’s top cancer scientists who classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

Now, well past time, long-held corporate secrets have been exposed.

In his closing argument, the plaintiff’s attorney, Brent Wisner, told the jury it was time for Monsanto to be held accountable. This trial, he said, was the company’s “day of reckoning”.

Bay Area Man vs. Monsanto: First Trial Over Roundup Cancer Claims Set to Begin

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By Carey Gillam

Dewayne “Lee” Johnson has led what many might call an unremarkable life. The 46-year-old father and husband spent several years working as a school groundskeeper and spending free time teaching his two young sons to play football. But this week he takes center stage in a global debate over the safety of one of the world’s most widely used pesticides as he takes Monsanto to court on claims that repeated exposure to the company’s popular Roundup herbicide left him with terminal cancer.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos was assigned Monday to oversee the trial, and jury selection is tentatively expected to begin Thursday, June 21, with opening statements possible by June 27. The courtroom showdown could last three to four weeks, lawyers involved estimate, and will shine a spotlight on decades of scientific research and internal Monsanto documents that relate to the testing and marketing of Monsanto’s flagship herbicide and the active ingredient, a chemical called glyphosate.

Though Johnson is the lone plaintiff in the lawsuit, his case is considered a bellwether for roughly 4,000 other plaintiffs also suing Monsanto over allegations that exposure to Roundup caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled to go to trial in October in St. Louis, Missouri.

Johnson worked as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District for many years.

The lawsuits, which have been piling up in court dockets around the U.S., not only challenge Monsanto’s position that its widely used herbicides are proven safe, but they also assert that the company has intentionally suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products, misleading both regulators and consumers in a dangerous deception.

The litigation, proceeding both in federal and state courts, began after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—as a probable human carcinogen in March 2015. The IARC classification was based on years of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies analyzing glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides.

Monsanto and allies in the agrochemical industry have blasted the litigation and the IARC classification as lacking in validity, countering that decades of safety studies prove that glyphosate does not cause cancer when used as designed. Monsanto has cited findings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory authorities as backing its defense. The company can also point to an EPA draft risk assessment of glyphosate on its side, which concluded that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic.

“Glyphosate-based herbicides are supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health and environmental effects databases ever compiled for a pesticide product,” Monsanto states on its website. “Comprehensive toxicological and environmental fate studies conducted over the last 40 years have time and again demonstrated the strong safety profile of this widely used herbicide.”

Glyphosate represents billions of dollars in annual revenues for Monsanto, which became a subsidiary of German-based Bayer AG on June 8, and several other companies selling glyphosate-based herbicides. Monsanto brought the pesticide to market in 1974 and the weed killer has been used prominently for decades by farmers in food production and by municipalities to eradicate weeds in public parks and playgrounds, and by homeowners on residential lawns.

Monsanto had sought to delay the Johnson case, just as it has sought to delay and/or dismiss the others brought against it. But the trial was expedited because he is not expected to live much longer after being diagnosed in 2014 with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called mycosis fungoides.

A Death Sentence

According to court records, Johnson worked as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District for many years and applied multiple treatments of Monsanto’s herbicides to the San Francisco-area school properties from 2012 until at least late 2015, including after he was diagnosed with cancer in August 2014. His job entailed mixing and spraying hundreds of gallons of glyphosate-based herbicides around school properties. He used various Roundup products, but mostly Roundup PRO, a highly concentrated version of the weed killer. After developing a skin rash in the summer of 2014 he reported to doctors that it seemed to worsen after he sprayed the herbicide. In August of that year he was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma but continued his work until 2015 when he underwent several rounds of chemotherapy only to learn in September 2015 that he likely had but 18 months to live.

In a deposition taken in January, Johnson’s treating physician testified that more than 80 percent of his body was covered by lesions and his diagnosis continued to be terminal. Still, Johnson has improved since starting a new drug treatment and plans to attend some of the trial if possible, his attorneys said.

Johnson has not led an unblemished life; Monsanto uncovered an aggravated assault charge against him from the early 1990s, along with a misdemeanor weapons charge and a domestic abuse complaint against the mother of his oldest child. The company elicited deposition testimony from Johnson that he failed tests for pesticide applicators three times, and sprayed the pesticide without a certified applicator license. Johnson wore proper protective gear over his clothing but was accidentally drenched in the pesticide at least once when mixing it.

Monsanto’s lawyers will argue other factors could be to blame for Johnson’s cancer, and that its weed killer played no role.

Johnson’s attorneys have shrugged off any issues regarding Johnson’s personal behavior or other potential causes for his disease, and say in court filings they will offer evidence at trial that Monsanto “for decades, engaged in a shocking degree of scientific fraud and manipulation of the scientific literature with respect to Roundup” to cover up the evidence that it does cause cancer.

The trial evidence will include information that Monsanto ghostwrote articles relied on by the EPA, IARC and California’s environmental regulators; rewarded employees for ghostwriting; and actively suppressed the publication of information that revealed the harm associated with glyphosate and Roundup. Johnson’s attorneys say internal Monsanto documents show extensive “manipulation” of the scientific record, and clearly improper and fraudulent interactions with regulators.

Johnson’s attorneys intend to call 10 current and former Monsanto employees to the stand.

“We’re going to get them here. We have the goods,” said Brent Wisner, who is one of three attorneys representing Johnson at trial. “If the evidence we have is allowed in, Monsanto is in trouble.”

Lead Lawyer Out

Wisner was only brought in to help try to case within the last few weeks after lead attorney Mike Miller suffered a near-fatal accident while kite surfing and remains too severely injured to try the case. Wisner’s role is key as he is set to deliver both the opening and closing statements for Johnson’s case in Miller’s absence.

Monsanto filed a motion on June 18 seeking to exclude Wisner from trying the case, however, claiming he has been acting as a “PR man,” and lobbyist against glyphosate, particularly in Europe, where glyphosate has been under intense regulatory scrutiny. Monsanto also cited Wisner’s release in August 2017 of hundreds of pages of internal Monsanto documents turned over in discovery that the company had wanted to keep sealed, a tactic that earned Wisner a rebuke from the judge in the federal multidistrict litigation pending against Monsanto. Monsanto’s lawyers argue that the internal corporate communications have been intentionally presented out of context by Wisner and other plaintiff’s attorneys to make it appear as though the company engaged in deceptive practices when it did not.

Wisner’s activities put him in violation of a California “advocate-witness” rule, Monsanto contended in its filing.

Araceli Johnson, Lee Johnson’s wife, and their two sons. Photo credits: Lee Johnson

In addition to trying to exclude the lawyer, Monsanto is seeking to exclude reams of evidence, including internal emails written by its scientists, arguments that it deceived the EPA, evidence of fraud committed by laboratories, and testimony from Johnson’s expert witnesses.

Judge Bolanos will hear arguments on Wednesday regarding that motion and more than a dozen others regarding what evidence will and will not be allowed at trial.

Both sides say the case and the outcome are important in a larger sense. If the jury finds in favor of Johnson it could encourage additional litigation and damage claims some of the lawyers involved estimate could run into hundreds of millions of dollars. If the jury sides with Monsanto, other cases could be in jeopardy. Additionally, a victory for Monsanto in this first case could ease regulatory questions dogging the company.

As for Johnson, he will try to attend some of the trial, and will testify, but will not likely be there for it all, said Wisner. Johnson’s wife, Araceli Johnson, will be called to testify, as will two of his co-workers and his doctors.

“Right now he’s on borrowed time. He’s not going to come to most of the trial,” said Wisner. “The guy is going to die and there is nothing he can do about it. It’s unbelievably horrible.”

This article was originally posted on EcoWatch. Carey Gillam is a journalist and author, and a public interest researcher for US Right to Know, a not-for-profit food industry research group.