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.”
Glyphosate, a synthetic herbicide patented in 1974 by the Monsanto Company and now manufactured and sold by many companies in hundreds of products, has been associated with cancer and other health concerns. Glyphosate is best known as the active ingredient in Roundup-branded herbicides, and the herbicide used with “Roundup Ready” genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Herbicide tolerance is the most prevalent GMO trait engineered into food crops, with some 90% of corn and 94% of soybeans in the U.S. engineered to tolerate herbicides, according to USDA data. A 2017 study found that Americans’ exposure to glyphosate increased approximately 500 percent since Roundup Ready GMO crops were introduced in the U.S in 1996. Here are some key facts about glyphosate:
Most Widely Used Pesticide
- Americans have applied 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in 1974.
- Worldwide 9.4 million tons of the chemical has been sprayed on fields – enough to spray nearly half a pound of Roundup on every cultivated acre of land in the world.
- Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since Roundup Ready GMO crops were introduced.
The scientific literature and regulatory conclusions regarding glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides show a mix of findings, making the safety of the herbicide a hotly debated subject:
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” after reviewing years of published and peer-reviewed scientific studies. The team of international scientists found there was a particular association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
At the time of the IARC classification, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was conducting a registration review. The EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) issued a report in September 2016 concluding that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” at doses relevant to human health. In publishing the CARC report, the EPA said that it was beginning work with the National Toxicology Program to investigate the mechanisms and toxic effects of glyphosate formulations.
The agency then convened a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) in December 2016 to review the CARC report conclusion that glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic. The scientific advisory panel members were divided in their assessment of EPA’s work, with some finding the EPA erred in how it evaluated certain research. Additionally, the EPA’s Office of Research and Development determined that the agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs had not followed proper protocols in its evaluation of glyphosate. An ORD memo stated that the government scientists agreed in part with IARC and believed EPA was not properly following guidelines in coming to the conclusion that glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic. ORD said the evidence could be deemed to support a “likely” carcinogenic or “suggestive” evidence of carcinogenicity classification. Nevertheless the EPA issued a draft report on glyphosate in December 2017 continuing to hold that the chemical is not likely to be carcinogenic.
The European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency have said glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. But a March 2017 report by environmental and consumer groups argued that regulators relied improperly on research that was directed and manipulated by the chemical industry.
The WHO/FAO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues determined that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet, though the finding was tarnished by conflict of interest concerns after it was revealed that certain members of the group, including its chair, worked for the International Life Sciences Institute, a group funded in part by Monsanto and one of its lobbying organizations.
On March 28, 2017, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment confirmed that it would add glyphosate to California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. Monsanto sued to block the action but the case was dismissed. In a separate case, the court found that California could not require cancer warnings for products containing glyphosate. On June 12, 2018, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California denied the California Attorney General’s request for the court to reconsider the decision. The court found that California could only require commercial speech that disclosed “purely factual and uncontroversial information,” and the science surrounding glyphosate carcinogenicity was not proven.
A long-running U.S. government-backed prospective cohort study of farm families in Iowa and North Carolina has not found any connections between glyphosate use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, though researchers found that “among applicators in the highest exposure quartile, there was an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) compared with never users…” The most recent published update to the study was made public in late 2017.
New studies in 2019 report cancer links and concerns about the validity of the EPA classification:
- An analysis published January 2019 argues that the U.S. EPA’s classification of glyphosate disregarded substantial scientific evidence of genotoxicity (the negative impact on a cell’s genetic material) associated with weed killing products such as Roundup.
- A February 2019 meta-analysis of scientific studies reported a “compelling link” between glyphosate-based herbicides and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Three of the study authors were members of the EPA’s scientific advisory panel on glyphosate who have stated publicly that the EPA failed to follow proper scientific practices in its glyphosate assessment.
- A March 2019 study analyzed data from more than 30,000 farmers and agricultural workers from studies done in France, Norway and the U.S., and reported links between glyphosate and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
More than 650 lawsuits against Monsanto Co. are part of multi district litigation (MDL) being overseen by Judge Vince Chhabria in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, filed by people alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks. An estimated 9,000 similar actions are pending in state courts. U.S. Right to Know is posting key documents from the litigation on our Monsanto Papers pages. See Carey Gillam’s Roundup Trial Tracker for news and tips about the ongoing legislation.
In March 2017, the federal court judge unsealed some internal Monsanto documents that raised new questions about Monsanto’s influence on the EPA process and about the research regulators rely on. The documents suggest that Monsanto’s long-standing claims about the safety of glyphosate and Roundup do not necessarily rely on sound science as the company asserts, but on efforts to manipulate the science.
A study for the European Parliament published January 15, 2019 asserts that the EU approval of glyphosate was based on plagiarized text from Monsanto. The study found plagiarism in 50.1 percent of chapters dealing with the assessment of published studies on health risks related to glyphosate in Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, including whole paragraphs and entire pages of plagiarized text.
See also 2018 journal articles about scientific interference:
- “The Monsanto Papers: Poisoning the Scientific Well,” by Leemon McHenry
- “Roundup litigation discovery documents: implications for public health and journal ethics,” by Sheldon Krimsky and Carey Gillam
- Letter to Nature by Stéphane Horel and Stéphane Foucart
The first trial concluded in August 2018 with the jury ruling that Monsanto’s weed killer was a substantial contributing factor in causing DeWayne “Lee” Johnson’s cancer, and ordering Monsanto to pay $289.25 million in damages, including $250 million in punitive damages. The judge in the case reduced the punitive damages to $39 million, bringing the total award to $78 million. Monsanto declared it would appeal and Johnson has cross-appealed, seeking to reinstate the jury award.
March 19, 2019 update: In a blow to Bayer, a federal journey handed a first-round victory to plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, as the six jury members found that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The jury decision means the trial now moves into a second phase in which jurors will take up the issue of liability and damages.
Endocrine Disruption and Other Health Concerns
Some research suggests that glyphosate may be an endocrine disruptor. It has also been linked to liver disease, birth defects and reproductive problems in laboratory animals; and may kill beneficial gut bacteria and damage the DNA in human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells. Many scientists have raised concerns about the health risks of glyphosate. See:
- Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides? – Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
- Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposure: a consensus statement – Environmental Health Journal
Recent studies have shown adverse biological effects from low-dose exposures to glyphosate at levels to which people are routinely exposed.
- A birth cohort study in Indiana published in 2017 – the first study of glyphosate exposure in US pregnant women using urine specimens as a direct measure of exposure – found detectable levels of glyphosate in more than 90% of the pregnant women tested and found the levels were significantly correlated with shortened pregnancy lengths.
- A 2018 ecological and population study conducted in Argentina found high concentrations of glyphosate in the soil and dust in agricultural areas that also reported higher rates of spontaneous abortion and congenital abnormalities in children, suggesting a link between environmental exposure to glyphosate and reproductive problems. No other relevant sources of pollution were identified.
- A 2017 study associated chronic, very low-level glyphosate exposures to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats. According to the researchers, the results “imply that chronic consumption of extremely low levels of a GBH formulation (Roundup), at admissible glyphosate-equivalent concentrations, are associated with marked alterations of the liver proteome and metabolome,” the biomarkers for NAFLD.
- A 2018 rat study conducted by the Ramazzini Institute reported that low-dose exposures to Roundup at levels considered safe significantly altered the gut microbiota in some of the rat pups. Another 2018 study reported that higher levels of glyphosate administered to mice disrupted the gut microbiota and caused anxiety and depression-like behaviors.
- A 2018 rat study by Argentinian researchers linked low-level perinatal glyphosate exposures to impaired female reproductive performance and congenital anomalies in the next generation of offspring.
Glyphosate has also been linked by recent studies to harmful impacts on bees and monarch butterflies.
- A 2018 study reported that glyphosate damaged the beneficial gut bacteria in honeybees and made them more prone to deadly infections. This followed research from China showing that honeybee larvae grew more slowly and died more often when exposed to glyphosate, and a 2015 study that found field-levels of exposure impaired the cognitive capacities of honeybees.
- Research from 2017 correlated glyphosate use with reduced populations of monarch butterflies, possibly due to reductions in milkweed, the main food source for monarch butterflies.
Some farmers use glyphosate on non-GMO crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and lentils to dry down the crop ahead of harvest in order to accelerate the harvest. This practice, known as desiccation, may be a significant source of dietary exposure to glyphosate.
Glyphosate Found in Food: U.S. Drags Its Feet on Testing
The USDA quietly dropped a plan to start testing food for residues of glyphosate in 2017. Internal agency documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show the agency had planned to start testing over 300 samples of corn syrup for glyphosate in April 2017. But the agency killed the project before it started. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began a limited testing program in 2016, but the effort was fraught with controversy and internal difficulties and the program was suspended in September 2016. Both agencies have programs that annually test foods for pesticide residues but both have routinely skipped testing for glyphosate.
Before the suspension, one FDA chemist found alarming levels of glyphosate in many samples of U.S. honey, levels that were technically illegal because there have been no allowable levels established for honey by the EPA. Here is a recap of news about glyphosate found in food:
- October 2018: FDA issued its first-ever report showing the results of its glyphosate residue in food testing. The FDA said no residues of glyphosate were found in milk or eggs, but residues were found in 63.1 percent of corn samples and 67 percent of soybean samples, according to FDA data. The agency did not disclose in that report the findings of glyphosate in oatmeal or honey products.
- April 2018: internal FDA emails indicated the agency had trouble finding food sample without traces of glyphosate.
- Sept. 2016: FDA found glyphosate in US honey at double the levels allowed in the EU, and FDA tests confirm oatmeal and baby foods contain glyphosate.
- Nov. 2016: FDA chemist found glyphosate in honey in Iowa at 10X higher levels than allowed in EU. Also in November, independent testing by consumer group Food Democracy Now found glyphosate in Cheerios, oatmeal cookies, Ritz crackers and other popular brands at high levels.
Pesticides in Our Food: Where’s the Safety Data?
USDA data from 2016 shows detectable pesticide levels in 85% of more than 10,000 foods sampled, everything from mushrooms to grapes to green beans. The government says there are little to no health risks, but some scientists say there is little to no data to back up that claim. See “Chemicals on our food: When “safe” may not really be safe: Scientific scrutiny of pesticide residue in food grows; regulatory protections questioned,” by Carey Gillam (11/2018).
Researcher says the EPA has disregarded substantial evidence that the popular herbicide is linked to cancer
This article was originally published in Environmental Health News.
By Carey Gillam
A little more than a month ahead of a first-ever federal trial over the issue of whether or not Monsanto’s popular weed killers can cause cancer, a new analysis raises troubling questions about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) handling of pertinent science on glyphosate safety.
According to the report, which examines the opposing positions taken by the EPA and an international cancer research agency on glyphosate-based herbicides, the EPA has disregarded substantial scientific evidence of genotoxicity associated with weed killing products such as Roundup and other Monsanto brands. Genotoxicity refers to a substance’s destructive effect on a cell’s genetic material. Genotoxins can cause mutations in cells that can lead to cancer.
The EPA classifies glyphosate as not likely to be carcinogenic while the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, classifies it as “probably carcinogenic.”
The paper was authored by Charles Benbrook, a former research professor who served at one time as executive director of the National Academy of Sciences board on agriculture, and was published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe on Monday. It is based on Benbrook’s review of EPA and IARC records regarding the types and numbers of glyphosate studies each organization evaluated.
“Clearly, compared to EPA’s genotoxicity review, the IARC review is grounded on more recent, more sensitive, and more sophisticated genotoxic studies, and more accurately reflects real-world exposures,” Benbrook told EHN.
Benbrook testified as an expert witness in the first lawsuit to go to trial against Monsanto over claims its glyphosate herbicides cause cancer. The plaintiff in that case, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, won a unanimous jury award of $289 million last year that the judge in the case cut to $78 million. Thousands of additional cancer victims have sued Monsanto and the second trial begins Feb. 25 in federal court in San Francisco. Benbrook is also expected to testify for the plaintiff in that case.
Monsanto is seeking to exclude Benbrook’s testimony at trial, saying he has no expertise in any physical science or field of medicine and no training or degree in toxicology and has never worked at the EPA or other regulatory body.
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment. The agency has maintained, however, that its review of glyphosate has been robust and thorough. Glyphosate has low toxicity for humans, and glyphosate products can be safely used by following directions on labeled products, according to the EPA.
In the new analysis, Benbrook is critical of the EPA’s scrutiny of glyphosate herbicides, noting that little weight was given to research regarding the actual formulations sold into the marketplace and used by millions of people around the world. Instead, the EPA and other regulators have mostly pointed to dozens of studies paid for by Monsanto and other companies selling glyphosate herbicides that found no cancer concerns. The EPA has given little attention to several independent research projects that have indicated the formulations can be more toxic than glyphosate alone, according to Benbrook.
Indeed, the EPA only started working in 2016—some 42 years after the first glyphosate herbicides came to market – with the U.S. National Toxicology Program to evaluate the comparative toxicity of the formulations. Early results disclosed in 2018 supported concerns about enhanced toxicity in formulations.
Several scientists, including from within the EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), and from a panel of scientific experts convened by the EPA, have cited deficiencies and problems with the EPA’s decision to classify glyphosate as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. But Benbrook’s analysis is the first to look deeply at how and why the EPA and IARC drew such divergent conclusions.
Benbrook looked at the citations for genotoxicity tests discussed in the EPA and IARC reports, both those that were published in peer-reviewed journals and the unpublished ones that were presented to the EPA by Monsanto and other companies.
Some studies looked at glyphosate alone, and/or glyphosate-based herbicide formulations and some included findings about a substance called aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), which is glyphosate’s primary metabolite.
Benbrook’s analysis found that within the body of available evidence, the EPA relied on 151 studies, 115 of which showed negative results, meaning no evidence of genotoxicity, and only 36 that had positive results. IARC cited 191 studies, only 45 of which showed negative results and 146 of which showed evidence of genotoxicity.
IARC said within these studies it found “strong evidence that exposure to glyphosate or glyphosate-based formulations is genotoxic…”
Benbrook’s analysis reports that over the last three years at least 27 additional studies have been published addressing possible mechanisms of genotoxic action for glyphosate and/or formulated glyphosate-based herbicides and all but one of the 27 studies reported one or more positive result. There were 18 positives arising from DNA damage, six associated with oxidative stress, and two with other genotoxicity mechanisms, his paper states.
According to Benbrook, the EPA’s failure to focus on formulated glyphosate-based herbicides is dangerous because these formulations “account for all commercial uses and human exposures (no herbicide products contain just glyphosate).”
More research is needed on real-world exposures, Benbrook concludes.
Update: See also the editorial by the editors of Environmental Sciences Europe about the implications of Benbrook’s analysis, “Some food for thought: a short comment on Charles Benbrook’s paper“.
Carey Gillam’s “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science (Island Press) has received rave reviews since its release last fall and has received several awards for outstanding reporting:
- Winner, 2018 Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists
- 2018 Gold Medal winner, Outstanding Book of the Year, by the Independent Book Publisher Awards
- 2018 Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award.
“Hard-hitting, eye-opening narrative…A forceful argument for an agricultural regulatory environment that puts public interest above corporate profits.” Kirkus Reviews
“This is a must-read for everyone concerned about the increasing burden of toxic chemicals in water and food, the health and environmental consequences thereof, and corporate influence on government agencies.” Booklist
“Gillam expertly covers a contentious front where corporate malfeasance intersects with issues of public health and ecology.” Publishers Weekly
“a gutsy, compelling read from beginning to end, especially for readers who enjoy the kind of hard-nosed, shoe-leather reporting that used to be the hallmark of great journalism.” Society for Environmental Journalists BookShelf
“well-documented compendium of wrongs, fraud, conflicts of interest, undue influence, and troubling forms of plain old [PR]….Some of its revelations are downright infuriating.“ Los Angeles Review of Books
See also: Carey Gillam’s testimony before a joint committee of the European Parliament on 10/11/2017 and her reporting from the Daubert Hearings in the Cancer Victims Vs. Monsanto glyphosate litigation.
It’s the pesticide on our dinner plates, a chemical so pervasive it’s in the air we breathe, our water, our soil, and even found increasingly in our own bodies. Known as Monsanto’s Roundup by consumers, and as glyphosate by scientists, the world’s most popular weed killer is used everywhere from backyard gardens to golf courses to millions of acres of farmland. For decades it’s been touted as safe enough to drink, but a growing body of evidence indicates just the opposite, with research tying the chemical to cancers and a host of other health threats.
In Whitewash, veteran journalist Carey Gillam uncovers one of the most controversial stories in the history of food and agriculture, exposing new evidence of corporate influence. Gillam introduces readers to farm families devastated by cancers which they believe are caused by the chemical, and to scientists whose reputations have been smeared for publishing research that contradicted business interests. Readers learn about the arm-twisting of regulators who signed off on the chemical, echoing company assurances of safety even as they permitted higher residues of the pesticide in food and skipped compliance tests. And, in startling detail, Gillam reveals secret industry communications that pull back the curtain on corporate efforts to manipulate public perception.
Whitewash is more than an exposé about the hazards of one chemical or even the influence of one company. It’s a story of power, politics, and the deadly consequences of putting corporate interests ahead of public safety.
Publication date October 2017
More Praise for Whitewash
“The book unravels a tapestry of pesticide industry tricks to manipulate the scientific truths about their products while placing profits above human health and the environment. As someone who has experienced similar actions by corporations firsthand in my work far too often, I am hopeful that Carey’s book will be a wake-up call for more transparency about the dangers surrounding many chemicals in the marketplace.” Erin Brockovich, environmental activist and author
Carey Gillam has brilliantly assembled the facts and describes how Monsanto and other agricultural chemical companies lied about their products, covered up the damaging data and corrupted government officials in order to sell their toxic products around the world. David Schubert, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute For Biological Studies
Carey Gillam is a brave warrior in the mold of Rachel Carson. She has exposed the ruthless greed and fraud which have led to the poisoning of our planet. Brian G.M. Durie, M.D. Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation, oncology specialist and attending physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
In the grand tradition of Silent Spring, Carey Gillam’s Whitewash is a powerful exposé that sheds light on a chemical that — to most of us — is both entirely invisible and yet profoundly damaging to our bodies and our environment. It is a deeply researched, entirely convincing exposé of the politics, economics and global health consequences implicit in the spread of the world’s most common herbicide. Gillam has done what all great journalists strive to do: she has made us see clearly what has long been right before our eyes. Highly recommended. McKay Jenkins, author, Professor of English, Journalism and Environmental Humanities at the University of Delaware
- Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Cancer Danger of Weedkiller for Decades, by Carey Gillam in The Guardian
- First Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial Jury Selection, Carey Gillam’s blog
By Carey Gillam
Let the battle begin. Opening statements are slated for Monday in the landmark legal case that for the first time puts Monsanto and its Roundup herbicide on trial over allegations that the company’s widely used weed killer can cause cancer.
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a San Francisco-area school groundskeeper who used a form of Roundup regularly at his job, will face off against the global seed and chemical giant in a trial expected to extend into August. Johnson hopes to persuade a jury that Monsanto, which last month became a subsidiary of Bayer AG, is to blame for the non-Hodgkin lymphoma that doctors have said leaves him only weeks or months left to live.
Hints of the courtroom drama to come unfolded over the last week of June as jury selection dragged on for days, with Monsanto claiming widespread bias among prospective jurors. A number of the members of the jury pool, Monsanto’s attorney said, revealed in jury questionnaires that they view Monsanto as “evil.” Some even said they believe the company has “killed people,” a Monsanto attorney lawyer told San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos.
Monsanto’s attorneys cited similar issues in seeking to quell media coverage of the trial, telling the judge that she should not allow news cameras to televise the events because the publicity would “create a significant safety risk” for Monsanto’s employees and attorneys who have been targeted with “multiple threats and disturbing communications,” related to the litigation. Monsanto said employees have received threatening phone calls as well as ominous postcards sent to their homes. One postcard displayed a skull and crossbones along with a photo of the recipient, Monsanto said in a court filing.
Judge Bolanos ruled that some parts of the trial will be allowed to be broadcast, including opening statements, closing arguments and the announcement of a verdict. The trial is expected to be closely followed by people around the world; the French news outlet Agence France Presse is among the contingent of media who sought permission to cover the case.
Heated debates over the safety of Roundup and the active ingredient glyphosate have spanned the globe for years. Concerns mounted after internal Monsanto documents came to light through court-ordered discovery, showing conversations among Monsanto employees about “ghost” writing certain scientific papers to help influence regulatory and public opinion about Monsanto products.
Many of those internal corporate records are expected to be a key part of Johnson’s case. Johnson’s attorneys say they have evidence that Monsanto has long known that glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup are carcinogenic and have hidden that information from consumers and regulators. They allege Monsanto has manipulated the scientific record and regulatory assessments of glyphosate in order to protect corporate glyphosate-related revenues. Monsanto knew of the dangers and “made conscious decisions not to redesign, warn or inform the unsuspecting public,” the Johnson lawsuit claims.
If they can convince a jury of the allegations, the lawyers say they plan to ask for potentially “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Johnson’s lawsuit against Monsanto makes him one of roughly 4,000 plaintiffs who sued the company after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in March 2015. The IARC classification was based on a review of more than a decade of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies analyzing glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides. Johnson’s case is the first to go to trial. Another is scheduled for trial in October in St. Louis, Missouri.
Monsanto argues there is no justification for any of the claims, and asserts it has decades of regulatory findings of safety and hundreds of research studies to back its defense. “Glyphosate is the most tested herbicide in history,” Monsanto stated in its trial brief.
The company says it plans to introduce expert testimony demonstrating that the science is firmly on its side—”the entire body of epidemiology literature shows no causal association” between its glyphosate-based herbicides and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the company states. As well, the animal testing database “is most consistent with glyphosate not being a human carcinogen,” according to Monsanto.
The company’s attorneys also plan to show that Johnson’s exposure was minimal, and notably, that development of his type of cancer—a disease called mycosis fungoides that causes lesions on the skin—takes many years to form and could not have developed in the short period between Johnson’s exposure and his diagnosis.
Monsanto’s attorneys argue in court filings that Johnson’s claims are so weak the judge should instruct the jury to provide a directed verdict in Monsanto’s favor.
But Johnson’s attorneys plan to tell jury members that Johnson began to experience a skin rash not long after being accidentally doused in a Monsanto glyphosate-based herbicide called Ranger Pro. He saw the rash—which turned to lesions and then invaded lymph nodes—worsen after he would use the chemical, which was frequently as he treated school grounds. Johnson’s attorneys plan to tell jurors that Johnson was so worried that the herbicide was to blame that he called Monsanto’s offices as well as a poison hotline number listed on the herbicide label. Monsanto employees recorded his outreach and his concerns, internal Monsanto documents show. But even after the IARC classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, Monsanto did not inform him of any risk, according to evidence to be presented at the trial.
As part of their case, Johnson’s attorneys intend to present video depositions of 10 former or current Monsanto employees, and of former Environmental Protection Agency official Jess Rowland, whose relationship with Monsanto has sparked allegations of collusion and an inquiry from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General. They also will call to the stand Johnson himself, his wife, his doctors, and several scientists as expert witnesses.
The Monsanto witness list includes 11 expert witnesses who will testify both about the necessity of herbicides, including glyphosate-based herbicides; certain scientific literature; the plaintiff’s type of cancer and potential causes; and other evidence that Monsanto says discredits Johnson’s claims.
Johnson’s attorneys will start the opening statements on Monday, and have projected that initial explanation of their case to the jury will take roughly 1-1/2 hours. Monsanto’s attorneys have told the court they expect their opening statements to take roughly 1-1/4 hours.
This story originally appeared in EcoWatch.
Academics Review, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization launched in 2012, claims to be an independent group but documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know revealed it is a front group set up with the help of Monsanto and its public relations team to attack agrichemical industry critics while appearing to be independent.
Related: Genetic Literacy Project, Monsanto partner groups, Biotech Literacy Project boot camps
“Monsanto Fingerprints Found All Over Attack on Organic Food,” by Stacy Malkan, Huffington Post (2016)
Covert industry funding
The Academics Review website describes its founders as “two independent professors,” Bruce Chassy, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and David Tribe, PhD, senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Australia. As of May 2018, the website claims, “Academics Review only accepts unrestricted donations from non-corporate sources to support our work.”
However, tax records show that the primary funder of Academics Review has been the Council for Biotechnology Information, a trade association that is funded and run by the largest agrichemical companies: BASF, Bayer, DowDuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta.
According to CBI tax records, the industry-funded group gave Academics Review a total of $650,000 in 2014 and 2015-2016. Tax records for AcademicsReview.org report expenses of $791,064 from 2013-2016 (see 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016). The money was spent on organizing conferences and promoting GMOs and pesticides, according to the tax records.
Emails reveal secret origin of academic front group
Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state Freedom of Information requests revealed the inner workings of how Academics Review was set up as a front group with the help of Monsanto, its PR allies and industry funders. Key facts and emails:
- Eric Sachs, a senior public relations executive at Monsanto, said he would help find industry funding for Academics Review. “The key will be keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information,” Sachs wrote to Chassy on November 30, 2010.
- Academics Review was conceived as a front group that could attack critics of the agrichemical industry. According to a March 11, 2010 email chain, the group was established with the help of Monsanto executives along with Jay Byrne, former director of corporate communications at Monsanto who now runs a PR shop called v-Fluence Interactive; and Val Giddings, former VP of the biotech industry trade association BIO.
- Byrne compared the concept as similar to – but better than – a front group set up by Rick Berman, a lobbyist known as “Dr. Evil” and the “king of corporate front groups and propaganda” for his work to promote tobacco and oil industry interests under the cover of neutral-sounding groups. Berman’s “’Center for Consumer Freedom’ (ActivistCash.com) has cashed in on this to the extreme; and I think we have a much better concept,” Byrne wrote to Chassy on March 11, 2010.
- Byrne said he was developing an “opportunities list with targets” for Monsanto comprised of “individuals organizations, content items and topic areas” critical of ag-biotech that “mean money for a range of well heeled corporations.”
- Chassy indicated he was especially keen to go after the organic industry. “I would love to find a prime name in the middle of the organic aura from which to launch ballistic missiles,” he wrote on March 11, 2010. In 2014, Academics Review attacked the organic industry with a report it falsely claimed was the work of independent academics with no conflicts of interest.
Monsanto plan names Academics Review as “industry partner”
Academics Review is an “industry partner”according to a confidential Monsanto PR document that describes the corporation’s plans to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in order to defend the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. On March 20, 2015, IARC announced it had classified glyphosate as Group 2A carcinogen, “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The Monsanto PR document lists four tiers of industry partners to engage in its public relations efforts to discredit the cancer panel’s report. Academics Review was listed as a Tier 2 “industry partner” along with Genetic Literacy Project, Sense About Science, Biofortified, and the AgBioChatter academics list serve.
An Academics Review article dated March 25, 2015 claimed the “IARC glyphosate cancer review fails on multiple fronts.” The article linked to the industry-funded GMO Answers, the front group American Council on Science and Health and a Forbes article by Henry Miller that was ghostwritten by Monsanto.
Bruce Chassy’s ties to industry and its front groups
Professor Bruce Chassy, co-founder of Academics Review and president of the board, has been frequently cited in the media as an independent expert on GMOs, while he was also receiving undisclosed funds from Monsanto.
Chassy had received $57,000 in undisclosed funds over a two-year period from Monsanto to travel, write and speak about GMOs, according to WBEZ. The story reported that Monsanto also sent at least $5.1 million through the University of Illinois Foundation to university employees and programs between 2005 and 2015.
Chassy is on the “Board of Science and Policy Advisors” of the American Council on Science and Health, an industry funded front group that works with Monsanto. Chassy is also an “independent expert” for GMO Answers, a marketing website for GMOs and pesticides funded by the agrichemical industry.
Articles about Bruce Chassy’s industry ties:
- New York Times, “Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show,” by Eric Lipton (9/5/2015)
- New York Times email archive, “A University of Illinois Professor Joins the Fight,” (9/5/2015)
- WBEZ, “Why Didn’t an Illinois Professor Have to Disclose GMO Funding,” by Monica Eng (3/15/2016)
- US Right to Know, “Following an Email Trail: How a Public University Professor Collaborated on a Corporate PR Campaign,” by Carey Gillam (1/29/2016)
David Tribe / Academics Review / Biofortified
David Tribe is co-founder of Academics Review, vice president of the Academics Review Board of Directors, and a reviewer on the 2014 Academics Review report attacking the organic industry. Tribe is also a member of the board of directors of Biology Fortified Inc., or Biofortified, a nonprofit group that aids the agrichemical industry with lobbying and public relations.
Industry-funded Biotech Literacy Project Boot Camps: training scientists and journalists to promote GMOs
The Biotech Literacy Project boot camps were a series of conferences funded by the agrichemical industry and organized by Academics Review and Genetic Literacy Project, another group that partners with Monsanto on public relations projects. The boot camps trained scientists and journalists how to present GMOs and pesticides in a more positive light, and had explicit political aims to stave off GMO labeling and prop up flagging support for agrichemical industry products.
Boot camp organizers made false claims to journalists and scientists about the source of funds for the Biotech Literacy Project boot camps; they claimed funding came from a mix of government, academic and industry sources, but the only traceable funders were the agrichemical corporations.
“I was offered a $2,000 honorarium, as well as expenses. I wrote back and asked who would provide the honorarium and was told it’d be a combination of funds from UC Davis, USDA, state money, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).” (Journalist Brooke Borel, Popular Science)
“I need to be clear up front that our support comes from BIO, USDA, state-USAID and some foundation money so industry is indirectly a sponsor. We are 100% transparent about sponsorship.” (boot camp organizer Bruce Chassy email to scientists)
The USDA and other government and academic sources named by organizers denied funding the events, according to Paul Thacker’s reporting in The Progressive, and the only traceable source of funds was the BIO trade group offshoot, the Council for Biotechnology Information, which is funded by BASF, Bayer, DowDuPont and Monsanto Company. That group spent over $300,000 on the two boot camps held at UC Davis and University of Florida, according to tax records and Thacker’s reporting.
Speakers at the 2015 Biotech Literacy Project boot camp (according to the wrap-up report) included industry executives and public relations operatives, including Monsanto’s former head of communications Jay Byrne (who helped set up Academics Review as a front group to attack industry critics), Hank Campbell of the front group American Council on Science and Health, and Yvette d’Entremont the “SciBabe.”
- The Progressive, “Flacking for GMOs: How the Biotech Industry Cultivates Positive Media – and Discourages Criticism,” by Paul Thacker (7/21/2017)
- Biotech Literacy Project boot camps agenda and participants: University of Florida (2014) and University of California, Davis (2015)
For more information about the findings of U.S. Right to Know and media coverage about collaborations between industry groups and academics on food issues, see our investigations page. U.S. Right to Know documents are also available in the Chemical Industry Documents Library hosted by the University of California, San Francisco.
In June, a California groundskeeper will make history by taking company to trial on claims it suppressed harm of Roundup
This article was originally published in The Guardian.
By Carey Gillam
At the age of 46, DeWayne Johnson is not ready to die. But with cancer spread through most of his body, doctors say he probably has just months to live. Now Johnson, a husband and father of three in California, hopes to survive long enough to make Monsanto take the blame for his fate.
On 18 June, Johnson will become the first person to take the global seed and chemical company to trial on allegations that it has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide products – and his case has just received a major boost.
Last week Judge Curtis Karnow issued an order clearing the way for jurors to consider not just scientific evidence related to what caused Johnson’s cancer, but allegations that Monsanto suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products. Karnow ruled that the trial will proceed and a jury would be allowed to consider possible punitive damages.
“The internal correspondence noted by Johnson could support a jury finding that Monsanto has long been aware of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicides are carcinogenic … but has continuously sought to influence the scientific literature to prevent its internal concerns from reaching the public sphere and to bolster its defenses in products liability actions,” Karnow wrote. “Thus there are triable issues of material fact.”
Johnson’s case, filed in San Francisco county superior court in California, is at the forefront of a legal fight against Monsanto. Some 4,000 plaintiffs have sued Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup caused them, or their loved ones, to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled for trial in October, in Monsanto’s home town of St Louis, Missouri.
The lawsuits challenge Monsanto’s position that its herbicides are proven safe and assert that the company has known about the dangers and hidden them from regulators and the public. The litigants cite an assortment of research studies indicating that the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides, a chemical called glyphosate, can lead to NHL and other ailments. They also cite research showing glyphosate formulations in its commercial-end products are more toxic than glyphosate alone. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.
Monsanto “championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies” that revealed dangers of its herbicides, and led a “prolonged campaign of misinformation” to convince government agencies, farmers and consumers that Roundup was safe, according to Johnson’s lawsuit.
“We look forward to exposing how Monsanto hid the risk of cancer and polluted the science,” said Michael Miller, Johnson’s attorney. “Monsanto does not want the truth about Roundup and cancer to become public.”
Monsanto has fiercely denied the allegations, saying its products are not the cause of cancer. The IARC finding was wrong, according to Monsanto, as are studies finding glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup to be potentially carcinogenic. Monsanto points to findings by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory authorities as backing its defense.
“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.”
A company spokeswoman did not respond to a request for additional comment.
How the Johnson lawsuit plays out could be a bellwether for how other plaintiffs proceed. If Johnson prevails, there could be many more years of costly litigation and hefty damage claims. If Monsanto successfully turns back the challenge, it could derail other cases and lift pressure on the firm.
According to the court record, Johnson had a job as a groundskeeper for the Benicia unified school district where he applied numerous treatments of Monsanto’s herbicides to school properties from 2012 until at least late 2015. He was healthy and active before he got the cancer diagnosis in August 2014. In a January deposition, Johnson’s treating physician testified that more than 80% of his body was covered by lesions, and that he probably had but a few months to live. Johnson has improved since starting a new drug treatment in November but remains too weak sometimes to even speak or get out of bed, his attorneys and doctors state in court filings.
Monsanto’s lawyers plan to introduce evidence that other factors caused Johnson’s cancer, to challenge the validity of the science Johnson’s claims rely on, and to present their own experts and research supporting safety. The company has an EPA draft risk assessment of glyphosate on its side, which concludes that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic.
This article was originally published in the Guardian.
By Carey Gillam
US government scientists have detected a weedkiller linked to cancer in an array of commonly consumed foods, emails obtained through a freedom of information request show.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing food samples for residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in hundreds of widely used herbicide products, for two years, but has not yet released any official results.
But the internal documents obtained by the Guardian show the FDA has had trouble finding any food that does not carry traces of the pesticide.
“I have brought wheat crackers, granola cereal and corn meal from home and there’s a fair amount in all of them,” FDA chemist Richard Thompson wrote to colleagues in an email last year regarding glyphosate. Thompson, who is based in an FDA regional laboratory in Arkansas, wrote that broccoli was the only food he had “on hand” that he found to be glyphosate-free.
That internal FDA email, dated January 2017, is part of a string of FDA communications that detail agency efforts to ascertain how much of the popular weedkiller is showing up in American food. The tests mark the agency’s first-ever such examination.
“People care about what contaminants are in their food. If there is scientific information about these residues in the food, the FDA should release it,” said Tracey Woodruff, a professor in the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. “It helps people make informed decisions. Taxpayers paid for the government to do this work, they should get to see the information.”
The FDA is charged with annually testing food samples for pesticide residues to monitor for illegally high residue levels. The fact that the agency only recently started testing for glyphosate, a chemical that has been used for over 40 years in food production, has led to criticism from consumer groups and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Calls for testing grew after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.
Glyphosate is best known as the main ingredient in Monsanto Co’s Roundup brand. More than 200m pounds are used annually by US farmers on their fields. The weedkiller is sprayed directly over some crops, including corn, soybeans, wheat and oats. Many farmers also use it on fields before the growing season, including spinach growers and almond producers.
Thompson’s detection of glyphosate was made as he was validating his analytical methods, meaning those residues will probably not be included in any official report.
Separately, FDA chemist Narong Chamkasem found “over-the-tolerance” levels of glyphosate in corn, detected at 6.5 parts per million, an FDA email states. The legal limit is 5.0 ppm. An illegal level would normally be reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but an FDA supervisor wrote to an EPA official that the corn was not considered an “official sample”.
When asked about the emails and the agency’s testing, an FDA spokesman said only that the FDA had not found any illegal levels in corn, soy, milk or eggs, the four commodities it considers part of its glyphosate “special assignment”. He did not address the unofficial findings revealed in the emails.
The FDA’s official findings should be released later this year or early in 2019 as part of its 2016 annual residue report. The reports typically are released two to two and a half years after the data is collected.
Along with glyphosate, the agency has been trying to measure residues of the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba because of projected increased use of these weedkillers on new genetically engineered crops. The FDA spokesman said that the agency has “expanded capacity” for testing foods for those herbicides this year.
Other findings detailed in the FDA documents show that in 2016 Chamkasem found glyphosate in numerous samples of honey. Chamkasem also found glyphosate in oatmeal products. The FDA temporarily suspended testing after those findings, and Chamkasem’s lab was “reassigned to other programs”, the FDA documents show. The FDA has said those tests were not part of its official glyphosate residue assignment.
Pesticide exposure through diet is considered a potential health risk. Regulators, Monsanto and agrochemical industry interests say pesticide residues in food are not harmful if they are under legal limits. But many scientists dispute that, saying prolonged dietary exposure to combinations of pesticides can be harmful.
Toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, who is director of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), said that current regulatory analysis of pesticide dangers does not account for low levels of dietary exposures.
“Even with low levels of pesticides, we’re exposed to so many and we don’t count the fact that we have cumulative exposures,” Birnbaum said.
The US Department of Agriculture was to start its own testing of foods for glyphosate residues in 2017 but dropped the plan.
The lack of government residue data comes as Monsanto attempts to bar evidence about glyphosate food residues from being introduced in court where the company is fighting off allegations its Roundup products cause cancer.
In a case set for trial on 18 June, San Francisco superior court judge Curtis Karnow recently denied the company’s motion to keep the jury from hearing about residues in food. The judge said that although Monsanto worries the information “will inflame the jury against Monsanto based on their own fear that they may have been exposed”, such information “should not be excluded”.