Trimmed-Down Testimony as Monsanto Cancer Trial Winds Down

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(Transcript of today’s proceedings) 

Lawyers for Edwin Hardeman have substantially cut down the number of witnesses and evidence to present to jurors who must decide if Monsanto and its new owner Bayer are liable for Hardeman’s development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma after years of use of Monsanto’s Roundup. They have but a few hours left allotted to them by the judge, who has said he expects closing arguments by Tuesday.

The six-member jury team decided last week that Roundup was in fact a substantial factor in causing Hardeman’s cancer. The trial is now focused on whether or not Monsanto should be blamed, and if so, how much – if anything – the company should pay Hardeman in damages.

But making that case may be difficult given the short amount of time the plaintiff’s attorneys have left in the total “time clock” that Judge Vince Chhabria set. He gave each side 30 hours to make their case.

Hardeman’s attorneys used most of their time in the first half of the trial and now have but a few remaining hours. As a result, they have informed the judge that they will not be calling planned testimony from Monsanto executives Daniel Goldstein, Steven Gould, David Heering, or Daniel Jenkins. They also will not be presenting planned testimony from Roger McClellan, editor of the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology (CRT), and at least four other witnesses.

McClellan was overseeing CRT when the journal published a series of papers in September 2016 that rebuked the finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) finding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. The papers purported to be written by independent scientists who found that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people. But internal Monsanto documents show that the papers were conceptualized from the outset as a strategy by Monsanto to discredit IARC. One of Monsanto’s top scientists not only reviewed the manuscripts but had a hand in drafting and editing them, though that was not disclosed by CRT.

Hardeman’s attorneys plan about three more hours of testimony from various witnesses, including former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant, who received an exit payment of about $32 million when Bayer AG bought Monsanto last summer.

Discussion of Damages

Both sides have already agreed that Hardeman has suffered a loss of approximately $200,000 in economic damages, but Hardeman’s attorneys are expected to ask for many tens of millions of dollars, and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars for total damages, including punitive.

Lawyers for Monsanto have objected to any discussion of Monsanto’s wealth and the $63 billion Bayer paid for Monsanto, but the judge has allowed some financial information to be shared with jurors.

Jurors may not ever be told exactly how much money Monsanto has made over the years in sales of its glyphosate herbicides, but a look at just one year of financials – 2012, the year Hardeman stopped using Roundup – shows the company made roughly $2 billion in total profits that year.

Judge Chhabria noted in discussions with attorneys out of the presence of the jury that Hardeman’s attorneys might want to argue that Monsanto spent a lot of money on advertising and payouts to executives rather than conducting long-term safety studies on its products. The money issues might be relevant to jurors’ deliberation over potential punitive damages, Chhabria said.

“It may be relevant to Monsanto’s ability to pay, but it seems even more relevant to the issue of what was knowable — both liability and punitive damages, whether Monsanto’s conduct was extreme and outrageous,” Judge Chhabria said.  “Why can’t they argue, look at all the money Monsanto has been willing to spend on advertising and it’s not willing to, you know, conduct any sort of objective inquiry into the safety of its product.”

“It is not as much about the company’s ability to pay as it is about the company’s conduct with respect to the safety of its product,” Chhabria said. “Look at all these things that the company is spending extreme amounts of money on, and it’s not willing to lift a finger to conduct any sort of objective inquiry about the safety of its product.  That, I assume, is their argument.”

Chhabria said the evidence of Monsanto’s finance could be “probative” of the  “outrageousness of the company’s conduct.”

Pilliod Trial Beginning 

A third Roundup cancer trial gets underway this week in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California. Alva and Alberta Pilliod,  husband and wife, take on Monsanto and Bayer with claims they both are suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup products. Voir dire for jury selection begins today in Oakland and opening statements are expected to begin Thursday.  See documents related to that case at this link. 

The judge in the Pilliod case rejected Monsanto’s request to bifurcate the trial. The legal team presenting the Pilliod case includes Los Angeles attorney Brent Wisner, who gained notoriety for the win by plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson over Monsanto in the first-ever Roundup cancer trial last summer.

Hepatitis C and… Hugh Grant?

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(See video update here)

(Transcript from today’s proceedings)

Monsanto’s legal team on Monday presented testimony from Dr. Alexandra Levine, a hematologist/oncologist with City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, seeking to convince the jury that exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides was not a cause of Hardeman’s cancer, and that a more likely factor is the hepatitis C Hardeman had for many years. Levine testified that she has seen “many, many, thousands of patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” and she is in fact considered a specialist in that specific disease.

Judge Chhabria said last week that he would like to see this first phase of the trial wrapped up early this week, meaning the case should be with the jury soon. A verdict requires all six jurors to be unanimous in their finding regarding whether or not Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup “was a substantial factor” in causing his cancer. The judge will define for jurors what that means. (See Friday’s entry for more details.)

If the jury does not unanimously decide either for Hardeman or Monsanto then the case would be a mistrial. Chhabria has also said that if that happens he is considering retrying it in May.

If the jury finds for Hardeman on causation, the trial would quickly move into Phase II using the same jury. And that is where things will really start to get interesting. Hardeman’s attorneys plan to call several Monsanto executives for testimony, including former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant. Grant spent more than 35 years at the company and was named CEO in 2003. He led the company until its acquisition by Bayer AG last summer.

Additionally, lawyers for Hardeman plan to call Roger McClellan, editor of the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology (CRT), which published a series of papers in September 2016 that rebuked the finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) finding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. The papers purported to be written by independent scientists who found that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people.

However, internal Monsanto documents show that the papers were conceptualized from the outset as a strategy by Monsanto to discredit IARC. One of Monsanto’s top scientists not only reviewed the manuscripts but had a hand in drafting and editing them, though that was not disclosed by CRT.

Hardeman’s lawyers additionally said they plan to call Doreen Manchester, of CropLife America, the agrochemical industry’s lobbying organization. Manchester’s role at CropLife has been helping “lead federal and state litigation to support pesticide regulatory issues.”

A Story Behind the Monsanto Cancer Trial — Journal Sits on Retraction

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What “ghostwriting” by Monsanto means, how it has influenced, and still is influencing, material found in peer-reviewed scientific journals

This article was originally published in Environmental Health News.

By Carey Gillam and Nathan Donley

Consumers and journalists around the world were stunned earlier this month when Monsanto, after being forced in a court of law for the first time to defend the safety of its popular weed killer Roundup, was found liable for the terminal cancer of California groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson.

The unanimous 12-member jury found that Mr. Johnson’s exposure to Monsanto’s weedkiller was a “substantial” contributing factor to his disease and that there was “clear and convincing” evidence that Monsanto acted with “malice or oppression” because the risks were evident and Monsanto failed to warn of those known risks.

Aside from dueling expert testimony on both sides, the jury was provided with internal company emails and work plans indicating that Monsanto had been corrupting the scientific record by ghostwriting literature asserting safety.

As the jury’s decision sets in, and thousands of additional plaintiffs who have filed similar suits wait for their day in court, it is worth taking time to understand exactly what “ghostwriting” by Monsanto means, how it has influenced, and still is influencing, material found in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

We offer this example:

When the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology (CRT) published a series of papers reviewing the carcinogenic potential of weed-killing agent glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, in September 2016, the findings were so significant that they were widely reported by media outlets around the world.

The papers, published in a special issue of CRT entitled “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate,” directly contradicted the findings of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in 2015 found glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen. The authors of the 2016 review found that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people.

The findings were critical to Monsanto – the company was facing doubts by European regulators about allowing glyphosate to remain on the market. As well, Monsanto was facing a growing mass of lawsuits claiming its weed killer caused people to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Sixteen scientists from “four independent panels” signed their names to the published work, declaring to readers that their conclusions were free of Monsanto’s intervention. Underscoring the supposed independence of the work, the declaration of interest section stated: “Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”

It has since become evident that these papers were anything but independent. Internal Monsanto documents forced into the public spotlight through litigation show that the papers were conceptualized from the outset as a deceptive strategy for Monsanto. One of Monsanto’s top scientists not only reviewed the manuscripts but had a hand in drafting and editing them. The finished papers were aimed directly at discrediting IARC’s classification.

In one internal email, Monsanto’s chief of regulatory science, William Heydens, told the organizer of the panel: “I have gone through the entire document and indicated what I think should stay, what can go, and in a couple spots I did a little editing.”

The internal documents show that Heydens even argued over statements that he wanted included but that author John Acquavella deemed “inflammatory” and “not necessary” criticisms of IARC. Draft documents show Heydens’ edits contradicted Acquavella’s edits even though Heydens was not supposed to have even reviewed the papers. Heydens went so far as to state: “I would ignore John’s comment” and “I don’t see a reason for deleting the text that John did below.”

Other edits show Heydens attempting to control the tone of the manuscript, stating: “The deleted statement below has nothing to do with IARC criticism and should be put back in, John over-stepped the bounds here” and “I can live with deleting the text below, assuming that exposure text above … is added back in.” He also argued for putting a deleted phrase back in because it gave “clarity about IARC’s approach.” “This is not inflammatory, it is descriptive,” he wrote.

The importance of the papers to Monsanto as a tool to counter IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was laid out in a confidential document dated May 11, 2015, naming several of the scientists who could be used as authors to give the papers credibility. The internal documents speak of “ghost-writing” strategies aimed at using non-company scientists as authors to lend credibility to the findings.

When placed under oath in a deposition, Heydens acknowledged that the manuscripts were sent to him and he read “parts of some of them,” prior to their submission to the journal. He said he did not “recall” whether or not he made the 28 edits that plaintiffs’ attorneys counted in the internal records.

All of this was among the evidence presented to jurors in San Francisco Superior Court as they considered Johnson’s claims. But the evidence of ghostwriting and misconduct have far broader implications than one lawsuit.

How many ghostwritten papers declaring pesticide safety are littering the scientific literature? And given the evidence of misconduct in this instance, why are these papers still in publication? Why has there been no retraction, no clarification, no correction to the obviously deceptive disclosure?

Last August, after the documents gained media attention CRT editor Roger McClellan said the “serious accusations” deserved “careful investigation,” and he and CRT publisher Taylor & Francis would take “appropriate action.”

Shortly thereafter the Center for Biological Diversity and three other national environmental-health organizations sent a letter to CRT and Taylor & Francis detailing the ethical misconduct and formally asking for a retraction. It’s been more than a year since this investigation was begun and, despite multiple follow-up requests by the organizations, no action has been taken.

With Taylor & Francis’s own policy being to issue a retraction for misconduct “when there has been an infringement of publishing ethics,” the case for retraction couldn’t be more clear.

Monsanto’s fingerprints are all over this “independent” review, as laid out in Monsanto’s own internal documents.

Taylor & Francis must determine the standards to which it is willing to hold scientists who publish in its journals – if not for the reputation of the journals themselves, then for the sake of scientific integrity itself and the public’s right to the truth.