(UPDATED June 5 with comment from Scientific Reports)
The authors of a newly published paper examining the impacts of exposure to the world’s most widely used herbicide declared some shocking news.
The team from Washington State University found that descendants of rats exposed to the chemical glyphosate developed prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities. The findings, published in April in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, added to the global debate about the safety of glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers.
But perhaps more stunning than that news, the research team also stated in their paper that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist scientific arm of the World Health Organization, had “retracted” its finding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen.
The error is one of many in the paper reported to the authors over a month ago that has yet to be corrected. But none, perhaps, is more glaring than the one about IARC.
IARC had issued a lengthy paper in 2015 that concluded by classifying glyphosate as a 2A human carcinogen. That IARC classification sparked thousands of lawsuits against Monsanto, the longtime purveyor of Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides and fueled debate around the globe. The IARC classification also helped prompt many European countries to start moving to limit or ban glyphosate use. Cities, school districts and retailers across the United States have also stopped using or selling glyphosate products. Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG has lost 40 percent of its shareholder value due to the persistent concerns about Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides.
But according to the WSU team, the IARC classification that triggered it all was retracted in 2016. They wrote:
“In March 2015 the International Agency of Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a Grade 2a carcinogen based on prevalence of liver and kidney tumors in chronic feeding studies. Shortly after, this statement was retracted in 2016.”
A retraction by IARC of its finding would be highly significant. Indeed, Monsanto in 2015 did seek a retraction but IARC has defended its work, as have numerous independent scientists from multiple countries. And notably, IARC has never retracted its finding of glyphosate as a 2A probable carcinogen.
“The classification has not been changed and is still valid,” said IARC spokeswoman Veronique Terrasse.
The Washington State research team was led by Michael Skinner, professor of the WSU School of Biological Sciences. Seemingly the error would be easy to correct. But when contacted about the error, Skinner said he had no intention of correcting the statement because no correction was needed. He said that he has told scientists who have raised the issue with him to write a letter to the editor of the journal.
“The Definition of Retract includes to “Draw or be drawn back or back in” or “withdraw or go back” or “reconsider or drawn back”, so this is why the word was used in this context,” Skinner said in an emailed response.
Scientific Reports is part of Nature, a weekly international journal that bills itself as “publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology…”
A spokesperson for Scientific Reports, said: “When any issues are raised with Scientific Reports about papers we have published, we investigate them carefully and we will take action where appropriate.”
He pointed out that Scientific Reports is an online, open-access journal in the “Nature Research family of journals” but is editorially independent of Nature.
Several outside scientists have identified other factual errors in the paper, and said they threaten to undermine the credibility of the findings overall.
“This is supposed to be picked up by the peer review,” said Chuck Benbrook, an agricultural economist and glyphosate expert whose own scientific research was cited incorrectly by the Skinner team in their paper. Benbrook contacted Skinner in April immediately after the paper was published laying out several errors that need correcting. Benbrook noted that all of the problems he is aware of were in the introduction to the paper and had nothing to do with the scientific conclusions.
“Why he didn’t quickly correct the factual errors… is hard to understand,” said Benbrook.
Among the other factual errors:
*The paper stated that glyphosate accounts for nearly 72 percent of global pesticide usage, citing Benbrook’s research. Benbrook’s research does not say that, but says that 72 percent of glyphosate sprayed globally has been applied in the last decade.
* The Skinner paper states that IARC’s classification of glyphosate was based on the prevalence of liver and kidney tumors in chronic feeding studies. In fact, the IARC classification, as detailed in IARC’s paper, states the classification was based on data from animal studies, epidemiology studies, and “strong evidence” of genotoxic mechanisms of action.
* As well, the paper cited in a footnote a paper that contradicted IARC’s finding of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen that was exposed nearly two years ago as the ghost-written work of Monsanto scientists. Skinner’s paper did not note that this paper, titled “Genotoxicity Expert Panel review: weight of evidence evaluation of the genotoxicity of glyphosate, glyphosate-based formulations, and aminomethylphosphonic acid,” was so problematic for its lack of disclosure of Monsanto’s involvement that the journal that published it – Critical Reviews in Toxicology – issued an “expression of concern” and a correction statement.
Skinner’s research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. He and his colleagues exposed pregnant rats to glyphosate between their eighth and 14th days of gestation. The dose, which they said was half the amount expected to show no adverse effect, produced no apparent ill effects on either the parents or the first generation of offspring. But the researchers saw dramatic increases in “several pathologies affecting the second and third generations,” according to a press release promoting the study.
The study has garnered quite a bit of attention. Several news outlets have reported on the study, quoting Skinner. Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto last year, has said Skinner’s study is not credible. But Skinner has defended the accuracy of the study, citing the fact it was peer-reviewed and published in an accredited scientific journal.
Amid global debate over the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup, numerous claims have been made to defend the product’s safety. In the wake of two recent landmark jury rulings that found Roundup to be a substantial factor in causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, we examined some of these claims and fact-checked them for accuracy.
If you have more examples of glyphosate spin you’d like us to fact check, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to us @USRighttoKnow.
This article by Mark Lynas contains several inaccurate and misleading statements. Like many promoting glyphosate products, the claims here focus on trying to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.
CLAIM: IARC is a “little known and rather flaky offshoot of the World Health Organization” that “finds almost everything carcinogenic”
FACT: IARC is the specialized cancer research agency of WHO with expert panels comprised of independent scientists from various disciplines of cancer research. In its 50-year history, IARC has assessed 1,013 substances and found 49% of those were “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”; 20% were classified as known or probably carcinogenic to humans.
CLAIM: “early drafts of the IARC assessment were extensively altered at a late stage to point towards a carcinogenicity finding – even when the science they were assessing pointed away from this”
FACT: This claim is sourced with a flawed Reuters report by Kate Kelland that left out crucial facts, including the fact that most of the information IARC didn’t adopt from “early drafts” was from a review article co-authored by a Monsanto scientist. The review article “did not provide adequate information for independent evaluation of the conclusions reached by the Monsanto scientist and other authors,” IARC said. Kelland has written a number of stories critical of IARC; documents released in 2019 establish that Monsanto secretly had a hand in some of her reporting.
Lynas used one other source to buttress his claims about wrongdoing at IARC: David Zaruk, a former chemical industry lobbyist who once worked for the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.
CLAIM: Glyphosate is the “most benign chemical in world farming”
FACT: This statement is not science-based. Studies link glyphosate to a range of health concerns including cancer, endocrine disruption, liver disease, shortened pregnancies, birth defects and damage to beneficial gut bacteria. Environmental concerns include negative impacts on soil, bees and butterflies.
SOURCE: The American Council on Science and Health is a front group that receives funding from chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, and pitches its services to industry groups for product defense campaigns, according to leaked internal documents. Emails from 2015 establish that Monsanto was funding ACSH and asked the group to write about the IARC glyphosate report. An ACSH staffer responded that they were already involved in a “full-court press re: IARC” regarding agrichemicals, phthalates and diesel exhaust.
CLAIMS: “with over 800 studies on it, no study has shown the components in Roundup to cause cancer” … “there haven’t been major credible studies showing a causal link between Roundup and cancer.”
FACT: Several major credible studies link Roundup or its key component glyphosate to cancer, including a study submitted to the EPA in the 1980s that EPA scientists at the time said was evidence of cancer concerns. There are too many studies to list, but citations can be found in the 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph on Glyphosate.
Additionally, a broad scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides published in February 2019 found that people with high exposures had an increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
SOURCE: Yvette d’Entremont is a “contributing editor” to Self Magazine with a column called “SciBabe Explains.” Self Magazine does not disclose to its readers that SciBabe partners with companies whose products she defends. In 2017, the artificial sweetener company Splenda partnered with SciBabe to help “empower fans of the SPLENDA® Brand to take an active role in busting myths about sucralose.” Chemical companies have sponsored some of her speaking engagements at farming conferences.
CLAIM: Glyphosate “has been so thoroughly studied for toxicity and the concentrations found in humans are so low that there is no need for further study … there is really nothing left to justify further research!”
FACT: In sworn testimony admitted into evidence in ongoing litigation against Monsanto and its owner Bayer AG, former Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant acknowledged the company never did any epidemiology study of glyphosate-based herbicide formulations the company sells. The company also sought to block a toxicity evaluation of glyphosate formulations by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Moreover, these comments, which Dr. Kabat attributed to an anonymous source, ignore two key facts: independent studies link glyphosate to a wide range of health problems and environmental concerns, and evidence from court filings suggests that Monsanto interfered with scientific and regulatory assessments of glyphosate (see examples and sources here, here, here, and here).
According to Judge Vince Chhabria, who presided over a recent federal trial that resulted in $80 million in damages against Monsanto, “the plaintiffs have presented a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product.” The judge also wrote:
CLAIM: “You can drink a whole quart of [glyphosate] and it won’t hurt you.”
FACT: Even Monsanto says you should not drink glyphosate. According to the company’s website, “glyphosate isn’t a beverage and should not be ingested – just like you wouldn’t drink shampoo or dish detergent. It is always important to use products for their intended purpose and as directed on the label.” (The post also clarifies that Moore “isn’t a Monsanto lobbyist or employee.”)
CLAIM: “I think there’s several very comprehensive meta-analyses that have been done recently that show there are no unique toxicological or carcinogenicity effects associated with the use of Roundup. There was the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment that just reviewed hundreds of toxicological studies and nearly a thousand published reports, and concluded that the data showed neither carcinogenic or mutagentic properties of glyphosate, nor that glyphosate is toxic to fertility, reproduction, and or embryonic fetal development in lab animals … And I wouldn’t call Germany necessarily a country where you would expect them to be doing a risk assessment that wasn’t really looking at what the data’s saying.”
SOURCE: Dr. van Eenennaam is a leading promoter of genetically engineered animals and crops, and a fervent advocate for deregulation. Documents show she has coordinated with agrichemical companies and their public relations firms on PR and messaging.
Food Evolution documentary film
This 2017 feature-length documentary promotes genetically engineered foods as the solution to world hunger but glosses over a key controversy at the center of the GMO debate: whether Roundup, the herbicide that most GM crops are engineered to resist, causes cancer. The film does not even mention the IARC report that found glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, and it relies on just two sources to claim that glyphosate is not a worry.
CLAIM: The film shows footage of Monsanto’s Robb Fraley giving a speech; when an audience member asked him about studies linking glyphosate to cancer or birth defects, Fraley waved his hand dismissively and said all those studies are “pseudoscience.”
CLAIM: A farmer claims that glyphosate has “very, very low toxicity; lower than coffee, lower than salt.”
FACT: Comparing the toxicity of short-term exposure of glyphosate to things like coffee or salt is irrelevant and misleading; concerns about links to cancer are based on chronic, long-term exposures to glyphosate.
CLAIM:“IARC’s determination [that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen] was found by numerous experts to have excluded dozens of studies that found no evidence of glyphosate being carcinogenic. Experts also found IARC’s review to be based on flawed and discredited science, some even going so far as to say the conclusion was ‘totally wrong.'”
This photo posted to the IFIC glyphosate page (then deleted after we called attention to it) is an example of the type of messaging the food industry uses to try to convince women to trust their “experts.”
New Monsanto documents expose cozy connection to Reuters reporter
We knew from previously released documents that Reuters reporter Kate Kelland was a key connection for Monsanto in its endeavor to undermine and discredit the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) scientists who classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in 2015. Now we have additional evidence of the coziness of the connection.
Not only did Kelland write a 2017 story that Monsanto asked her to write in exactly the way Monsanto executive Sam Murphey asked her to write it, (without disclosing to readers that Monsanto was the source,) but now we see evidence that a draft of a separate story Kelland did about glyphosate was delivered to Monsanto before it was published, a practice typically frowned on by news outlets.
The emails shows the story written by Kelland was emailed to Murphey with the subject line “My draft, Confidential.”
The story, headlined “New study on Monsanto weed killer to feed into crucial EU vote,” was about preliminary findings of an unpublished study by an Italian scientist showing that experimental rats exposed to glyphosate at levels equivalent to those allowed in humans showed no initial adverse reaction. The final version was published on April 13, 2017.
And another newly released email details how Monsanto’s fingerprints were on at least two other Kelland stories. The March 1, 2016 email speaks of the involvement of Monsanto’s “Red Flag” campaign in an already published Reuters story that was critical of IARC and the desire to influence a second similar story Reuters was planning. Red Flag is a Dublin-based PR and lobbying firm that works to defend glyphosate safety and promote pro-glyphosate messaging via third parties such as farmer groups.
According to the partly redacted email, “following engagement by Red Flag a number of months ago, the first piece was quite critical of IARC.” The email goes on: “You may also be aware that Red Flag is in touch with Reuters regarding the second report in the series…”
Those revelations follow the disclosure earlier this year of email correspondence detailing how Kelland helped Monsanto drive a false narrative about cancer scientist Aaron Blair in his role as head of the IARC working group that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. Internal Monsanto correspondence dated April 27, 2017 shows that Monsanto executive Sam Murphey sent the company’s desired narrative to Kelland with a slide deck of talking points and portions of the Blair deposition that was not filed in court.
On June 14, 2017, Kelland authored a controversial story based on what she said were “court documents,” that in reality were documents fed to her by Murphey. Because the documents Kelland cited were not really filed in court they were not publicly available for easy fact-checking by readers. By falsely attributing the information as based on court documents she avoided disclosing Monsanto’s role in driving the story.
When the story came out, it portrayed Blair as hiding “important information”that found no links between glyphosate and cancer from IARC. Kelland wrote that a deposition showed that Blair “said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis” even though a review of the actual deposition shows that Blair did not say that.
Kelland provided no link to the documents she cited, making it impossible for readers to see for themselves how far she veered from accuracy.
The story was picked up by media outlets around the world, and promoted by Monsanto and chemical industry allies. Google advertisements were even purchased promoting the story. This story was also used by Monsanto to attack IARC on multiple fronts, including an effort by Monsanto to get Congress to strip funding from IARC.
There is nothing inherently wrong in receiving story suggestions that benefit companies from the companies themselves. It happens all the time. But reporters must be diligent in presenting facts, not corporate propaganda.
Reuters editor Mike Williams has defended Kelland’s work and declined to issue a clarification or correction on the Aaron Blair piece. He said “It was a great piece, and I stand by it fully.” Reuters “ethics editor” Alix Freedman also supports Kelland’s Blair story, despite the evidence of Monsanto’s involvement and the lack of disclosure of that involvement to readers. “We are proud of it and stand behind it,” Freedman said in an email.
On a personal note, I spent 17 years as a reporter at Reuters covering Monsanto and I am horrified at this violation of journalistic standards. It is particularly noteworthy that Alix Freedman is the same person who told me I was not allowed to write about many independent scientific studies of Monsanto’s glyphosate that were showing harmful impacts .
At the very least, Kelland should have been honest with readers and acknowledged that Monsanto was her source – on that story, and apparently many others. Reuters owes the world – and IARC – an apology.
Records Show EPA Efforts To Slow Herbicide Review Came In Coordination With Monsanto
Newly released government email communications show a persistent effort by multiple officials within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to slow a separate federal agency’s safety review of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide. Notably, the records demonstrate that the EPA efforts came at the behest of Monsanto, and that EPA officials were helpful enough to keep the chemical giant updated on their progress.
The communications, most of which were obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, show that it was early 2015 when the EPA and Monsanto began working in concert to stall a toxicology review that a unit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was conducting on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s branded Roundup herbicide products. The details revealed in the documents come as Monsanto is defending itself against lawsuits alleging that it has tried to cover up evidence of harm with its herbicides.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency that along with the CDC is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is charged with evaluating the potential adverse human health effects from exposures to hazardous substances in the environment. So it made sense for the ATSDR to take a look at glyphosate, which is widely used on U.S. farms, residential lawns and gardens, school playgrounds and golf courses. Glyphosate is widely used in food production and glyphosate residues have been found in testing of human urine.
The ATSDR announced in February 2015 that it planned to publish a toxicological profile of glyphosate by October of that year. But by October, that review was on hold, and to this date no such review has yet been published. (Update: the draft review was finally published in April 2019.) The documents reveal this was no accident, no bureaucratic delay, but rather was the result of a collaborative effort between Monsanto and a group of high-ranking EPA officials.
For Monsanto, the timing of the ATSDR review was worrisome. In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, and Monsanto feared ATSDR might have similar concerns about the chemical. Previous reports have described how one EPA official, Jess Rowland, communicated to Monsanto in April 2015 his willingness to try to kill the ATSDR review. Rowland, who retired in 2016, was the deputy division director within the health effects division of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP). Allegations of collusion between Rowland and Monsanto have prompted a probe by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General.
But the trove of documents newly obtained from within EPA and HHS demonstrate that the assistance to Monsanto came not only from Rowland but also from even higher-level EPA officials. Rather than encourage and assist the toxicology review of glyphosate, Monsanto and EPA officials repeatedly complained to ATSDR and HHS that such a review was unnecessarily “duplicative” and should take a back seat to an EPA review also underway.
The following timeline shows how the events unfolded:
May 19, 2015 – Michael Dykes, who at that time was Monsanto’s long-time vice president of government affairs, wrote directly to the EPA’s Jim Jones, the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention. Jones had oversight of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) and was a presidential appointee who carried significant clout. The afternoon was waning when the email came in at 3:28 p.m. Dykes reminded Jones that they had recently discussed the HHS’ ATSDR glyphosate review at a meeting.
“You were not aware of their review. Did you learn anything more about their efforts?” Dykes asked.
Jones did not waste time. Roughly an hour later he forwarded the message to OPP Director Jack Housenger, writing “Monsanto thinks atsdr is doing a glyphosate Assessment. Could you guys run that down?” Housenger responds quickly: “Yes. Jess checked with them…. It has been difficult to get information.”
Within an hour Jones instructed a member of his staff to get him contact information for the head person responsible for ATSDR. She replied the next morning that Dr. Patrick Breysse was the point person. Breysse joined the CDC in 2014 as director of its National Center for Environmental Health, overseeing the NCEH’s ATSDR.
May 20, 2015 It was only a little after 8:30 a.m. but Jones told the staff member to instruct Housenger to get in touch with Breysse, and within two hours Housenger had penned an email to Breysse explaining that an EPA’s own re-evaluation/risk assessment of glyphosate was nearing completion, and asking Breysse if “you would still feel the need to do your assessment.” Housenger told Breysse that he already had reached the individual assigned to the ATSDR assessment and she had indicated she would “coordinate” with EPA, but that was not sufficient. Housenger did not mention Monsanto’s outreach to EPA on the issue, but instead questioned “whether this is a good use of government resources” for ATSDR to continue with its review. Breysse responded that he would “look into this” and Housenger thanked him for his quick response. Breysse then reached out to an ATSDR division director named James Stephens to arrange a discussion about the EPA request.
May 21, 2015 James Stephens wrote back to Patrick Breysse that the ATSDR team thought the EPA work “overlaps but isn’t totally duplicative…” and stated that the ASTDR team has not been able to see draft copies of the EPA’s work. “I think we would all welcome further discussion with EPA but would hope to use it to help us find out more about what they are doing, ” he told Breysse. After hearing from Stephens, Breysse wrote back to Housenger saying ATSDR staff would be in touch to discuss. Housenger replied with his reiteration that the ATSDR review would be a “duplicative government effort” and that the EPA draft would be out in July of 2015. (As of this writing, that EPA preliminary risk assessment still has not been released, though in 2016 the EPA did release a cancer assessment report that declared glyphosate was not likely to cause cancer.)
June 4, 2015 Pressing the issue, EPA’s Housenger wrote again to Breysee to say he had not heard from anyone yet. The ATSDR’s Stephens wrote back promising to make sure “someone gives you a ring.”Internal Monsanto emails show that at the same time, Monsanto was also pushing the “duplicative” narrative with HHS, meeting on June 4 with HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Health Mitchel Wolfe to ask him to help repudiate the IARC classification and to recognize that a review of glyphosate was “not the primary role” for his agency. “Dr. Wolfe said he would follow up on what was going on with ATSDR and he was encouraged to have discussions with EPA staff, as well,” a Monsanto memo detailing the meeting states.
June 9, 2015 Henry Abadin, an ATSDR supervisory scientist, reported to Stephens that he had talked with Housenger and explained that the agency did not believe it was “duplicating efforts.” Nevertheless, he said he told EPA, “we did not have a problem with putting the glyphosate profile on hold, pending the OPP final report.”
June 19, 2015 To further ensure the ATSDR review didn’t move forward, Monsanto’s Dykes talked again with HHS’s Wolfe, asking for an update on ATSDR. “I explained… our question was about the purpose and scope of such a duplicative review by ATSDR. I also told him that we were concerned that ATSDR may come out any day with a report. I again stressed that we were concerned that they were even reviewing glyphosate as were the people we talked with at EPA,” Dykes wrote to colleagues.
June 21, 2015 It was a Sunday, but Monsanto’s Dykes was still concerned enough about the ATSDR review to copy multiple colleagues on a late night email to report that he had continued to press the “duplicative” point with ATSDR but was concerned about a “glyphosate review coming any day.”In a text message sent that same day, Monsanto scientist Eric Sachs reached out to a former EPA toxicologist named Mary Manibusan asking for contacts at ATSDR. “We’re trying to do everything we can to keep from having a domestic IARC occur w this group. may need your help,” Sachs wrote. The text messages were among certain internal Monsanto records obtained by cancer victims who are suing Monsanto alleging Roundup caused their diseases.
June 23, 2015 By Tuesday, Monsanto’s Jenkins had good news: He had heard from Housenger that the EPA official had been successful in garnering a promise from ATSDR to put its report “on hold.” The review was not dead, however, he wrote: ATSDR argues “that their process is distinguishable and not duplicative. They look at different endpoints and told EPA they don’t “make a call on cancer”, but I think we should continue to be cautious.”
On June 24,2015 Monsanto’s chief scientist William Heydens responded: “’Distinguishable and not duplicative’? Seriously? And I will believe the not ‘making a call on cancer’ part when I see it. Anyway, at least they know they are being watched, and hopefully that keeps them from doing anything too stupid…” Jenkins wrote back, acknowledging that Monsanto had much more to fear from ATSDR than EPA as the two agencies had arrived at “different conclusions” on other issues. He reported he had been told ATSDR was “VERY conservative and IARC like…”
By October 23, 2015 EPA and Monsanto had the ATSDR review fully on hold. EPA’s Housenger wrote to update Monsanto’s Jenkins: “They are waiting for our glyphosate RA. And they agreed to share what they do.”
That same month, the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), which was chaired by Rowland, issued an internal report stating that contrary to IARC, the EPA’s review of glyphosate found it “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The EPA still has yet to issue the overall new risk assessment it said would be out in 2015. The agency has offered ever-changing timelines for the assessment, but now says its intends to release a draft risk assessment sometime this year. That will be followed by a 60-day public comment period. After the public comment period the EPA will determine whether any risk management is needed. In the meantime, Monsanto has cited the EPA’s backing of glyphosate safety as repudiation of the IARC finding both in court and with regulators in Europe who are also looking at glyphosate safety issues.
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment about its efforts to delay the ATSDR report or communications with Monsanto regarding that effort.
But Brent Wisner, a lawyer representing many of the cancer victims who are suing Monsanto, said the documents offer damning evidence of improperly close ties between the EPA and the chemical company. “I think it’s very clear… that EPA officials and Monsanto employees worked together to accomplish a goal of stopping that analysis at ATSDR. That is collusion. I don’t know what else you’d call that,” said Wisner.
For its part, the ATSDR said this week that the review it started in 2015 “is not complete” but that it anticipates a draft glyphosate toxicological profile to be issued for public comment by the end of this year. A spokesperson for the agency declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding the delay in the review.
And Jones, whose EPA job ended when the Trump administration took over, defended his responsiveness to Monsanto’s concern about the ATSDR review, saying it had only to do with the “efficient use of government resources.”
“Had any party contacted me and informed me that another agency within the Administration was simultaneously assessing a chemical as my organization, I would have intervened,” Jones said. “There is no value to the same government investing limited resources to work on the same issue. As you know resources at the federal level were and are scarce which made duplication even more problematic.” Jones said additionally that “when two organizations assess the same chemical, it is very likely there will be differences in their assessments.Even when these differences don’t matter from a public health perspective, an enormous amount of energy is spent attempting to resolve these differences” and that is not ultimately in the “public interest.”
Monsanto Relied on These “Partners” to Attack Top Cancer Scientists
This fact sheet describes the contents of Monsanto’s confidential public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research unit, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in order to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, the international group of experts on the IARC panel judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.
The Monsanto plan names more than a dozen “industry partner” groups that company executives planned to “inform / inoculate / engage” in their efforts to protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent the “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies.” Partners included academics as well as chemical and food industry front groups, trade groups and lobby groups — follow the links below to fact sheets that provide more information about the partner groups.
Together these fact sheets provide a sense of the depth and breadth of the corporate attack on the IARC cancer experts in defense of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide.
Monsanto’s objectives for dealing with the IARC carcinogenicity rating for glyphosate (page 5).
A key document released in 2017 in legal proceedings against Monsanto describes the corporation’s “preparedness and engagement plan” for the IARC cancer classification for glyphosate, the world’s most widely used agrichemical. The internal Monsanto document — dated Feb. 23, 2015 — assigns more than 20 Monsanto staffers to objectives including “neutralize impact of decision,” “regulator outreach,” “ensure MON POV” and “lead voice in ‘who is IARC’ plus 2B outrage.” On March 20, 2015, IARC announced its decision to classify glyphosate as Group 2A carcinogen, “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Page 5 of the Monsanto document identifies four tiers of “industry partners” that Monsanto executives planned to engage in its IARC preparedness plan. These groups together have a broad reach and influence in pushing a narrative about cancer risk that protects corporate profits.
Tier 1 industry partners are agrichemical industry-funded lobby and PR groups.
Tier 3 industry partners are food-industry funded nonprofit and trade groups. These groups were tapped to, “Alert food companies via Stakeholder Engagement team (IFIC, GMA, CFI) for ‘inoculation strategy’ to provide early education on glyphosate residue levels, describe science-based studies versus agenda-driven hypotheses” of the independent cancer panel.
Tier 4 industry partners are “key grower’s associations.” These are the various trade groups representing corn, soy and other industrial growers and food manufacturers.
Orchestrating outcry against the cancer report on glyphosate
Monsanto’s PR document described their plans to conduct robust media and social media outreach to “orchestrate outcry with the IARC decision.”
How that played out can be seen in the writings of the industry partner groups that used common messaging and sources to accuse the cancer research agency of wrongdoing and attempt to discredit the scientists who worked on the glyphosate report.
Examples of the attack messaging can be seen on the Genetic Literacy Project website. This group claims to be an independent source on science, however, documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that Genetic Literacy Project works with Monsanto on PR projects without disclosing those collaborations. Jon Entine launched the group in 2011 when Monsanto was a client of his PR firm. This is a classic front group tactic; moving a company’s messaging through a group that claims to be independent but isn’t.
Plan suggests Sense About Science to “lead industry response”
Monsanto’s PR document discusses plans to conduct robust media and social media outreach to “orchestrate outcry with the IARC decision.” The plan suggests the group Sense About Science (in brackets with a question mark) for “leads industry response and provides platform for IARC observers and industry spokesperson.”
Page 2 of the Monsanto PR document identifies the first external deliverable for planning and preparation: “Engage Henry Miller” to “inoculate / establish public perspective on IARC and reviews.”
“I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.”
Henry I. Miller, MD, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, has a long documented history of working with corporations to defend hazardous products. The Monsanto plan identifies the “MON owner” of the task as Eric Sachs, Monsanto’s science, technology and outreach lead.
Documents later reported by The New York Times reveal that Sachs emailed Miller a week before the IARC glyphosate report to ask if Miller was interested in writing about the “controversial decision.” Miller responded, “I would if I could start with a high-quality draft.” On March 23, Miller posted an article on Forbes that “largely mirrored” the draft provided by Monsanto, according to the Times. Forbes severed its relationship with Miller in the wake of the ghostwriting scandal and deleted his articles from the site.
Monsanto’s senior science lead Daniel Goldstein wrote his colleagues, “I can assure you I am not all starry eyed about ACSH- they have PLENTY of warts- but: You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH” (emphasis his). Goldstein sent links to dozens of ACSH materials promoting and defending GMOs and pesticides that he described as “EXTREMELY USEFUL.”
Geoffrey Kabat, PhD, is a cancer epidemiologist and author of two books arguing that that health hazards of pesticides, electromagnetic fields, secondhand tobacco smoke and other environmental exposures are “greatly overblown.” He is often quoted in the press as an independent expert on cancer risk. Reporters who use Dr. Kabat as a source should be aware of (and disclose) his longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and involvement with groups that partner with the chemical industry on PR and lobbying campaigns.
Both Genetic Literacy Project and ACSH partnered with Monsanto on a public relations campaign to attempt to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for its report that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is a probable human carcinogen. According to documents released via litigation:
A Monsanto PR plan (February 2015) named Genetic Literacy Project among the “industry partners” Monsanto planned to engage in its efforts to “neutralize [the] impact” of the IARC report. The goals of Monsanto’s plan were to “protect the reputation and FTO of Roundup” and “provide cover for regulatory agencies…” GLP has since posted more than 200 articles critical of the cancer agency.
Emails from February 2015 show that Monsanto funded ACSH on an ongoing basis and reached out to give ACSH the “full array” of Monsanto information about the IARC report on glyphosate. In the emails, Monsanto staffers discussed the usefulness of ACSH’s materials on pesticides, and one wrote, “You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH.” (emphasis in original)
ACSH staffers told Monsanto the IARC glyphosate report was on their radar, and noted, “We are involved in a full-court press re: IARC, regarding ag-chemicals, DINP [phthalate] and diesel exhaust.”
Another example of how Dr. Kabat aids the Monsanto-connected groups can be found in his efforts to discredit a different group of scientists who raised cancer concerns about glyphosate in a February 2019 meta-analysis. The meta-analysis, co-authored by three scientists who were tapped by EPA to serve on an expert scientific advisory committee on glyphosate, reported “compelling links” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Dr. Kabat skewered the analysis in an article that was first published on Forbes but was later removed after Forbes editors received complaints about Kabat’s lack of disclosure about his ties to ACSH. When questioned about the issue, Forbes said the article was pulled because it violated Forbes standards and Kabat would no longer be a contributor to Forbes.
Dr. Kabat’s deleted Forbes article can still be read on Science 2.0, a website run by the former director of ACSH, and a version appears on Genetic Literacy Project. GLP Executive Director Jon Entine promoted Dr. Kabat’s article along with suggestions that the scientists may have committed “deliberate fraud.”
For more information about industry-orchestrated attacks on IARC, see:
Dr. Kabat has published several papers favorable to the tobacco industry that were funded by the tobacco industry. He and his co-author on some of those papers, James Enstrom (a trustee of the American Council on Science and Health), have longstanding ties to the tobacco industry, according to a 2005 paper in BMJ Tobacco Control.
In a widely cited 2003 paper in BMJ, Kabat and Enstrom concluded that secondhand smoke does not increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. The study was sponsored in part by the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR), a tobacco industry group. Although that funding was disclosed, a follow-up analysis in BMJ Tobacco Control found that the disclosures provided by Kabat and Enstrom, although they met the journal’s standards, “did not provide the reader with a full picture of the tobacco industry’s involvement with the study authors. The tobacco industry documents reveal that the authors had long standing financial and other working relationships with the tobacco industry.” (emphasis added)
This table in the BMJ Tobacco Control paper reports the early ties:
In 2008, Kabat and Enstrom published a paper partly funded by Phillip Morris reporting that previous assessments appeared to have overestimated the strength of the association between environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease.
In 2012, Dr. Kabat co-authored a paper finding that mentholated cigarettes were not an important contributor to esophageal cancer. For that paper, Dr. Kabat declared he had “served as a consultant to a law firm and to a consulting firm on the health effects of menthol cigarettes.”
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:
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 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.
California OEHHA: 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.
Agricultural Health Study: 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, but the researchers reported 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:
April 2019: the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued its draft toxicological profile for glyphosate. The report confirms increased cancer risk from glyphosate exposures. (Emails released via court proceedings show officials at EPA and Monsanto trying to stop the ATSDR report; read the emails here.)
More than 11,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto Company (now Bayer) alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks. As part of the discovery process, Monsanto has had to turn over millions of pages of its internal records. We are posting these Monsanto Papers as they become available here. For news and tips about the ongoing legislation, see Carey Gillam’s Roundup Trial Tracker. The first two trials ended with juries ruling that Monsanto’s weed killer was a substantial contributing factor in causing the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and giving large awards for liability and damages.
A study for the European Parliament published January 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.
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.
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.
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 threeunanimousverdicts 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’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.”
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!”
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”
Documents obtained by the U.S. Rightto 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”