FDA FOIA Documents Regarding Glyphosate Residue Testing

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The Food and Drug Administration has responded to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information regarding its efforts to start testing food samples for residues of glyphosate as well as some other herbicides, including 2,4-D.

Many of those documents can be accessed below:

FDA FOIA 2017-7005

FDA FOIA 2017-7005 part 2

FDA Final Responsive Records (2017-7005) Part 3 (Redacted)

FDA FOIA 2017-7005 attachments

CFSAN Responsive Records (2017-7005) Interim Response Part 2 (OC-ORA red boxed emails)_Redacted (1)

FDA FOIA Objectives herbicide analysis

FDA Pestag Meeting Minutes April 19, 2017

FDA March 15, 2017 PesTAG Meeting Minutes

FDA Minutes of phone call Feb 10, 2016

Email of intrigue: “IARC is killing us!”

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As researchers we often look to documents to shed new light on issues important to food policy. Sometimes, they simply reflect what we already know.

That’s the case with one new communication string that adds to evidence of a far-reaching strategy by food industry players to discredit and diminish the world’s leading cancer research agency. We’ve already seen documents from Monsanto and other chemical industry interests laying out plans to tear apart the credibility of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) because of its classification of Monsanto’s weed killer glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

Now we see evidence that other food industry players are part of the scheme; working to head off potentially damaging IARC scrutiny of food additives such as aspartame, sucralose, and more.

The email of intrigue was obtained through a state open records request.  It shows communication between James Coughlin, a one-time scientist for Kraft General Foods Inc. who operates a food and “nutritional” consulting business, and Timothy Pastoor, a retired toxicologist with the agrochemical giant Syngenta AG who now runs his own “science communications” business. Also included on a portion of the email string is Monsanto PR man Jay Byrne, who runs a “reputation management” and public relations business, and Douglas Wolf, a former Environmental Protection Agency scientist now with Syngenta.

In the October 2016 email, Coughlin tells Pastoor how he’s been “fighting IARC forever!!” dating back to his time at Kraft. He relates the time he spent criticizing the international cancer agency to a U.S. House of Representatives staffer who was coordinating an effort to strip U.S. funding from IARC.

And then, articulating the deep fear the food industry holds for the cancer agency, he gets to the meat of the matter: “IARC is killing us!” he writes. The 2-page string can be found here. An excerpt is below:

Outstanding Book of the Year: Whitewash by Carey Gillam

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Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, by Carey Gillam (Island Press) has been named an Outstanding Book of the Year by the Independent Book Publisher Awards.

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

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.

Book Description

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.

http://careygillam.com/book
Publication date October 2017

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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

EPA Glyphosate Registration Review Public Comments Now Due

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For anyone interested in commenting on the EPA’s latest safety review of the weed killing chemical glyphosate:

  • Docket ID:EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361
  • Abstract:Federal Register for Tuesday, February 27, 2018 (83 FR 8476) (FRL–9973–07) EPA–HQ–OPP–2017–0720; Registration Review; Draft Human Health and/or Ecological Risk Assessments for Several Pesticides; Notice of Availability
  • Document Type:Notice
  • Status:Posted
  • Received Date:Feb 27, 2018
  • FR Citation:83
  • Start-End Page:8476 – 8478
  • Comment Start Date:Feb 27, 2018
  • Comment Due Date:Apr 30, 2018
  • Glyphosate Case 0178 EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361 glyphosateRegReview@epa.gov (703) 347-0292.

See all details here: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361

Report from the Glyphosate Daubert Hearings

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Update 3/19: Judge Chhabria ordered an additional hearing for two of the plaintiffs’ witnesses. Follow Carey Gillam on Twitter for more updates about the legislation and we continue to post documents on our Monsanto Papers page.

Court Transcripts from Daubert Hearings 

Friday March 9 transcript

Thursday March 8 transcript

Wednesday March 7 transcript

Tuesday March 6 transcript

Monday March 5 transcript

Oral arguments and other court documents posted here

Science Week Blog 

U.S. Right to Know Research Director Carey Gillam reported from U.S. Federal Court in San Francisco during the March 5-9, 2018 Daubert Hearings, where Judge Vince Chhabria heard expert testimony about the science regarding the safety of glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. Some reports were filed by USRTK Co-Director Stacy Malkan.

For updates, documents and analysis from the litigation, see the Monsanto Papers page. More more information about glyphosate, see our science fact sheet, Carey Gillam’s reporting on glyphosate and Gillam’s book, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science” (Island Press, 2017)

Reports in chronological order.

Updated: 03/05/2018 10:09

Farmers Vs. Monsanto: Glyphosate Showdown Comes to US Court in San Francisco:
“Science Week” in a federal court will decide if farmer cancer lawsuits move forward

US Right to Know News Release, March 5, 2018 — A federal court hearing in San Francisco this week will turn a spotlight on the science surrounding the world’s most widely used pesticide, glyphosate, and will determine whether farmers and their families will be able to proceed with legal action against Monsanto Co. over cancer concerns.

More than 365 lawsuits are pending against Monsanto 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.

The court has dubbed the March 5-9 events as “science week” because the only evidence to be presented will come from experts in cancer science, including epidemiologists, toxicologists, and biomedical statistical analysts called to analyze relevant research. The scientists will present their best scientific evidence to U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria, who will decide if the lawsuits move forward or are halted in their tracks.

Journalist and author Carey Gillam of U.S. Right to Know will be live blogging the event from the court house. Follow her posts here: https://usrtk.org/live-updates-monsanto-hearing/

See also:

03/05/2018 10:39 by Carey Gillam

Michael Baum of Baum Hedlund, counsel for the farmers and their families who are suing Monsanto over cancer concerns explains what’s at stake in this week’s hearings. https://www.facebook.com/USRightToKnow/videos/1662246967174627/

Updated: 03/06/2018 10:10 by Carey Gillam 

Showdown in San Fran underway 

The showdown is underway in San Francisco.

Teams of dark-suited attorneys filled the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria on Monday morning to wrestle over the science surrounding cancer concerns and Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

With more than 365 lawsuits combined in the multi district litigation under the purview of Judge Chhabria, there were more plaintiffs attorneys than seats at the plaintiffs table, so they spilled out into the rows set aside for the public.

Laptops and yellow, lined legal pads crowded the tables for the opposing counsels as many furiously took notes and kept track of the time, well aware that each side has a limit of 11 hours to present their scientific case to the judge in a hearing that runs through Friday. The plaintiffs must demonstrate that they have scientific evidence to back their claims that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

The hearings are an interim, but very important step in the litigation as these hearings allow for Chhabria to determine if the expert scientists plaintiffs have lined up to testify regarding causation will be permitted to testify at trial. The focus in those determinations is whether the experts used a recognized, reliable methodology for arriving at their opinions. If the judge the litigation can proceed to trial, a jury would then decide whether the evidence more likely than not shows Roundup caused the individual’s NHL.

First up to testify is plaintiffs’ expert witness Beate Ritz, Chair of the Epidemiology Department at UCLA, of Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH).

Under the questioning of plaintiffs’ attorney Kathryn Forgie, Ritz walked the judge through a series of epidemiology studies conducted over the years that show statistically significant risk factors linking glyphosate to cancer. The literature shows that the risk to individuals considered “routine users” of glyphosate was significant, she testified.

Judge Chhabria quizzed Ritz on several aspects of the scientific research and appeared concerned about whether or not studies were adjusted for exposure to other pesticides.

When asked about a study Monsanto has pointed to as critical evidence that there is no non-Hodgkin lymphoma link to glyphosate, Ritz explained that the study – a cohort called the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) – had several short-comings.

Among the problems, she testified, the AHS data on glyphosate relied heavily on memories of individuals filling out questionnaires to asses usage. It also is smaller than desired and has not followed people long enough, she said. “Recall error” is “really the enemy of exposure assessment,” she said.

03/05/2018 13:25 by Carey Gillam 

Getting Interesting 

A lawyer sitting next to me in first row describes this as the “post -lunch sag.”

But it’s just starting to get interesting – After a brief lunch break, epidemiologist Beate Ritz resumed testimony with a detailed discussion of meta-analyses. She says that with respect to glyphosate, there is animal data but “more importantly“ human data that shows an association between lymphoma and glyphosate. She said “DNA breaks have been shown to occur when individuals are exposed.” She says that her conclusion is that glyphosate and glyphosate based herbicides “do indeed cause NHL.”

But when Judge Chhabria asks her to be more specific – does she believe the pesticide is currently causing NHL or is “capable” of causing NHL, she said it was the latter. “We know that the toxicology is in the dose,” she said. That prompted some whispering among plaintiffs’ counsel and further questioning under which Ritz  said it would depend on the individual’s cases.

Monsanto attorneys now get their shot at Ritz.

03/05/2018 15:29 by Carey Gillam 

Ritz Concludes Testimony With Congrats from Judge

Whew – Five hours of testimony featuring plaintiffs’ expert witness, epidemiologist Beate Ritz, concluded in chuckles all around as Federal Court Judge Vince Chhabria told Ritz “congratulations” for her enthusiastic, though sometimes-prickly, testimony regarding her views of multiple studies looking at glyphosate and connections to cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Chhabria had to admonish Ritz more than once during her cross-examination by Monsanto attorney Eric Lasker to stop asking Lasker questions and telling him what questions to ask. The judge offered – in jest – to set aside time later in the week for Ritz to do her own cross-examination of Lasker in what was a rare light moment in the otherwise serious scrutiny of the science.

Before she exited the witness chair, Chhabria asked her if she believes that current levels of glyphosate exposures is causing or has caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Ritz said that good exposure quantification data is lacking but when pressed by the judge to say whether or not the studies she reviewed show that glyphosate has caused NHL in people she replied: “Yes I think they do.”

Next up: Dennis Weisenburger, a physician and pathologist who specializes in the study of NHL, takes the stand. He is Chair of the Pathology Department of the City of Hope Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska.

03/05/2018 17:02 by Carey Gillam

“There is biological plausibility”

A long day of testimony presented by plaintiffs’ witnesses concluded with strong statements by NHL expert Dennis Weisenburger laying out multiple studies that lend support to the plaintiffs’ allegations that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

As he did with prior witness Beate Ritz, the judge asked Weisenburger if he believed not just that the pesticide was capable of causing NHL but if it is at exposures people are currently experiencing. Weisenburger answered affirmatively.

“The body of evidence is strong evidence,” said Weisenburger. Glyphosate and the glyphosate-based formulations, including Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), he told Judge Chhabria.

Weisenburger spent time walking the court through studies that show DNA damage in people exposed to glyphosate, including through aerial spraying. Research shows that both glyphosate and formulations cause genetic damage, the type that leads to NHL, he said.

“There is biological plausibility.”

He testified that both animal studies and studies of human exposed to glyphosate showed connections between the chemical and cancer.

In one study, the North American Pooled Project (NAPP) the risk for NHL increased almost two fold when for people who used glyphosate more than two days per year. In animal studies, Weisenburger said there were “dose-related effects for multiple tumors.” As well, one mouse study showed rare tumors in exposed animals.

“There is a body of evidence that is pretty compelling that glyphosate and the formulations are genotoxic in living cells,” he testified.

Like Ritz, Weisenburger was dismissive of new results recently published as part of the Agricultural Health Study that showed no connection between glyphosate and NHL.

Though Monsanto has sought to portray this research as definitive evidence of no relationship between cancer and its weed killer, both scientists who testified today said the research has several flaws that made it unreliable for a determination on glyphosate, including that its span was too short, recall bias concerns, and lack of actual data on increased glyphosate usage over years.

Monsanto’s attorneys will get their chance to cross examine Weisenburger on Tuesday.

Stay tuned…..

Updated: 03/06/2018 10:58 by Stacy Malkan 

Transcript March 5, 2018 

Here is the link to the transcript of testimony from Monday, March 5 in the Roundup Products Liability litigation. This document and all court and discovery documents from the litigation are posted on the US Right to Know Monsanto Papers page.

Updated: 03/06/2018 11:20 by Carey Gillam 

Science Week, Day Two 

Testimony was about to get underway for the second day of “science week” with plaintiffs’ expert witness Dennis Weisenburger due to get back on the stand. Weisenburger, Chair of the Pathology Department of the City of Hope Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, specializes in the study of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

Weisenburger spent much of Monday afternoon summarizing for Judge Vince Chhabria his belief that analysis of many research studies provides strong evidence that glyphosate and glyphosate-based weed killers like Monsanto’s Roundup can cause exposed individual’s to develop NHL.

Monsanto attorneys will get their chance to cross examine Weisenburger Tuesday afternoon after he completes his direct testimony.

Each side is claiming they have science on their side: “The question before this Court is all about the science,” Monsanto attorneys wrote in a pre-hearing court filing. “The science at issue consists of actual studies and data, not conjecture and speculation.” Monsanto argues that plaintiffs’ evidence is “littered with carefully selected, out-of-context, e-mails, memoranda, and other internal Monsanto documents which, according to plaintiffs’ allegations in their briefing, show purported ghostwriting of review articles (not original studies themselves) or allegedly improper corporate conduct.

Plaintiffs’ counter to that argument is this: “The methodology applied by Monsanto’s experts turns not on sound science but rather on whether the evidence at issue is favorable or unfavorable to Monsanto’s position. Where the evidence is favorable, it receives minimal scrutiny and Monsanto’s experts often fail to find any flaws or shortcomings. Yet when the evidence shows a positive association between exposure to glyphosate-based formulations (GBFs) and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), Monsanto’s experts concoct an inquiry that consistently leads them to disregard the positive evidence in its entirety. Inconsistencies or controverting evidence do not curtail this approach. Rather, when confronted with reliable positive evidence of causation, Monsanto’s experts develop novel methods to discount findings, including manufacturing new theories or facts.”

Plaintiffs’ initial exhibit list totaled 252 listed items, while Monsanto’s listed more than 1,000 total items.

One of many sticking points in the presentation of evidence has been Monsanto’s fierce objection to the potential use of an estimated 1,500 pages of data from a controversial 1983 mouse study that EPA scientists initially saw as concerning evidence of the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate. Monsanto was eventually successful in convincing EPA that its analysis was flawed and that the study actually reflected no reason for concern.

Plaintiffs have sought to dig into that study data, which Monsanto has opposed. “The hundreds of pages of raw data that plaintiffs seek to have de-designated are inarguably confidential,” Monsanto wrote of the plaintiffs’ desire to discuss the mouse study in the hearings this week.

One issue that the experts must address for Judge Chhabria has to do with studies that make connections between glyphosate exposure and NHL but do not adjust for exposure to other pesticides. The judge stated multiple times that he sees that as a concern and wants a better understanding of the issue as the hearing progresses. “This continues to be an issue for me,” he said shortly before court concluded on Monday.

The judge also has warned attorneys that he needs a better understanding of the issue of “recall bias” in epidemiology research and how that may impact findings.

Following Weisenburger’s testimony, plaintiffs’ plan to present testimony from Alfred Neugut and then Charles “Bill” Jameson.

Neugut is a practicing medical oncologist, a professor of cancer research and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University.

Jameson has participated as a member of the working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer and is a member of the American Chemical Society and the Society of Toxicology and he participates in peer reviews for six scientific journals.

Updated: 03/06/2018 15:56 by Carey Gillam

Rough and Tumble 

It was a tough cross-examination for plaintiffs’ expert Dennis Weisenburger, who was grilled on multiple areas of his analysis by Monsanto attorney Kirby Griffis. After leaving the witness stand and taking a seat in the front row of the public seating area, he expressed relief to be finished, remarking, “It’s like going to hell and coming back.”

Monsanto’s attorney opened his cross by showing a slide with text from a deposition that showed Weisenburger answering affirmatively to a question asking if his standard for offering opinions in published articles was more rigorous for offering his opinion in litigation matters. He accused Weisenburger of not presenting a full picture of the available data regarding glyphosate, and Griffis elicited testimony from Weisenburger confirming that a wave of NHL was identified in the 1950s, a time long before glyphosate was introduced to the market by Monsanto in 1974, underscoring there are other causes for the cancer.

Toward the end of this testimony, even questions from Judge Chhabria were hot to handle. The judge wanted to know how was it possible to connect glyphosate to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in people diagnosed in the late 1970s and early 1980s given glyphosate only came on the market in 1974 and given expert testimony that NHL can take more than two decades to develop from pesticide exposure. The judge suggested it should be “assumed” that something other than glyphosate caused the NHL in those people who were part of early studies.

“That is obviously what the defense is trying to say,” Weisenburger replied, but acknowledged that there are other pesticides associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Next on the stand- Alfred Neugut. a practicing medical oncologist who is professor of cancer research and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University. In his opening direct testimony he says there is great specificity with research showing a connection between glyphosate and NHL.

Scientists do not see repeated evidence of ties between glyphosate and several other types of cancer, but commonly see non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “Every time you look what comes up? Glyphosate and NHL,” he said.

Neugut testified that there is no perfect scientific study but consistency in study findings cannot be ignored.

He spoke so rapidly that the judge and court reporter had to caution him to slow down. “I’m from Brooklyn,” he replied, drawing courtroom laughter.

03/06/2018 16:05 by Carey Gillam

“Shit Happens” 

Expert witness Alfred Neugut, testifying for plaintiffs Tuesday, addressed a study that Monsanto has claimed is significant evidence backing its claims that says glyphosate and Roundup do not cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) is an “excellent study for many things,” Neugut said, but for understanding any association – or lack of – between glyphosate and NHL, the study fails, he testified. An extraordinary increase in the use of glyphosate that started in the late 1990s dramatically changed the exposure level of farmers to glyphosate from the beginning of the study when baseline exposures were established. There are other flaws with the study, including a “loss to follow-up,” he said.

“You have an error on top of an error on top of an error… the AHS study is basically not so useful,” he said

When asked how a study that was so poorly done could get published as the AHS study was in November 2017, he shrugged and said “shit happens.”

Next up: Monsanto attorney Eric Lasker to begin his cross examination.

03/07/2018 10:33 by Carey Gillam 

Day 3 – Notes and Gift & a Shift to Toxicology 

Day three of the Roundup cancer “science week” hearing opened with a gift from Judge Chhabria to plaintiffs – a gift of time. The plaintiffs will have an extra 60 minutes to present their expert witness testimony added to the total of 11 hours each side has been allotted for this week’s events. The judge said because he has frequently taken up some of plaintiffs’ time with questions of witnesses, he decided the extra time was warranted. Plaintiffs had requested an additional 90 minutes. Monsanto is not due any extra time, he said.

The judge also noted that he had received an email message from a “citizen” regarding the proceedings, but that he had elected not to read the message. He did pass copies of it to both plaintiffs’ and Monsanto’s attorneys.

The hearing Wednesday began with a continuation of Monsanto’s cross of plaintiffs’ witness Alfred Neugut, an expert in epidemiology who is a practicing medical oncologist and professor of cancer research and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University.

Monsanto attorney Eric Lasker pushed Neugut on his position on the science, and repeatedly challenged the scientist’s memory regarding previous statements and analysis that the attorney portrayed as conflicting with his testimony in these events. Neugut at one point said he must have been mistaken before but was now correct.

Following Neugut’s testimony, the focus of the hearing today will move from epidemiology to toxicology research that plaintiffs’ cite as evidence backing their claims that Monsanto’s weed killer causes cancer.

The first toxicology expert to take the stand will be Charles Jameson (who goes by Bill). Jameson has served as program leader for the National Toxicology Program at the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for 12 years. He was a member of the working group for the International Agency for Research on Cancer that found glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen in March 2015.

With the turn to toxicology will likely come a turn to discussion of the 1983 mouse study that initially prompted EPA scientists to say the study showed evidence of glyphosate’s cancer-causing potential. It was only after pressure from Monsanto and a report from a pathologist hired by Monsanto – and years of discussions with EPA – that the official assessment of that study was changed to reflect no sign of carcinogenicity.

Monsanto sought to keep much of the data from that study out of court after plaintiffs said they would be introducing it, but the judge has said the study data will be allowed as evidence.

03/07/2018 10:49 by Carey Gillam 

Transcript from Tuesday’s Hearing 

03/07/2018 11:59 by Carey Gillam

Testimony About Animal Tumor Data 

Testimony by toxicology expert Bill Jameson on Wednesday sparked early objections from Monsanto attorneys as the former government scientist explained the body of research that led him to conclude that glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides (like Roundup) can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma at real-world exposures – levels farm workers and others face when using the weed killer. Judge Vince Chhabria overruled Monsanto’s objections.

Jameson was a member of the working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer  (IARC) which analyzed research on glyphosate and declared it to be a probable human carcinogen in March 2015.

Judge Chhabria posed several questions to Jameson about that IARC finding, noting that in human studies the IARC group concluded there was “limited” evidence of carcinogenicity, compared to “sufficient” evidence in animal research.

That led Jameson to explain that some scientists on the IARC working group thought the evidence was stronger than limited but others disagreed. Jameson joked: “If there are three epidemiologists in a room and you ask them their opinions you’ll get four opinions.”

He, like the scientists who testified Monday and Tuesday, said it is the weight of the combined animal and human data that demonstrates the carcinogenicity of the herbicide.

There are many animal studies on glyphosate, Jameson testified, saying that it is “extraordinary” to have so many animal studies to evaluate a chemical due to the cost of such studies. The fact that researchers have as many animal studies as they do for glyphosate adds to the strength of his conclusion that the chemical causes cancer, he said. Importantly, the animal research shows there is replication of several tumor sites, including liver tumors and malignant lymphoma, he said.

“We had a lot of replication for malignant lymphomas in the mouse,” he said. The same tumors were seen in different studies in different labs at different times, which underscores strength of conclusion of carcinogenicity, he said.

In her questioning of Jameson, plaintiffs’ attorney Aimee Wagstaff at one point presented a slide showing a page from an eight-hour deposition of Jameson, pointing out that Monsanto had only provide the judge with one small segment of Jameson’s actual statement regarding the data. The entire statement provided the needed context for the court, she said.

Updated: 03/07/2018 14:38 by Carey Gillam 

After lunch break, Monsanto crosses Jameson 

Following a short break for lunch, Monsanto attorney Joe Hollingsworth stepped up to cross examine plaintiffs’ expert witness Bill Jameson.

Hollingsworth launched his cross by pressing Jameson about distinctions between hazard and risk assessments, and comments Jameson made in a deposition.

They judge admonished Hollingsworth and suggested that rather than continuously asking Jameson about what he said in a deposition, the attorney should ask him about what he actually thinks.

“Why don’t you ask his about his opinion now, the judge told Hollingsworth. “That’s normally how we do it,” the judge said.

Hollingsworth did adjust his inquiry but when again asking Jameson about comments he made in a deposition led Jameson to reply that in his depositions taken by Monsanto “I’ve been misquoted and things have been taken out of context so many times… ”

When Hollingsworth continues to press Jameson to address comments Hollingsworth says Jameson made in a deposition, the judge again interrupts to admonish Hollingsworth, say that if Hollingsworth wants to ask Jameson questions about prior deposition testimony in the way that he is asking then Hollingsworth must provide him the full transcript of the deposition and the page number that contains the comment.

The Monsanto attorney say he has the comment available on a slide to show Jameson and the court. The judge tells him that is not good enough. The witness has to be able to see the comments in context, not pulled out on a slide, the judge tells Hollingsworth. Jameson is then allowed to find and read aloud his full comment.

Repeatedly the judge seems to take issue with Hollingsworth’s style of questioning, including saying it is “his fault” for talking over Jameson as the witness tries to answer questions.

Updated: 03/07/2018 15:47 by Carey Gillam

Little Bit of Legal Drama

A little bit of legal drama in afternoon testimony by plaintiffs’ expert witness Bill Jameson as Judge Vince Chhabria repeatedly admonished Monsanto lead attorney Joe Hollingsworth over his tactics in cross examining Jameson.

Chhabria seems especially vexed by Hollingsworth’s effort to open a line of questioning by asking Jameson about statements he made in a deposition. The judge told Hollingsworth multiple times throughout the cross examination to ask Jameson directly what his opinions about the science are now, and then if that contradicted something he said earlier Hollingsworth could explore the contradiction. He also criticized Hollingsworth for talking over Jameson as he tried to answer questions.

The judge showed noted concern over the possibility that Monsanto might be taking expert statements out of context. That concern was underscored when, in a particularly stern move that left plaintiffs’ attorneys giddy with delight, Judge Chhabria ordered Monsanto’s attorney to read aloud into the record two pages of testimony from a deposition that supported the expertise of Jameson’s analysis before he would allow Hollingsworth to introduce a separate example from a deposition that undercut Jameson’s expertise.

Hollingsworth protested the action but finally capitulated as the judge insisted. He then ended his cross examination of Jameson.

As Jameson’s testimony ended and he stepped down from the witness stand, he turned to the judge: “Thank you for the honor, your honor,” he said.

Following Jameson, Chris Portier, another in the line-up of plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, took the stand. Portier, who traveled from his home in Switzerland to testify, expressed a bit of nervousness before beginning his testimony under direct examination from New York-based attorney Robin Greenwald.

Portier introduced his expert view that the probability that glyphosate cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma is “high.”

In his testimony, Portier tacked the Greim 2015 study, which Monsanto and supporters have said supports their position that glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer. ( Internal Monsanto documents state the Greim paper was ghost-written by a Monsanto scientist.) Portier said the work was poorly documented, providing only summary data and not providing individual animal data, among other short-comings.

Updated: 03/07/2018 16:54 by Carey Gillam  

Court Adjourns for the Day 

UPDATE – Dust up after court adjourns: Plaintiffs’ had provided Monsanto attorneys with a copy of the slide deck they were using for Portier’s direct testimony. But when court adjourned in the middle of testimony, they wanted the slide deck back – or at least the portions they had not yet covered. Monsanto attorneys having their game plan overnight was “prejudicial” plaintiffs’ attorneys protested. But Monsanto attorney Eric Lasker shrugged off the request from plaintiffs’ attorney Aimee Wagstaff that they return the slide deck. A Monsanto attorney had already walked out with the documents and Lasker was not inclined to try to retrieve them. A frustrated Wagstaff requested “judicial assistance” from the judge but retreated after Lasker said they had written notes on the slide deck and refused to give them back.

A long day of testimony wrapped up with plaintiffs’ expert witness Chris Portier laying out for the court detailed and highly technical methodology and analysis that he said supports his views that glyphosate has a strong causal connection to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Monsanto has criticized Portier for pooling results from multiple research studies in ways that are aimed at intentionally generating data that favors plaintiffs’ claims against Monsanto, but Portier denied that bias in his testimony Wednesday.

The scientist explained such things as “latency” to the court, and discussed his “sensitivity analysis” of studies done in rats and mice in the 1980s and 1990s.

More direct testimony is slated for Thursday morning from Portier and then his cross-examination. After that, Monsanto will likely get its turn to present its own experts to the judge. The company has said they will present four witnesses.

After this week’s testimony, lawyers for both sides will get their chance to make oral arguments to the judge sometime in the next two weeks. The judge will make a ruling on whether or not the plaintiffs’ witnesses who are providing their scientific opinions regarding causation will be permitted to testify at trial.

The focus for the judge’s decision is whether the experts are using recognized, reliable methodology to arrive at their opinions. If he determines any or all of the witnesses are not relying on this proper scientific foundation he can exclude them from testifying, a move that would be a powerful blow to plaintiffs’ case and a win for Monsanto.

I am sorry to say I have to head to New York City on Thursday, and so will miss the final two days of testimony. But USRTK will be making transcripts available and the video recording of the full hearing when the web link becomes available after the conclusion of this week’s events.

Updated: 03/09/2018 09:50 by Carey Gillam

Transcripts from March 7 & 8 hearing 

I had to jet off to another city but here is the transcript from March 7’s hearing, https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Transcript-hearing-March-7-2018.pdf and here is the transcript from Thursday’s events https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Transcript-for-Daubert-Hearing-March-8-2018.pdf

Colleague Stacy Malkan is headed to court today to keep you all informed!

Updated: 03/09/2018 14:43 by Stacy Malkan

Last Day of Daubert Testimony 

Entering the final inning of Science Week as the plaintiff’s attorney is about to begin cross examination of cancer epidemilogist Dr. Lorelei Mucci, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Last witness! More updates soon from the testimony of Dr. Mucci and earlier testimony by plaintiff’s witness Dr. Chadi Nabhan, a board certified clinical medical oncologist and past assistant professor at the University of Chicago.

Updated: 03/15/2018 10:45 by Stacy Malkan

Science Week Concludes in Federal Court 

(updated)

Dr. Mucci’s cross exam is complete, and that’s a wrap for testimony for glyphosate Science Week. Judge Chhabria calls for a round of applause for the court reporter; “we can all agree she had the hardest job in the room this week.” Oral arguments are set for Weds at 10 a.m.

Today, the last two witnesses presented: Dr. Chadi Nabhan for the plaintiffs (he couldn’t get here until today) and Dr. Lorelei Mucci for the defense. Dr. Nabhan is an oncologist who serves as medical director of Cardinal Health and has 17 years of clinical practice and academic research focused on lymphomas.

Dr. Nabhan discussed the process by which the International Agency for Research on Cancer conducts its monographs to determine whether chemicals cause cancer. The agency has a high bar to consider what it reviews, he said – exposures must be high and animal data strong. Since 1965, IARC has reviewed 1003 agents and found 20% to be carcinogens; 120 classified as carcinogenic and 81 classified as probably carcinogenic, including glyphosate.

“In my opinion, the (NHL) risk (of glyphosate exposure) is clinically significant enough that patients should be aware of it,” Dr, Nabhan said. “The IARC report is very convincing.”

Dr. Nabhan does not have a high opinion of the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) that was the topic of much of today’s discussion. “There are so many flaws in this study that it’s impossible to draw any conclusions,” he said. He shrugged off the updated analysis is “an updated analysis of an already flawed study.”

Last up was Dr. Lorelei Mucci for the Monsanto defense. Dr. Mucci is an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Her major research and teaching area is cancer epidemiology.

Dr. Mucci discussed in her view the strengths and limitations of four epidemiological studies (transcript here with details) in particular the AHS study. Investigators of the AHS cohort analysis reported no evidence of association between exposure to glyphosate and risk of NHL, accounting for both short and long term exposures.

Much of Dr. Mucci’s testimony focused on questions from the judges about the validity of self reporting in the questionnaires filled out by pesticide applicators about their exposure to glyphosate. Dr. Mucci explained why she believes the reporting was reliable, and is confident in the study findings of no evidence of positive association between exposure and NHL risk and no evidence of dose response.

In cross examination, Dr. Mucci clarified that her expert opinion was based on epidemiological data that IARC looked at and that has come out since, the updated AHS and updated analysis of the North American Pooled Project. She did not consider toxicological data or animal data.

Updated: 03/12/2018 11:58 by Stacy Malkan

Transcripts and What’s Next? 

Testimony is complete in five days of Daubert Hearings to review the scientific evidence linking glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, to a type of cancer found more commonly in farmers than the general population. Closing arguments are set for Wednesday March 14 (time TBD). U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria will then decide whether there is evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claim that exposure to Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), and if the experts providing scientific opinions regarding causation will be permitted to testify at trial.

The events, dubbed “Science Week” by the court because all the testimony came from experts in cancer science, marked the first time that the body of research relating to glyphosate and NHL was analyzed under oath. The stakes are high for the farmers and their families suing Monsanto, and for the company that derives nearly a third of its revenue from glyphosate-based products.

Below are the transcripts from glyphosate Science Week. Other court and discovery documents from the glyphosate trails, along with reporting and analysis, are posted on the USRTK Monsanto Papers page.

Friday March 9 transcript

Thursday March 8 transcript

Wednesday March 7 transcript

Tuesday March 6 transcript

Monday March 5 transcript

Updated: 03/13/2018 12:22 by Stacy Malkan

Videos of Daubert Hearings Now Posted 

The US Court, Northern District of California has posted all video footage of the March 5-9 “Science Week” Daubert Hearings in the Roundup products liability litigation against Monsanto Company.

You can find the videos here: http://www.uscourts.gov/cameras-courts/re-roundup-products-liability-litigation

The court website provides some interesting history about cameras in courts, and the continuing pilot program under which the glyphosate hearings were recorded — the only Daubert Hearings to date available for viewing on the court website. A win for transparency in our view!

That’s a wrap for Science Week reporting, sign up for the USRTK newsletter to keep up to date with our investigations and reporting.

If you value this type of independent reporting, please consider making a donation to US Right to Know.

# # #

Farmers Vs. Monsanto: The Glyphosate Trials

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“Science Week” in a federal court will decide if farmer cancer lawsuits move forward

Live updates from court hearings by Carey Gillam
Transcripts of Daubert Hearings posted here

News Release
For Immediate Release: Monday, March 5, 2018
For More Information Contact: Carey Gillam (913) 526-6190; Stacy Malkan (510) 542-9224

San Francisco, Calif.; March 5, 2018 — A federal court hearing in San Francisco this week will turn a spotlight on the science surrounding the world’s most widely used pesticide, glyphosate, and will determine whether farmers and their families will be able to proceed with legal action against Monsanto Co. over cancer concerns.

More than 365 lawsuits are pending against Monsanto 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.

The court has dubbed the March 5-9 events as “science week” because the only evidence to be presented will come from experts in cancer science, including epidemiologists, toxicologists, and biomedical statistical analysts called to analyze relevant research. The scientists will present their best scientific evidence to U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria, who will decide if the lawsuits move forward or are halted in their tracks.

Journalist and author Carey Gillam of U.S. Right to Know will be live blogging the event from the court house. Follow her posts here: https://usrtk.org/live-updates-monsanto-hearing/

See also: “Monsanto says its pesticides are safe: Now a court wants to see the proof,” by Carey Gillam, The Guardian.

Gillam is author of “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science” (Island Press, 2017) — “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,” according to the Society for Environmental Journalists’ BookShelf review.

Gillam is also research director of U.S. Right to Know, a consumer and public health watchdog group. USRTK is posting documents and analysis from the MDL glyphosate cancer cases on our Monsanto Papers page.

U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit consumer and public health organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy.  For more information, see usrtk.org.

Open Letter to STAT: It’s Time for Stronger Transparency Standards

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Dear Rick Berke and Gideon Gil,

At a time when the public is questioning the legitimacy of news media – and science itself – it is important for health and science publications such as STAT to serve the public with as much truth and transparency as possible. We write to ask you to step forward as leaders to address a serious problem in science coverage: readers are being hoodwinked by corporations that are pushing policy agendas through PR writers who pretend to be independent but aren’t.

On February 26, STAT failed its duty to the public to provide transparency when it published an opinion column by Henry Miller, even though Miller had previously been caught publishing Monsanto-ghostwritten work under his own name in Forbes.

After the New York Times revealed the Miller ghostwriting scandal in August 2017, Forbes dropped Miller as a columnist and deleted all his articles because he violated Forbes’ policy that requires opinion writers to disclose conflicts of interest, and to publish only their own work – a policy STAT should also adopt. (Update: STAT has a conflict of interest disclosure policy here and informs us that Miller reported no conflicts.)

Since the ghostwriting episode, Miller’s work has continued to raise serious red flags.

His recent column attacking the organic industry in Newsweek was sourced with information provided by a former Monsanto spokesman, Jay Byrne, whose relationship with Monsanto was not disclosed, and Miller’s column closely followed messaging that Byrne had worked out with Monsanto while collaborating to set up a front group of academics to attack industry critics, according to emails uncovered by US Right to Know. In his Newsweek article, Miller also tried to discredit Danny Hakim, the New York Times reporter who revealed Miller’s Monsanto ghostwriting scandal – without mentioning the scandal.

In addition to these recent failures to disclose his conflicts of interest, Miller has a long, documented history as a public relations and lobbying surrogate for corporations.

In a 1994 PR strategy memo to Phillip Morris, APCO Associates referred to Miller as “a key supporter” in the global campaign to fight tobacco regulations. In 1998, Miller pitched his PR services to corporations in a “Work Plan Promoting Sound Science in Health, Environmental and Biotechnology Policy.” A 2015 Monsanto PR plan to “orchestrate outcry” against the scientists of the World Health Organization’s IARC cancer panel listed as its first external deliverable: “Engage Henry Miller.”

Were corporate interests also behind Miller’s opinion, published this week by STAT, that the National Institutes of Health should no longer fund integrative health studies?

Praise for Miller’s STAT article from the likes of Jeff Stier, who works for the Koch-affiliated Consumer Choice Center, and Rhona Applebaum, the former Coca-Cola executive who orchestrated a front group to spin the science on obesity, makes the article seem even more like some kind of corporate front group hit piece.

It wouldn’t be the first time the pharmaceutical industry got away with using STAT to promote its political and sales agenda. Last January, STAT allowed two members of the corporate front group American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) to opine that the government should not be allowed to restrict doctors from prescribing OxyContin. But the article did not disclose that ACSH has received funding from drug companies and pitches its services to corporations in quid pro quo agreements to defend their products and policy agendas.

In September, STAT retracted an article published under the name of a doctor who praised pharmaceutical industry sales reps, after Kevin Lomangino wrote in HealthNewsReview.org that the doctor had received over $200,000 from drug companies. An investigation then revealed that a PR firm had ghostwritten the doctor’s article.

“Big pharma’s attempt to ghostwrite in STAT ended badly – but not badly enough,” pointed out journalism professor Charles Seife in Slate. “STAT retracted the story, but for the wrong reasons and without addressing the real problem.”

It’s time for STAT to address the problem, and become part of the solution in bringing truth and transparency to science reporting. The public has a right to know when corporations ghostwrite, or have their fingerprints all over the opinions of academics who claim to be independent.

“Just as medical journals started tightening rules about conflicts of interest, forcing more disclosure of the hidden motives behind certain research articles, media outlets have to have a reckoning as well,” Seife wrote in Slate.

“They must learn to stop amplifying the messages of front groups and winking at practices like ghostwriting in their editorial pages. In short, the media must realize that every time they repeat a sock puppet’s message, it directly undermines the outlet’s credibility.”

For the credibility of STAT, and for the trust of its readers, we urge you to implement a clear and strong policy to require all your writers to provide full disclosure about conflicts of interest, including payments they receive from corporations, and work they do behind the scenes with corporations or their PR firms to promote corporate agendas.

Sincerely,
Stacy Malkan
Gary Ruskin
Co-Directors, US Right to Know

Update: Note from Kevin Lomangino, managing editor of HealthNewsReview.org: “Thanks for calling attention to our work and this issue, which I agree is important. To be clear, @statnews did tighten up their COI/transparency policies in response to our reporting as we wrote here, “STAT becomes 3rd organization to revise policies after our scrutiny.” However, in this case the author has apparently failed to disclose the role of ghostwriters in his past work, so I’m not sure that STAT could/should trust any assurance he provided that the content is original.” 

USRTK response: We’re glad to see STAT tightened its COI policy but they must do better, as the Miller case demonstrates. In addition to the 2017 ghostwriting scandal, Miller has recent faulty disclosures and a long history of corporate fronting. See also our response to STAT editors about their COI disclosure policy. 

Follow the US Right to Know investigations by signing up for our newsletter here, and please consider making a donation to support our reporting.  

Corporate power, not public interest, at root of science committee hearing on IARC

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(First published in Environmental Health News)

Score another point for corporate power over protection of the public.

U.S. Rep Lamar Smith, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, & Technology, has slated a full committee hearing for Feb. 6 with an agenda aimed squarely at attacking some of the world’s top cancer scientists.

Given the fact that cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, it seems obvious that our lawmakers should be supporting cancer science rather than trying to thwart it. But Smith’s action comes after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer ( IARC) angered Monsanto Co. when it declared the pesticide glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killing products, to be a probable carcinogen.

Though the hearing is titled “In Defense of Scientific Integrity: Examining the IARC Monograph Programme and Glyphosate Review,” the irony of the descriptor is not lost on those who have been following Smith’s efforts to derail and defund this cancer research agency.

In letters to IARC’s leadership, Smith has repeated false narratives and inaccurate news stories planted by Monsanto and chemical industry allies, and cited the “serious nature of these concerns related to expenditures of taxpayer dollars.”

It’s worth noting that the plan to put the International Agency for Research on Cancer on the hot seat was put into motion roughly three years ago when Monsanto predicted the international cancer scientists would find its weed killer to have carcinogenic potential. The company said as much in internal communications brought to light through recent litigation.

The documents also show that it was February 2015, a month before the IARC classification, when Monsanto executives laid out a strategic plan to discredit the cancer scientists. The plan was designed to “orchestrate outcry with IARC decision.”

The efforts to manipulate public perception about IARC ramped up last summer when Monsanto allies spoon-fed a false narrative to a Reuters reporter who produced a news story that shot around the globe and has been a key talking point for the chemical industry attack against IARC.

The story relied on the deposition of an IARC scientist named Aaron Blair and reported that Blair withheld critical information that would have altered the IARC glyphosate classification. Reuters never provided a link to the deposition, which at that point was not filed in any court and was not publicly available.

Chairman Smith ran with the story, stating that Blair “admitted to knowing that this research could have prevented” the classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

Anyone taking time to actually read the deposition, which is now public, would see that Blair never said any such thing, and in fact protested multiple times that the data in question was not fully analyzed and not published and thus was not suitable to be considered by IARC.

A similar false narrative pushed by the chemical industry and repeated by Smith accused IARC of deleting assessments finding no connection between glyphosate and cancer from its final report. Smith and team either don’t know or don’t care that IARC’s deletions were of Monsanto assertions that the cancer scientists said could not be substantiated.

IARC officials have detailed the falsehoods perpetuated against them by the chemical industry but the defense has fallen on deaf ears.

Monsanto needs to discredit the international cancer scientists because it was the IARC finding that triggered waves of lawsuits against Monsanto, and prompted moves to ban the chemical in some European countries.

But while Monsanto and other chemical industry interests are concerned about the billions of dollars in revenues they rake in annually from glyphosate-based products, the attack on this independent science group should have all of us concerned.

Approximately 39 percent of men and women living in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute.

For this year alone, the American Cancer Society has estimated there will be more than 1.68 million people newly diagnosed with cancer and more than 600,000 deaths from cancer. Worldwide, there are more that 14 million cases of cancer occurring each year, and that number is expected to hit nearly 22 million by 2030.

Cancer “affects almost everyone’s life, either directly or indirectly,” and beyond the toll on life and health it costs the United States more than $200 billion in medical costs and lost productivity, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In order to reduce deaths from cancer we have to put more emphasis on preventing it in the first place, and a big part of that “primary prevention” according to a 2016 report by the HHS National Toxicology Program (NTP) “is to identify the carcinogens.”

Clearly, the companies that sell chemicals linked to cancer prefer to see IARC defunded and dismantled. They’ve said as much through the disingenuously namedCouncil for Accuracy in Public Health Research (CAPHR), a nonprofit established by the American Chemistry Council a year ago with the specific goal of promoting the “reform” of IARC.

But to see our lawmakers so eagerly promoting corporate interests when such dire public safety interests are at stake marks perhaps a new low in American politics. These are literally life and death matters.

Our public servants must be held to account, to support the scientists who work to identify carcinogens, and push back against the corporate interests who want to discredit the science that threatens its profits.

Scientific integrity should mean exactly that.

Food Evolution GMO Film Serves Up Chemical Industry Agenda

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This post was recently updated with reviews of Food Evolution: 

By Stacy Malkan, 6/19/2017 

Some industry messaging efforts are so heavy-handed they end up highlighting their own PR tactics more than the message they are trying to convey. That’s the problem with Food Evolution, a new documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy and narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The film, opening in theaters June 23, claims to offer an objective look at the debate over genetically engineered foods, but with its skewed presentation of science and data, it comes off looking more like a textbook case of corporate propaganda for the agrichemical industry and its GMO crops.

That the film’s intended purpose was to serve as an industry-messaging vehicle is no secret. Food Evolution was planned in 2014 and funded by the Institute for Food Technologists, a trade group, to culminate a multi-year messaging effort.

IFT is partly funded by big food corporations, and the group’s president at the time was Janet Collins, a former DuPont and Monsanto executive who now works for CropLife America, the pesticide trade association. IFT’s President-Elect Cindy Stewart works for DuPont.

IFT chose Kennedy to direct the film, but he and producer Trace Sheehan say they had complete control over the film they describe as a fully independent investigation into the topic of GMOs including all points of view.

The film’s credibility suffers from their choice to embrace only the science and scientists who side with the chemical industry players who profit from GMOs and the chemicals used on them, while ignoring science and data that doesn’t fit that agenda.

The Monsanto Science Treatment

The clearest example of the scientific dishonesty in Food Evolution is the way the film deals with glyphosate. The weed killer chemical is at the heart of the GMO story, since 80-90% of GMO crops are genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate.

Food Evolution reports that the increase in glyphosate use due to GMOs is not a problem, because glyphosate is safe. Two sources establish this claim in the film: a farmer says glyphosate has “very, very low toxicity; lower than coffee, lower than salt,” and Monsanto’s Robb Fraley – in response to a woman in an audience who asks him about science linking glyphosate to birth defects and cancer – tells her that’s all bad science, “it’s pseudoscience.”

All science raising concerns about glyphosate is “pseudoscience,” says Monsanto.

There is no mention of the carcinogenicity concerns that are engulfing Monsanto in an international science scandal, or the many farmers who are suing Monsanto alleging they got cancer from the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide.

There is no mention of the 2015 report by the World Health Organization’s cancer agency that classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, or California’s decision to add glyphosate to the Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, or the peer-reviewed studies that have linked various adverse health outcomes to glyphosate and Roundup.

Instead of an objective look at the evidence, Food Evolution gives viewers the full Monsanto science treatment: any science that raises concerns about the possible health risks of agrichemical products should be ignored, while studies that put those products in a favorable light is the only science worth discussing.

Double Standards in Science and Transparency

Equal treatment of interview subjects with different points of view would have helped the credibility of Food Evolution. Instead, the film paints the GMO critics it features as dishonest or out to make a buck off the organic industry, while leaving out key details about its pro-industry sources.

In one scene, the film’s main character, UC Davis professor Alison van Eenennaam, frets that appearing onstage with a Monsanto executive at a debate could sully her independent reputation. Viewers never learn that she used to work for Monsanto, or that she holds several GE patents which suggest a financial interest in the topic at hand.

Pro-industry scientist Pamela Ronald, another key science source, gets the hero treatment with no mention that two of her studies have been retracted. Yet viewers are hammered with news that a study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini – which found kidney problems and tumors in rats fed GMO corn – was “retracted, retracted, retracted!”

The film leaves out the fact that the study was subsequently republished, and was retracted in the first place after a former Monsanto employee took an editorial position with the journal where it was originally published.

The “Africa Needs GMOs” Narrative

In another neatly spun narrative, Food Evolution takes viewers on an emotional journey to the developing world, and along another favorite industry messaging track: rather than focus on how genetic engineering is used in our food system now – primarily to convey herbicide tolerance – we should focus on how it might possibly be used in the future.

With plenty of airtime and dramatic tension, the film examines the problem of banana wilt, a disease killing staple crops in Africa, and leads viewers to believe that genetic engineering will save the crop, the farmers and the community.

Maybe. But the film neglects to mention that the savior GE technology is not yet available and might not even work. According to a paper in Plant Biotechnology Journal, the resistance shown in the lab is robust but may not be durable in open fields.

The film is “fundamentally dishonest.”

Meanwhile, a low-tech solution is working well and looks like it could use some investment. According to a 2012 paper in the Journal of Development and Agricultural Economics, farmer field schools, which help growers acquire hands-on knowledge of techniques to prevent banana wilt, led to lower infection rates and high crop recovery in Uganda. Results from farmer field schools “have been remarkable,” according to the UN.

The solution doesn’t warrant a mention in Food Evolution.

“It’s fundamentally dishonest of the film to tout a GE solution that may not even work, as the scientists themselves acknowledge,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, “while failing to point out another way to control the problem that works very well, but doesn’t involve selling a product to make money.

Did Monsanto have anything to do with Food Evolution?

Monsanto and allies were discussing plans for a documentary in late 2013, according to emails obtained by US Right to Know. The emails do not contain evidence linking those discussions to Food Evolution, but they do establish Monsanto’s desire for a film that sounds surpassingly similar to the one Kennedy created.

Monsanto’s Eric Sachs wrote in Dec. 2013 to a group of PR advisors, “there is clearly a lot of interest to pursue a documentary film. Importantly, the consensus was the Monsanto’s participation was welcome, particularly in the planning phase.”

He recommended a January 2014 planning call. Jon Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project stepped up to take the lead, and mentioned he had “gotten a personal pledge of $100,000 from a private business person if we can get” (the rest of the line is cut off). Entine also has a connection to the Institute for Food Technologists; he spoke about “anti-food activism” at IFT’s 2012 annual meeting.

Another person mentioned in the Monsanto emails, Karl Haro von Mogel – who had discussed with Sachs “the downsides of a film funded by the ‘Big 6’” and suggested “what would matter more than their money is their participation” – was interviewed in Food Evolution, and was also involved in filming one scene, which suggests some behind the scenes coordination with the filmmakers.

In reaction to the emails, Kennedy wrote on Twitter: “@foodevomovie has had ZERO $ or INPUT from #Monsanto. We are fully transparent & happy 2 have fact-based dialogue.”

He said in an interview, “that email exchange had absolutely nothing to do with our project whatsoever … we hadn’t even committed to making the film with IFT at that date in 2013.”

The people in the email exchange were not involved in filming or advising, he said, and Karl Haro von Mogel “was a subject in the film and had no involvement or influence on any creative/editorial decisions on the film at any point in the production. Also it may be useful to point out that the email conversation you reference occurred long before we ever even knew Karl or any of these people.”

Sneak Peek Behind the Scenes

Another email exchange obtained by US Right to Know offers a peek behind the scenes at the narrative development in Food Evolution. The exchange depicts Kennedy’s search for examples to feature for “us/developing world need GMO.”

“Any other ‘us/developing world need GMO’ you can give me names of aside from oranges? Shintakus lettuce?” Kennedy asked. Producer Trace Sheehan responded with a list of GMO products including drought-tolerant rice, allergy-free peanuts, carcinogen-free potatoes … “and then button with Golden Rice.”

When Kennedy pushed for “the top GMO crops currently in use, and what countries,” Mark Lynas of the Cornell Alliance for Science wrote, “Really Bt brinjal in Bangladesh is the only one that is truly GMO in and is in widespread operation.”

The film’s frame-driven reporting ignores that detail about the lack of operational GMO solutions, and doesn’t mention that the closer example, vitamin-A enhanced Golden Rice, still isn’t available despite huge investments and years of trials, because it doesn’t work as well in the field as existing rice strains.

What is propaganda?

In a scene that is supposed to convey scientific credibility, Food Evolution flashes the logo of the American Council on Science and Health at the very moment Neil deGrasse Tyson says there is a global consensus on the safety of GMOs. It’s a fitting slip. ASCH is a corporate front group closely aligned with Monsanto.

The ACSH logo scene also appears in the background in this 2-minute clip from a recent Climate One debate, as Kennedy pushed back against the suggestion that his film is propaganda.

“How do we determine what is propaganda?” Kennedy asked. “I say one of the ways we do it is (to ask), are results asked for, or results promised? I was not asked for results and I did not promise results. If you have a problem with the film, the problem lies with me.”

This review originally appeared in Huffington Post and has been reprinted in Alternet. 

See also: Stacy Malkan’s follow-up article, Neil deGrasse Tyson Owes Fans a More Honest Conversation About GMOs than Food Evolution. “Interviews with several other GMO critics who appear in the film, or were asked to be in it, corroborate the picture of a strange process involving sneaky filming, selective editing, misrepresentation and lack of disclosure about the film’s funding.”

Newsweek’s Bizarre Standard for Opinion Writers

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Update 2/6/18
Upheaval at Newsweek: The news outlet is imploding amid a financial scandal and poor leadership. Some editors “recklessly sought clicks at the expense of accuracy, retweets over fairness … I’ve never seen more reckless leadership,” wrote Newsweek’s political editor Matthew Cooper in his resignation letter.

By Stacy Malkan, 1/31/2018

Facts don’t matter in commentaries printed by Newsweek so long as the writer “seems genuine.”  That’s the takeaway from a troubling email exchange I had with Newsweek Opinion Editor Nicholas Wapshott after I raised concerns about a commentary in Newsweek attacking the organic industry.

The organic hit piece carried the byline of Henry I. Miller, who lost his platform at Forbes last year after the New York Times revealed that Miller had published an article in Forbes under his own name that was actually written by Monsanto.

In his recent Newsweek article, Miller spent several paragraphs attacking Danny Hakim, the New York Times reporter who wrote about that ghostwriting scandal; but Miller didn’t disclose to readers either the scandal or his collaborations with Monsanto.

Yet Monsanto’s fingerprints were all over Miller’s Newsweek article, as I reported here.

Miller made false claims about organic farming using pesticide industry sources.

Miller used pesticide industry sources to make false claims about organic farming and attacked people who were named on a target list that had been developed by Monsanto and Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s former director of corporate communications, who was quoted in Miller’s piece with no mention of the Monsanto affiliation.

None of this appears to bother Newsweek Opinion Editor Nicholas Wapshott, according to an on-the-record email exchange.

Miller ‘Flatly Denies’ Facts 

On Jan. 22, I emailed Wapshott to raise concerns that Newsweek continues to publish Miller’s commentaries without disclosing his relationship with Monsanto. I told him I was writing a story, and asked if he was aware that:

1) The New York Times reported in August that Miller had been caught publishing an article ghostwritten by Monsanto under his own name in Forbes, in violation of Forbes’ policy. Forbes ended its relationship with Miller and deleted all his articles from the site.

2) A 2015 internal Monsanto PR plan (recently released by lawyers involved in litigation against Monsanto) lists “Engage Henry Miller” as one of its first action items.

3) A source Miller used in his Newsweek article, Jay Byrne, is a former Monsanto employee (not identified as such). According to emails I reported here, Byrne worked with Monsanto to set up a front group of “independent” academics, secretly funded by industry, who attacked the organic industry as a “marketing scam,” the same theme in Miller’s Newsweek article.

4) Miller has a long history of partnering with – and pitching his PR services to – corporations that need help convincing the public their products aren’t dangerous and don’t need to be regulated.

Wapshott responded, “Hi Stacy, I understand that you and Miller have a long history of dispute on this topic. He flatly denies your assertions. Nicholas”

I wrote back to ask for clarification.

Hi Nicholas, to clarify:

Miller denies he published a column ghostwritten by Monsanto under his own name in Forbes and that Forbes has since deleted all his articles? (NYT story, Retraction Watch story)

Miller denies the Monsanto’s PR plan to address the IARC cancer rating of glyphosate lists “Engage Henry Miller” on page 2, item 3?

Miller denies that Jay Byrne, the former Monsanto employee not identified as such in his Newsweek article, was involved with setting up Academics Review as a front group? (Byrne has not denied writing these emails.)

Miller and I have disagreed yes, we were on opposite sides of a political campaign to label GMOs, but the above facts are facts, and provable. Do you think it’s fair to your readers to continue to publish his work without disclosing his ties to Monsanto?

Wapshott responded, “I think so. I have met Miller and he seems genuine. And I find it hard to believe that his flat denial is a lie. We would need a full trial to determine the truth and those resources are, thank goodness, beyond our means.”

Jumbled Mix of Conflict Disclosures

I find it hard to believe that his flat denial is a lie.

I wrote back to Wapshott once more, pointing out that a trial is not necessary in the Miller case, since the facts have been established by reporting in the New York Times and corroborated by Forbes’ spokeswoman Mia Carbonell, who told the Times:

“All contributors to Forbes.com sign a contract requiring them to disclose any potential conflicts of interest and only publish content that is their own original writing. When it came to our attention that Mr. Miller violated these terms, we removed his blog from Forbes.com and ended our relationship with him.”

Does Newsweek have a similar policy to require writers to disclose potential conflicts of interest and use only their own writing? 

Newsweek editors have not responded to that query. But the problem of weak, confused or non-existent conflict-of-interest disclosure standards goes far beyond Newsweek.

For a 2015 article in CJR, journalist Paul Thacker asked 18 media organizations that cover science to describe their disclosure standards for both journalists and the sources they use in their stories, and 14 responded.

“The responses present a jumbled mix of policies,” Thacker wrote. “Some draw a bright line — preventing journalists from having financial ties to any outside sources. Others allow some expenses and speaking fees. To complicate matters further, some organizations have written rules, while others consider incidents on a case-by-case basis. Standards advocated by professional societies also seem to differ.”

Some outlets apply different standards to reporters and columnists, as I learned when I asked why Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel can take speaking fees from agrichemical industry groups while writing about that industry as part of her regular column beat. Reporters at Washington Post aren’t allowed to do that, but in the case of columnists, the editor decides.

It’s all very murky. And some outlets are clearly crossing a bright line by publishing the views of groups and people who work with corporations to promote pro-industry science views without telling readers about the corporate collaboration.

Henry Miller’s attack on organic food in Newsweek is one example. Another is USA Today’s regular publication of science columns from the American Council on Science and Health, a front group for the tobacco, chemical, fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and other industries seeking to discredit scientific information about the harm of their products.

USA Today Lends Platform to Corporate Front Group  

In February 2017, two dozen health, environmental, labor and public interest groups wrote to the editors of USA Today asking the paper to stop publishing science columns by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), or at least provide full disclosures about who funds the group.

Leaked financial documents from 2013 reveal that ACSH solicits money from corporations to defend and promote their products; for example, ACSH spins science on fracking, e-cigarettes, toxic cosmetics and agrichemical industry products, and solicits funding from those industries in exchange. Recent reporting establishes that ACSH works with Monsanto on messaging campaigns.

“USA Today should not be helping this group promote its false identity as a credible, independent source on science,” the two dozen groups wrote to the editors. “Your readers deserve accurate information about what and whom this group represents, as they reflect on the content of the columns.”

Nearly a year later, USA Today is still publishing columns by ACSH staff and still failing to notify its readers about ACSH’s funding from corporations whose agenda they promote.

In an email response dated March 1, 2017, USA Today Editorial Page Editor Bill Sternberg explained:

“To the best of our knowledge, all of the columns in question were authored or co-authored by Alex Berezow, a longtime member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Mr. Berezow has written some 25 op-eds for us since 2011, and we consider him to be a credible voice on scientific issues. He holds a PhD in microbiology from the University of Washington, was the founding editor of RealClearScience and has contributed to a number of mainstream outlets.”

Berezow is now a senior fellow at ACSH, and his “@USAToday contributor” status appears in his bio on Twitter, where he frequently attacks critics of the pesticide industry, for example this recent vile tweet featuring a sexually graphic illustration of a nurse giving a patient a coffee enema.

Does USA Today really want to be associated with this type of science communication?

Integrity and Transparency in Science Reporting

News outlets can do better than these examples at Newsweek and USA Today, and they must do better. They can start by refusing to publish columns by corporate front groups and PR surrogates who pose as independent science thinkers.

They can implement clear and strong policies that require all columnists and journalists to disclose potential conflicts of interest for themselves and the sources they cite in their work.

At a time when the public is questioning the legitimacy of the news media, it is more important than ever for all publications to follow the highest standards of journalistic ethics and serve the public with as much truth and transparency as possible.

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