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:
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
“well-documented compendium of wrongs, fraud, conflicts of interest, undue influence, and troubling forms of plain old [PR]….Some of its revelations are downright infuriating.“ Los Angeles Review of Books
See also: Carey Gillam’s testimony before a joint committee of the European Parliament on 10/11/2017 and her reporting from the Daubert Hearings in the Cancer Victims Vs. Monsanto glyphosate litigation.
It’s the pesticide on our dinner plates, a chemical so pervasive it’s in the air we breathe, our water, our soil, and even found increasingly in our own bodies. Known as Monsanto’s Roundup by consumers, and as glyphosate by scientists, the world’s most popular weed killer is used everywhere from backyard gardens to golf courses to millions of acres of farmland. For decades it’s been touted as safe enough to drink, but a growing body of evidence indicates just the opposite, with research tying the chemical to cancers and a host of other health threats.
In Whitewash, veteran journalist Carey Gillam uncovers one of the most controversial stories in the history of food and agriculture, exposing new evidence of corporate influence. Gillam introduces readers to farm families devastated by cancers which they believe are caused by the chemical, and to scientists whose reputations have been smeared for publishing research that contradicted business interests. Readers learn about the arm-twisting of regulators who signed off on the chemical, echoing company assurances of safety even as they permitted higher residues of the pesticide in food and skipped compliance tests. And, in startling detail, Gillam reveals secret industry communications that pull back the curtain on corporate efforts to manipulate public perception.
Whitewash is more than an exposé about the hazards of one chemical or even the influence of one company. It’s a story of power, politics, and the deadly consequences of putting corporate interests ahead of public safety.
Publication date October 2017
More Praise for Whitewash
“The book unravels a tapestry of pesticide industry tricks to manipulate the scientific truths about their products while placing profits above human health and the environment. As someone who has experienced similar actions by corporations firsthand in my work far too often, I am hopeful that Carey’s book will be a wake-up call for more transparency about the dangers surrounding many chemicals in the marketplace.” Erin Brockovich, environmental activist and author
Carey Gillam has brilliantly assembled the facts and describes how Monsanto and other agricultural chemical companies lied about their products, covered up the damaging data and corrupted government officials in order to sell their toxic products around the world. David Schubert, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute For Biological Studies
Carey Gillam is a brave warrior in the mold of Rachel Carson. She has exposed the ruthless greed and fraud which have led to the poisoning of our planet. Brian G.M. Durie, M.D. Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation, oncology specialist and attending physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
In the grand tradition of Silent Spring, Carey Gillam’s Whitewash is a powerful exposé that sheds light on a chemical that — to most of us — is both entirely invisible and yet profoundly damaging to our bodies and our environment. It is a deeply researched, entirely convincing exposé of the politics, economics and global health consequences implicit in the spread of the world’s most common herbicide. Gillam has done what all great journalists strive to do: she has made us see clearly what has long been right before our eyes. Highly recommended. McKay Jenkins, author, Professor of English, Journalism and Environmental Humanities at the University of Delaware
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
- 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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
See transcript here from Tuesday’s proceedings: https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Monsanto-Daubert-hearing-transcript-180306VC.Vol_.2.pdf
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
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.
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.
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Score another point for corporate power over protection of the public.
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 named Council 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.
Carey Gillam’s new book is available now from Island Press: Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.
Gilliam’s Whitewash is a hard-hitting investigation into the most widely used agrichemical in history, based on 20 years of research and scores of internal industry documents. For decades glyphosate has been lauded as the chemical that’s “safe enough to drink,” but a growing body of scientific research ties glyphosate to cancers and a host of other health and environmental threats.
Whitewash is a “must-read,” says Booklist. Kirkus Reviews calls Whitewash a “hard-hitting, eye-opening narrative,” and a “forceful argument for an agricultural regulatory environment that puts public interest above corporate profits.”
Q: Carey, you’ve been reporting on pesticides and Monsanto for nearly 20 years. As a journalist, why was it important to write a book about the topic? Why now?
A: Health experts around the world recognize that pesticides are a big contributor to a range of health problems suffered by people of all ages, but a handful of very powerful and influential corporations have convinced policy makers that the risks to human and environmental health are well worth the rewards that these chemicals bring in terms of fighting weeds, bugs, or plant diseases. These corporations are consolidating and becoming ever more powerful, and are using their influence to push higher and higher levels of many dangerous pesticides into our lives, including into our food system. We have lost a much-needed sense of caution surrounding these chemicals, and Monsanto’s efforts to promote increased uses of glyphosate is one of the best examples of how this corporate pursuit of profits has taken priority over protection of the public.
Q: People may not be familiar with the term “glyphosate” or even “Roundup.” What is it? Why should people care?
A: Roundup herbicide is Monsanto’s claim to fame. Well before it brought genetically engineered crops to market, Monsanto was making and selling Roundup weed killer. Glyphosate is the active ingredient—the stuff that actually kills the weeds—in Roundup. Glyphosate is also now used in hundreds of other products that are routinely applied to farm fields, lawns and gardens, golf courses, parks, and playgrounds. The trouble is that it’s not nearly as safe as Monsanto has maintained, and decades of scientific research link it to a range of diseases, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Monsanto has known about these risks and worked very hard to hide them.
Monsanto has known about these risks and worked very hard to hide them while promoting more and more use. Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops are all built to encourage glyphosate use. The key genetic trait Monsanto has inserted into its GMO soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, and other crops is a trait that allows those crops to survive being sprayed directly with glyphosate. After Monsanto introduced these “glyphosate-tolerant” crops in the mid-1990s, glyphosate use skyrocketed. Like other pesticides used in food production, glyphosate residues are commonly found in food, including cereals, snacks, honey, bread, and other products.
Q: You write that Whitewash shows we’ve forgotten the lessons of Rachel Carson and Silent Spring. What do you mean by that?
A: Carson laid out the harms associated with indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides, and she predicted the devastation they could and would bring to our ecosystems. She also accused the chemical industry of intentionally spreading disinformation about their products. Her book was a wake-up call that spurred an environmental movement and led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. But over the decades since, the general population and certainly our politicians and regulators have clearly forgotten the need for caution and scrutiny in dealing with these pesticides and the companies that profit from them. You see a push by our political leaders for fewer regulations, for more unchecked use of glyphosate and other pesticides in our food production, while research about how these pesticides cause cancer, how they harm children’s brain development, and how they alter reproductive health all get pushed aside.
Q: You obtained industry communications and regulatory documents that reveal evidence of corporate influence in regulatory agencies like the EPA. Does the evidence you uncovered take on new significance in light of the current political climate in the US? How can people keep regulatory agencies accountable for working in the public’s best interest?
A: Yes, it’s quite clear that Monsanto and other corporate giants like Dow Chemical enjoy significant sway with regulators, the very people who are supposed to be protecting the public. The companies use their money and political power to influence regulatory decision- making as well as the scientific assessments within the regulatory agencies. If we consumers and taxpayers want to protect our children, our families, our future, we need to pay attention, educate ourselves on these issues, write and call our lawmakers, and support organizations working on our behalf to protect our health and environment. We need to be proactive on policies that protect the public, not the profits of giant corporations. Capitalism is great—the pursuit of wealth through a free marketplace provides much that is good, that is true. But when we let corporate profit agendas take precedence over the health and well- being of our people and our planet we’re sacrificing far too much.
Q: Monsanto attempted to censor and discredit you when you published stories that contradicted their business interests. What strategies can journalists—or scientists— employ when faced with this pushback? What are the stakes if they don’t?
A: Monsanto, and organizations backed by Monsanto, have certainly worked to undermine my work for many years. But I’m not alone; they’ve gone after reporters from an array of major news outlets, including the New York Times, as well as scientists, academics, and others who delve too deeply into the secrets they want to keep hidden. I see it as a badge of honor that Monsanto and others in the chemical industry feel threatened enough by our work to attack us. It’s certainly not easy, for journalists in particular, to challenge the corporate propaganda machine.
Reporters that go along with the game, repeat the talking points, and publish stories that support corporate interests are rewarded with coveted access to top executives and handed “exclusive” stories about new products or new strategies, all of which score them bonus points with editors. In contrast, reporters who go against the grain, who report on unflattering research, or who point out failures or risks of certain products often find they lose access to key corporate executives. The competition gets credit for interviews with top corporate chieftains while reporters who don’t play the game see their journalistic skills attacked and insulted and become the subject of persistent complaints by the corporate interests to their editors.
What can be done? Editors and reporters alike need to check their backbones, realize that the job of a journalist is to find the story behind the spin, to ask uncomfortable questions and to forge an allegiance only to truth and transparency. When we lose truthful independent journalism, when we’re only hearing what the powerful want heard, it’s assured that those without power will be the ones paying the price.
Q: You interviewed a huge number of people for this book, including scientists, farmers, and regulators. Is there a particular conversation or story that stands out to you?
A: I’ve interviewed thousands of people over my career, from very big-name political types to celebrities to every day men and women, and I find it’s always those who are most unassuming, those “regular folk” who grab my heart. In researching this book, the individual story that most resonated with me is that of Teri McCall, whose husband Jack suffered horribly before dying of cancer the day after Christmas in 2015. The McCall family lived a quiet and rather simple life, raising avocadoes and assorted citrus fruits on their Cambria, California farm, using no pesticides other than Roundup in their orchards. Jacks’ death from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer linked to glyphosate, fully devastated Teri and her children and grandchildren. She has shown so much grace and strength and she gave me so much of her time—and her tears—in telling me Jack’s story. She is a woman I truly admire.
Of course there are so many others I have learned from, who I feel for, including the scientists who have struggled to publish research, who have been censored or worse for their findings of harm associated with glyphosate and other pesticides. And farmers—I have so much regard for farmers generally, including each and every one interviewed for this book. The work they do to raise our food is incredibly challenging and they are on the front lines of the pesticide dangers every day.
Jaw-dropping is the best way to describe some of the documents I and others have uncovered.
Q: You’ve been immersed in this topic for years. Was there anything you found in the course of researching and writing this book that surprised you?
A: Jaw-dropping is the best way to describe some of the documents I and others have uncovered. Seeing behind the curtain, reading in their own words how corporate agents worked intentionally to manipulate science, to mislead consumers and politicians, was shocking. As a long-time journalist, I’m a bit of a hardened cynic. Still, the depth of the deception laid bare in these documents, and other documents still coming to light, is incredible.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from Whitewash?
A: A writer at the New York Times told me after reading Whitewash that she feared eating anything in her refrigerator because of the information the book provides about the range of pesticide residues found in so many food products. That definitely is not my goal, to frustrate or frighten people. But I do hope that readers will be moved to care more about how our food is produced, how we make use of dangerous synthetic pesticides not just on farms but also on schoolyards and in parks where our children play.
And I hope they will want to be engaged in the larger discussion and debate about how we build a future that adequately balances the risks and rewards associated with these pesticides. As Whitewash shows, the current system is designed to pump up corporate profits much more than it is to promote long-term environmental and food production sustainability. There are many powerful forces at work to keep the status quo, to continue to push dangerous pesticides, almost literally down our throats. It’s up to the rest of us to push back.
Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, researcher, and writer with more than 25 years of experience covering corporate America. A former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service, Gillam digs deep into the big business of food and agriculture. Carey is also the research director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy.
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, October 10, 2017
For More Information Contact: Stacy Malkan (510) 542-9224
Today, Carey Gillam, a former Reuters reporter and current research director for U.S. Right to Know, launched her new book, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science (Island Press), a hard-hitting investigation into the pesticide at the center of a regulatory and legal maelstrom on both sides of the Atlantic.
Tomorrow, Gillam will appear as an invited expert before members of the European Parliament at a joint committee hearing to discuss Monsanto’s efforts to manipulate science and regulatory assessments on glyphosate.
Gillam’s book and testimony are based on 20 years of research and scores of industry documents that describe the patterns of deception surrounding Monsanto’s flagship weed killer Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate, and the impacts on people and the environment.
According to Publishers Weekly, “Gillam expertly covers a contentious front where corporate malfeasance intersects with issues of public health and ecology.” Kirkus Reviews calls Whitewash “a hard-hitting, eye-opening narrative,” and a “forceful argument for an agricultural regulatory environment that puts public interest above corporate profits.”
As Whitewash details, glyphosate is the most widely used agrichemical in history—a pesticide so pervasive it’s in our air, our water, our food, and even our own bodies. For decades it’s been lauded as the chemical that’s “safe enough to drink,” but a growing body of scientific research ties glyphosate to cancers and a host of other health and environmental threats.
Whitewash explores the legal claims of thousands of Americans who allege Roundup caused their cancers, and exposes the powerful influence of a multi-billion-dollar industry that has worked for decades to keep consumers in the dark and regulators in check. The book reveals how political influence has been at work for years in regulatory agencies while also laying bare unappetizing truths about the levels of glyphosate and other pesticides commonly found in our food products.
Whitewash makes clear that 55 years after Rachel Carson and Silent Spring awakened the world to the dangers of unchecked pesticide use, we have failed to heed her warnings.
Recent news about Monsanto’s actions on glyphosate:
New York Times: “Monsanto’s Roundup Faces European Politics and US Lawsuits,” by Danny Hakim, Oct. 4, 2017
Le Monde Series:
- “Monsanto Papers”: les agences sous l’influence de la firme, by Stéphane Foucart and Stéphane Horel, Oct. 5, 2017
- Soupçons sur les substances ajoutées au glyphosate dans les “produits formulés,” by Stéphane Horel and Stéphane Foucart, Oct. 5, 2017
- “Monsanto Papers”: des dérives inadmissibles, Oct. 5, 2017
- “Monsanto papers”: désinformation organisée autour du glyphosate, by Stéphane Foucart and Stéphane Horel, Oct. 4, 2017
The Guardian: “Monsanto Banned from EU Parliament,” by Arthur Neslen, Sept. 28, 2017
USRTK: “How Monsanto Manufactured ‘Outrage’ Over IARC Cancer Classification of Glyphosate,” by Carey Gillam, Sept. 19, 2017
Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, researcher, and writer with more than 25 years of experience covering corporate America. A former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service, Gillam digs deep into the big business of food and agriculture.
U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy.
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.
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.”
By Carey Gillam
As agrochemical giant Monsanto Co. faces a growing wave of U.S. lawsuits over its top-selling Roundup herbicide line, among its key defense arguments is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long backed the safety of the weed-killing products.
And indeed, the EPA has been a stalwart supporter of Monsanto Co.’s claims of safety, assuring the public that there is nothing to fear from the company’s cocktail of chemicals. But internal agency documents, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, indicate that as recently as last year, the agency had holes in its data files when it comes to the actual Roundup formulations used by consumers, farmers and others around the world. The documents also raise questions about how and why regulators for years have failed to require robust testing on what is the world’s most widely used weed killer.
The EPA documents show that only a little more than a year ago, in March and April of 2016, EPA officials were scrambling to gather data on ingredients Monsanto has commonly used to formulate its herbicide products. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup brands as well as hundreds of other herbicides, and the agency has a deep database of studies submitted by Monsanto regarding that specific chemical. But in the EPA records from 2016, the agency is seen urgently asking Monsanto for any studies it could provide analyzing the safety of its fully formulated products and seeking to understand the make-up of formulations used for decades. Even though Monsanto has been selling Roundup herbicides for more than 40 years, the internal agency documents indicate the agency had only sparse information about those formulations.
The EPA’s interest in scrutinizing formulations came after the agency was poised to issue an updated favorable risk assessment of glyphosate in 2015. The agency only delayed finalizing that assessment after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported in 2015 that there was enough peer-reviewed, published research to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. IARC also noted in its report that there was research showing risks with formulations.
The EPA appeared to be playing catch-up in March of last year when agency officials requested information from Monsanto on the inert ingredients in popular U.S. and European formulations of glyphosate used in “the present day and also dating back to the 80s.” EPA was particularly interested in “information on how glyphosate formulations have changed over time in the last 20-30 years.”
“EPA suggested that Monsanto provide in writing any information that documents the changes of glyphosate formulations over time and across the globe.” 4/5/16
The EPA records also show a certain level of double-talk about that lack of data. Even as the agency was working to gather details on the Roundup formulations, the agency was at the same time assuring the public that there was no reason for concern because the EPA had the information needed to gauge the safety of those formulations.
Consider this statement from the agency:
“Often, glyphosate products contain water, dyes, and/or surfactants that help facilitate movement of glyphosate into the plant…” EPA Chemical Review Manager Khue Nguyen wrote in January 2016 to an 83-year-old homeowner who had read about Roundup concerns and written to the agency seeking answers. “While manufacturers of pesticide products do not always disclose all ‘other ingredients’ on their labels … they are required to disclose those ingredients to EPA. Inert ingredients in a product such as Roundup are not of concern for the consumer when pesticide products are used according to the label.”
Contrast those public assurances about the EPA’s knowledge of Roundup ingredients with an internal discussion documented by Nguyen three months later. In an email dated April 6, 2016, Nguyen reminded five Monsanto executives that the EPA had a “time sensitive” information request—it needed data, and the notes attached to the email show a particular need for data on glyphosate formulations:
“In an effort to resolve questions about the potential toxicity of glyphosate, glyphosate formulations, and any co-formulants (inert ingredients and surfactants), EPA was interested in any data or information Monsanto may have on how the formulations may differ from data on the active ingredient and surfactants independently of one another,” the notes attached to Nguyen’s email state. The notes go on to ask for information about changes in Monsanto’s Roundup formulation “over the years.”
The notes state “Monsanto indicated that up until 2000, nearly all glyphosate products on the market were its Roundup formulation which used some form of tallow amine as a surfactant. Afterwards, the properties of surfactants used and the ratio of surfactant to active ingredient were changed in most formulations… EPA suggested that Monsanto provide in writing any information that documents the changes of glyphosate formulations over time and across the globe.”
Subsequent to that meeting, Monsanto did send over some data, and in a follow-up email dated April 18, 2016, an EPA scientist sought clarification about what to look for. “Just to be clear on our strategy here, we want to see which of these we have or don’t have, and we also want to see if there are any formulation studies that will help our analysis. Does that sound right?”
It is heartening that EPA is starting to pay attention to questions about the safety of Roundup formulations, but such evaluations are long overdue and the agency’s public assurances of safety despite the lack of data is “such hypocrisy,” said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist with the Consumers Union. “And it’s an admission that this is a big problem.”
These mixtures, or formulations, have raised concerns with certain independent scientists who say laboratory studies show the combinations of glyphosate with other substances used in Roundup are more toxic that glyphosate alone, and can possibly cause cancer or other health problems. Some research has indicated the formulations can be endocrine disruptors, meaning they have the potential to trigger serious diseases such as cancers, reproductive and developmental problems, and birth defects.
The EPA’s knowledge—or lack thereof—about formulated Roundup products is also potentially important to litigation pending against Monsanto. Thousands of people around the United States are suing the chemical company, alleging that not only did Roundup exposure cause them or their loved ones to get cancer, but that Monsanto knew the Roundup formulations could be harmful but covered up the evidence. They also allege that certain EPA officials colluded with Monsanto in the handling of safety assessments, and the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has confirmed it is probing those concerns.
One ingredient traditionally used in Roundup has been the focus of particular scrutiny as some research has shown that this added ingredient, polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA), can be extremely damaging to human cells. POEA is a surfactant that helps glyphosate adhere to the leaves of plants. European regulators became so concerned with POEA that in 2016 they agreed to ban it from use as a co-formulant in glyphosate-based herbicides after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), in a 2015 report, said there was insufficient data available to perform a risk assessment on POEA. EFSA stated: “Its genotoxicity, long term toxicity/carcinogenicity, reproductive/developmental toxicity and endocrine disrupting potential should be further clarified.”
In part of the April 18, 2016 email string with the EPA, a Monsanto executive confirmed the widespread use of POEA in its products, telling the EPA “the surfactant system used almost exclusively in Roundup agricultural herbicide formulations globally throughout these two decades (the 1980s and 1990s) contained a polyethoxylated tallow amine surfactant…”
Monsanto says on its website that tallowamine-based products “do not pose an imminent risk for human health when used according to instructions” and points out that in 2009 the EPA exempted the surfactant from legal limitations on residues in food, because there “is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to the general population…”
Still, the company itself has admitted a lack of extensive safety tests on its formulated products. In an internal Monsanto email from December 2010, a Monsanto chemistry regulatory affairs manager noted that “with regards to the carcinogenicity of our formulations we don’t have such testing on them directly…” The manager went on to explain that the company has “extensive testing” on glyphosate and “some extensive tox testing” on the surfactant and should be able to address questions about the safety of its formulations “in a confident manner.” That email and hundreds of others were obtained by plaintiffs as part of discovery in the lawsuits against Monsanto.
In a 2002 email also obtained as part of discovery in the court case, a Monsanto scientist writes to a colleague, “we are in pretty good shape with glyphosate but vulnerable with surfactants. What I’ve been hearing from you is that this continues to be the case with these studies – Glyphosate is OK but the formulated product (and thus the surfactant) does the damage.” In another 2002 email between the same Monsanto colleagues, the scientist writes, “Even though no testing requirements have been implemented for several years now, this damn endocrine crap just doesn’t go away, does it.”
And in a 2003 email, a Monsanto toxicologist writes, “you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement. The testing on the formulations are not anywhere near the level of the active ingredient. We can make that statement about glyphosate and can infer that there is no reason to believe that Roundup would cause cancer.”
An EPA spokesman confirmed that the agency does not “routinely require long-term toxicity studies for pesticide product formulations” as it does for active ingredients like glyphosate. He added, however, that all inert ingredients in pesticide products, must be approved for use by EPA and “each component of an inert mixture must be supported by a battery of toxicity data and must be approved for use by EPA.”
Further, the EPA spokesman said, “If there are data to indicate risk for a formulated mixture, EPA evaluates the potential effects in our risk assessments. The human health risk assessment process is conservative… thus ensuring that when a pesticide is used according to the label, people are well protected.”
The EPA’s recent interest in pursuing questions about formulated glyphosate products was also seen in September 2016, when the agency stated that it was collaborating with the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to develop a research plan that would evaluate “the role of glyphosate in product formulations and the differences in formulation toxicity.” The agency acknowledged that “currently, the publicly available information regarding non-cancer endpoints for glyphosate and glyphosate formulations is limited.”
The status of EPA’s involvement in that collaboration is unknown but the NTP confirms on its website that it is “undertaking additional research to investigate the potential genetic and mechanistic toxicity of glyphosate and glyphosate formulations.”
Still, CropLife America, the lobbying group for Monsanto and other agrochemical industry players, have made it clear such an inquiry is not welcomed. In a letter dated October 2016, CropLife questioned “why EPA would collaborate and develop a research program with the National Toxicology Program (NTP) without input from the registrant.” That registrant, Monsanto, “would be the appropriate source” for data EPA might need, CropLife wrote.
This story was originally published by EcoWatch.