Research contract gave Bayer control of neonics study methods, but university researchers claim full credit

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A research contract gave multinational pesticide manufacturers ample influence over pesticide research conducted at a state university.

Experts in research ethics found fault with the influence the contract gave the funders, and linked the situation to broader transparency failures in corporate-funded research.

Resulting scientific studies only acknowledged the funds the pesticide manufacturers contributed to the project, despite the contract granting them influence over the study methods. University researchers say this is because the pesticide manufacturers’ involvement was less than what was outlined in the contract.

In 2017, Bayer and Syngenta, two companies that manufacture neonicotinoid insecticides, gave $301,671 to Iowa State University (ISU) researchers for a project titled “Estimating the exposure to neonicotinoid residues in pollinator-attractive habitat adjacent to corn and soybean fields.”

Start of the 2017 contract between Bayer, Syngenta, and ISU.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are one of the most commonly used insecticides in the world, and are toxic to bees and other pollinators. They are systemic insecticides, which means a plant can absorb and distribute them throughout all its parts.

When the ISU researchers proposed this research, they cited existing evidence that neonics from crop fields wind up in nearby flowers, whether they are weeds or intentionally-planted pollinator refuges.

Excerpt from the problem statement of the 2017 contract between Bayer, Syngenta, and ISU.

The research contract sought to answer whether the neonic levels in pollinator plantings, or “prairie strips”, next to crop fields were high enough to hurt pollinators. One impetus for the study was to determine whether those plantings could harm bees and butterflies by luring them to pesticide-contaminated food. Another was to assess whether it was necessary to maintain a 125-foot pesticide-free buffer around monarch butterfly breeding habitat, according to the contract.

The contract was prepared after the funders and ISU faculty discussed their shared study interests during the 2016 International Congress of Entomology, ISU News Service Director Angie Hunt said. Hunt said she was speaking on behalf of Matthew O’Neal, Joel Coats, and Steve Bradbury, all ISU faculty listed as study personnel funded by the contract.

“Those conversations led to Iowa State’s development of a research proposal to measure exposure in prairie strips, as the strips provided a location where neonics and bees would likely be found,” Hunt said. Bayer and Syngenta didn’t write the contract’s statement of work, she said:

“Iowa State University researchers drafted the statement of work; it was not a collaborative effort [with the funders].”

What the research contract allows Bayer to do

The contract let Bayer advise on the study’s methods and for its employee to assist on the “design, conduct, and interpretation of the study.”

“Specific methods from Bayer will be utilized to extract samples of pollen, nectar, leaves, water, and soil from the field sites,” the contract stated. “Samples will be stored before extraction and after extraction according to best practices provided by Bayer CropScience.”

“Extraction Procedures” section of 2017 contract between Bayer, Syngenta, and ISU.

The methods also said that “ISU and Bayer will work together” prior to analyzing neonicotinoid residues on any samples “to select standards and receive training for the Toxicology graduate student regarding analytical methods.”

The contract empowered Bayer scientist Dan Schmehl to assist with the “design, conduct, and interpretation of the study.” Bayer employee Michael McCarville was slated to “interface with growers participating in the study.”

The contract also said that Bayer may sample farmer participant seeds, provide transit stability samples to ensure the stability of relevant analytes and metabolites in pollen and nectar samples, and train two “team members” at their North American headquarters.

Furthermore, the contract required ISU to give Bayer and Syngenta 30 days to review and comment on all prospective publications or presentations to determine if they contained any confidential information.

“If Bayer and Syngenta raise no objection within the notification period above,” then ISU could proceed, according to the contract. It also required ISU to obtain the funders’ permission before accepting federal funding or otherwise involving a federal agency in the project.

Experts flag Bayer’s control over the research 

“This isn’t really an independent university study,” -Lisa Bero

Experts say the contract gave Bayer a level of control over the research that they expected to be disclosed in the final publication. “What’s interesting here to me is, this isn’t really an independent university study because we’ve got two Bayer employees who are actually on the project. So, this is really just a joint company project that involves some university researchers,” Lisa Bero said of the contract. Bero is a professor of medicine and public health, and a chief scientist for the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at University of Colorado.

Paul Thacker, an investigative journalist specializing in research conflicts of interest, agreed. He noted the contract puts Bayer in charge of setting the standards and methods, as well as the null values for the sampling.

“[The contract] makes these guys look like they’re a lab for hire… Bayer could have hired a contract research lab to do this exact kind of research, but then it would’ve been a Bayer study. But they didn’t want it to be a Bayer study,” he said.

Although it’s common for funders to have the right to review manuscripts prior to publication, Thacker said he interprets the contract to mean that the funders could also stop publication, quoting this provision: “If Bayer and Syngenta raise no objection within the notification period above, then University has the right to proceed with public disclosure.”

“That was very worrisome,” Thacker said. He also took issue with the clause concerning federal funding. “What if [ISU] found a problem and wanted to notify the EPA? … They can’t. It’s just weird.”

Bayer’s level of influence, as outlined in the contract, ought to justify authorship or acknowledgements in resulting publications, experts said.

“Given that Bayer scientist Dan Schmehl was listed as assisting with the ‘design, conduct, and interpretation of the study’ in the contract, I think that should have been declared in the published paper. He should probably have been listed as an author for that reason, even if he did not write any of the sentences in the final paper,” Erik Millstone said. Millstone, a professor emeritus at the University of Sussex, researches the causes and consequences of scientific and technological change in the food and agricultural sectors and has studied corporate influence on science and policy.

Bero agreed.

“They have very significant roles in the project,” she said of Bayer’s Schmehl and McCarville.

McCarville’s stated role, although smaller, is significant, she said.

“If this is analogous to a clinical trial, he’s kind of like the person enrolling patients in the trial,” Bero said. “Maybe he wouldn’t appear as an author, but he would certainly be acknowledged, as he interfaces with the growers.”

Studies referred to Bayer and Syngenta only as funders

So far, the ISU team has produced two scientific publications related to the contract. Both say the work was funded by a grant from Bayer and Syngenta.

The 2020 paper in Molecules, a MDPI publication, describes a method the ISU researchers used to analyze pollen and leaf tissue samples for neonics. The paper explicitly says, “The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.”

The Conflict of Interest statement on the ISU team’s 2020 paper

It mentions that Bayer provided the analytical chemical standards for the analysis.

The 2022 paper, in Agriculture, Ecosystems, and the Environment, an Elsevier publication, describes the levels of various neonics they found in cropland-adjacent soil and leaf tissue, including milkweed, and determines that the levels were not high enough to hurt monarch butterfly larvae. It says the authors have “no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.”

The Funding, Conflict of Interest, and Acknowledgements sections of the ISU team’s 2022 paper.

Neither publication names Schmehl, McCarville, or any other contributions Bayer made besides funding and the analytical standards.

ISU describes Bayer’s contributions to the study

According to ISU, Bayer’s methodological and logistical contributions were less than what’s described in the contract, and that’s why neither publication mentions Bayer in any context other than funding and providing analytical samples.

“The grant lists a limited range of methodological options that could be used if considered necessary. Bayer’s contributions were limited to technical advice to ensure methods were within industry standards,” Hunt said.

What parts of the contract that cited Bayer’s involvement were utilized?

“While the Iowa State University team was informed of Bayer’s analytical chemistry and sampling techniques, the analytical method published by Hall et al. 2020 was developed solely by Hall and others at Iowa State. Sample collection and storage followed generally accepted practices,” Hunt said. “Dan Schmehl provided training on how to extract pollen and nectar from individual bees.”

Hunt said ISU was not aware of Michael McCarville interacting with any growers, despite his mention in the contract.

Bayer also provided analytical standard samples for ISU’s chemical analysis, she confirmed. But Bayer did not conduct their own analyses of farmer participants’ treated seeds, nor did ISU use the transit stability samples that Bayer provided for them, Hunt said. ISU researchers did visit Bayer’s headquarters in 2017 to present their study proposal and tour Bayer’s bee research facility, she said.

ISU said Schmehl provided training to extract pollen and nectar from bees, and advised on industry standards expected by the EPA. But U.S. Right to Know obtained an email thread from April 2018 in which O’Neal asked Schmehl whether they should include a certain site in the second year of their study, since it was using chlorantraniliprole, a non-neonic seed treatment.

Schmehl responded: “You are correct that we will not use chlorantraniliprole since this is not within scope for the methods developed to screen for the neonics.”

Schmehl then asked for the scope of the second year’s project scope and budget so Bayer could work on extending the funding agreement for another year.

“As soon as sites and scope are confirmed, I want to get our team in contact with your contract department so that we can extend our agreement from last year to a second year and get this project officially funded for you. What is the latest on corn planting? Are the sites proposed for the continuation of our study prepared for our use?” Schmehl asked the researchers.

“The email you referenced was a conversation about the scope of future work, not a request for technical contribution to the research,” Hunt said when asked why the researchers sought Schmehl’s advice on sampling sites, and what other matters he advised on.

Bayer spokesperson Kyel Richard did not respond when asked to name Schmehl’s and Bayer’s specific contributions to the methodology.

“University researchers play an invaluable role in ensuring growers can use agriculture technologies safely, sustainably, and effectively. We have a long history of working alongside and supporting university researchers – this kind of university/company collaboration is very common and important across science-based industries,” he said in a statement.

“We stand behind our work with university researchers, and as a science-based company we are committed to transparency and independence of science.

“Depending on the research project, companies can contribute to the work of university researchers in a variety of ways, including by providing resources (e.g., funding, products, equipment) or with more involved support (e.g., making nonbinding proposals for study design, data collection, data analysis). Importantly, the researchers remain in control of the project at all times, including any results. According to good scientific publication practice, it is important to us that researchers properly acknowledge our contributions in scientific publications just as they appropriately acknowledge the contributions of every other participant.”

Richard referred to Bayer’s statements on transparency. Under “Transparency for our Scientific Collaborations,” the company says they “publicly disclose new contract-based scientific collaborations with universities, public research institutions and individuals in Germany via the Bayer Science Collaboration Explorer (BSCE).”

That database “has successfully piloted in Germany, and we will include data on scientific collaborations in the United States in the near future,” Richard said.

However, there have been cases when the chemical industry has obscured the full extent of its role in scientific studies. For example, internal Monsanto documents released during litigation over the human health impacts of the glyphosate-based herbicide called Roundup, showed the company engaged in ghostwriting, or secretly authoring journal articles that were supposedly authored by academic researchers. Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018.

Did Bayer’s role in methodology merit disclosure?

There is a discrepancy between what Bayer was contractually bound to provide, and the acknowledgement of their role in the published studies, Thacker said. “Either [ISU] violated the contract or they violated the acknowledgements. Those two things don’t match,” he said.

“No one who would pick up the studies would have any clue of Bayer’s legally acknowledged involvement.”

The contract itself, Thacker said, is a legally binding document, quoting: “University will conduct the testing in strict compliance with the Project and agrees not to deviate from the Project unless agreed by all parties. University will strictly conform to all regulations which may apply to its activities in the framework of the Project.” If ISU didn’t plan to follow the contract’s work designations, Thacker said, “why put it in there?”

MDPI conflict of interest guidelines state that authors must disclose “any personal circumstances or interest that may be perceived as influencing the representation or interpretation of reported research results,” and “Any role of the funding sponsors in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results must be declared in this section.”

MDPI’s authorship guidelines state that authorship should be granted to someone who substantially contributes to the study concept or design, or data collection, analysis or interpretation, drafts or revises the publication, approves the final version of the publication, and accepts accountability for all aspects of the work. “Those who contributed to the work but do not qualify for authorship should be listed in the acknowledgments.”

Elsevier’s guidelines require a statement on the role of the publication’s sponsors in study design, data collection, analysis, or interpretation, report writing, and decision to submit the article for publication. “If the funding source(s) had no such involvement, it is recommended to state this.”

Editors for Molecules and Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment, as well as the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) did not return requests for comment about their conflict of interest standards.

“ISU seems to be indicating… that Bayer had a much lesser role than indicated in the contract,” Bero said. She said that it could be hard for an editor of a publication to determine whether ISU’s disclosure was adequate based on the available information.

“It is very difficult to know what the truth is,” she said.

No disclosure of concurrent grants from the same companies

Aside from the question of disclosing Bayer’s methodological contributions, the ISU researchers apparently did not disclose the other funding they were receiving concurrently from Bayer and Syngenta.

Elsevier recommends that authors declare any financial interests or relationships within the last three years related to the subject matter but not directly to the manuscript.

According to O’Neal’s CV, he received a separate $8,000 grant from Syngenta in 2019. O’Neal was also part of a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) grant (2018-2021) that received matching funds from agrichemical companies, including Bayer and Syngenta. Although outside of the Elsevier publication’s three-year window, O’Neal and two colleagues also received a $539,913 grant from Monsanto between 2015 and 2018.

According to Bradbury’s CV, he was a part of the same 2018-2021 FFAR grant with matching agrichemical industry funds as O’Neal. He received $45,000 from Bayer, Syngenta, and Dupont between 2017 and 2018 to fund an IPM conference, and accepted $98,850 from Monsanto from 2018-2021 for a monarch butterfly study.

Dr. Coats has not publicly updated his CV since 2014, but Bradbury’s CV lists him on the $98,950 Monsanto grant from 2018-2021.

The grants that fell within the three year window of publication should have been disclosed, Bero said.

Millstone said the authors may have provided “all the information that was formally required by that journal, but not all the information that could be relevant, and maybe not all the information that Elsevier asserts authors should declare.”

“If they had agreed and signed other contracts, that should have been disclosed under Elsevier’s rules,” he added.

ISU said that “the authors provided the appropriate disclosures applicable to the research” when asked why they didn’t disclose Bayer’s “technical advice” contributions, or whether they notified the publishers of the other grants they received from the funders within the three-year window.

Other conflicts of interest

The potential benefits of this research to Bayer and Syngenta are visible to Thacker.

“It’s Bayer. Their job is to sell pesticides, it’s not to save butterflies,” he said.

The research questions could be interpreted as motivated by a concern for potential litigation or regulation, he said.

“Is [the research out of] concern that you’re harming butterflies, or is it concern that you’re going to get an expanded buffer or pesticide ban,” he said.

Pesticide-free buffers mean less land available for pesticide application, he noted.

Dr. Millstone said he’s observed a pattern in his work, in which industry-sponsored studies “purporting to put some industrial product or process in the clear are cunningly contrived to produce as favorable results as possible while also cunningly concealing the fact that it’s so contrived.”

“You decide what answers you want and you contrive a methodology to give you the answer you want, then you report your methodology as if that is the only sensical thing to do in the first place,” he said.

When asked whether Bayer’s role in the study constituted a conflict of interest, Hunt said that all ISU participants in the study complied with the university’s conflict of interest and commitment policy.

Further grants

Bayer awarded the ISU researchers $96,302 in April 2018, a year after the first grant was signed, to continue the sample collection and chemical analysis started in 2017. The 2018 grant had all the same stipulations involving Bayer as the 2017 grant, except it no longer referred to Bayer’s transit stability samples, or funding for training opportunities at Bayer headquarters.

In 2019, the team received a third yearlong grant of $90,000 from Syngenta and BASF to focus further on pollen and nectar collection. The 2019 grant does not mention any methodological contributions from the funders.

A future manuscript from the ISU team will analyze “pollen and nectar collected by bees (A. mellifera and Bombus spp.) within these prairie strips” for neonics, according to the group’s 2022 Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment paper.

This work’s relation to broader patterns of corporate-funded research

“Why on earth did the companies bother to go to the university academics and ask them to do the work rather than simply doing it themselves?” Millstone asked. “They’ve got the technological capability, in fact, in some respects they’ve got more technology and resources than the academics have.”

“I think the companies Bayer and Syngenta were funding this to try to give an illusion of independence and objectivity to the study.” – Erik Millstone

“I think the companies Bayer and Syngenta were funding this to try to give an illusion of independence and objectivity to the study,” Millstone said.

What does it mean for academic literature when corporate influence or conflicts of interest are not adequately disclosed?

“Corporate sponsors want to guide the selection of questions that researchers study, and then they try to influence which data are collected, how those data are interpreted, and which conclusions are reached,” Millstone said.

“Having invested in generating reassuring narratives about their products, those studies are fed into policy-making institutions, like the FDA and EPA,” he said, while corporations are also influencing those agencies’ scientists, as well as the policymakers regulating their products.

“The net result is a regime in which the protection of public and environmental health is compromised and undermined to benefit corporate and commercial interests.”

U.S. Right to Know obtained the documents for this report through an Iowa Open Records Law request to Iowa State University.

Abbe Hamilton is an investigative reporter covering neonicotinoid science and policy for U.S. Right to Know.

Documents referenced in this piece include:

The 2017 contract between Bayer, Syngenta, and ISU

ISU’s 2020 paper in Molecules

ISU’s 2022 Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment paper

Matching funds documents from a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research grant to researchers including O’Neal and Bradbury that ran 2018-2021

A 2018 email thread between Bayer’s Dan Schmehl and Matt O’Neal

International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a Food Industry Lobby Group

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The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a corporate-funded nonprofit organization based in Washington DC, with 17 affiliated chapters around the world. ILSI describes itself as a group that conducts “science for the public good” and “improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment.” However, investigations by academics, journalists and public interest researchers show that ILSI is a lobby group that protects the interests of the food industry, not public health.

Recent news

  • March 2022 study in Cambridge University Press found that 95% of the U.S. 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had conflicting interests with the food, and/or pharmaceutical industries. Particular actors, including Kellogg, Abbott, Kraft, Mead Johnson, General Mills, Dannon, and the ILSI had connections with multiple members. “Trustworthy dietary guidelines result from a transparent, objective, and science-based, process,” the researchers wrote. The “significant and widespread” COI on the committee “prevent the DGA from achieving the recommended standard for transparency without mechanisms in place to make this information publicly available.”

  • February 2022 study in Globalization and Health co-authored by U.S. Right to Know shows that food and chemical industry players view the International Food Information Council (IFIC) as “being central to promoting industry-favorable content in defense of products facing potentially negative press, such as aspartame…” The study describes IFIC as “a sister entity to ILSI. ILSI generates the scientific facts and IFIC communicates them to the media and public. See also, IFIC: How Big Food Spins Bad News.

  • April 2021 study in Globalization and Health documents how ILSI plays a key role in helping the food industry shape scientific principles by promoting the acceptance of public-private partnerships and permissiveness about conflicts of interest. 

  • Coca-Cola has severed its longtime ties with ILSI. The move is “a blow to the powerful food organization known for its pro-sugar research and policies,” Bloomberg reported in January 2021.  
  • ILSI helped Coca-Cola Company shape obesity policy in China, according to a September 2020 study in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh. “Beneath ILSI’s public narrative of unbiased science and no policy advocacy lay a maze of hidden channels companies used to advance their interests. Working through those channels, Coca Cola influenced China’s science and policy making during every phase in the policy process, from framing the issues to drafting official policy,” the paper concludes.

  • Documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know add more evidence that ILSI is a food industry front group. A May 2020 study in Public Health Nutrition based on the documents reveal “a pattern of activity in which ILSI sought to exploit the credibility of scientists and academics to bolster industry positions and promote industry-devised content in its meetings, journal, and other activities.” See coverage in The BMJ, Food and drink industry sought to influence scientists and academics, emails show  (5.22.20)

  • Corporate Accountability’s April 2020 report examines how food and beverage corporations have leveraged ILSI to infiltrate the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and cripple progress on nutrition policy around the globe. See coverage in The BMJ, Food and soft drink industry has too much influence over US dietary guidelines, report says (4.24.20) 

  • New York Times investigation by Andrew Jacobs reveals that a trustee of the industry-funded nonprofit ILSI advised the Indian government against going ahead with warning labels on unhealthy foods. The Times described ILSI as a “shadowy industry group” and “the most powerful food industry group you’ve never heard of.” (9.16.19) The Times cited a June study in Globalization and Health co-authored by Gary Ruskin of U.S. Right to Know reporting that ILSI operates as a lobby arm for its food and pesticide industry funders.

  • The New York Times revealed the undisclosed ILSI ties of Bradley C. Johnston, a co-author of five recent studies claiming red and processed meat don’t pose significant health problems. Johnston used similar methods in an ILSI-funded study to claim sugar is not a problem. (10.4.19)

  • Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog, ILSI: true colors revealed (10.3.19)

ILSI ties to Coca-Cola 

ILSI was founded in 1978 by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president at Coca-Cola who worked for Coke from 1969-2001. Coca-Cola has kept close ties with ILSI. Michael Ernest Knowles, Coca-Cola’s VP of global scientific and regulatory affairs from 2008–2013, was president of ILSI from 2009-2011. In 2015, ILSI’s president was Rhona Applebaum, who retired from her job as Coca-Cola’s chief health and science officer (and from ILSI) in 2015 after the New York Times and Associated Press reported that Coke funded the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network to help shift blame for obesity away from sugary drinks.  

Corporate funding 

ILSI is funded by its corporate members and company supporters, including leading food and chemical companies. ILSI acknowledges receiving funding from industry but does not publicly disclose who donates or how much they contribute. Our research reveals:

  • Corporate contributions to ILSI Global amounting to $2.4 million in 2012. This included $528,500 from CropLife International, a $500,000 contribution from Monsanto and $163,500 from Coca-Cola.
  • A draft 2013 ILSI tax return shows ILSI received $337,000 from Coca-Cola and more than $100,000 each from Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Agrisciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Bayer CropScience and BASF.
  • A draft 2016 ILSI North America tax return shows a $317,827 contribution from PepsiCo, contributions greater than $200,000 from Mars, Coca-Cola, and Mondelez, and contributions greater than $100,000 from General Mills, Nestle, Kellogg, Hershey, Kraft, Dr. Pepper, Snapple Group, Starbucks Coffee, Cargill, Uniliver and Campbell Soup.  

Emails show how ILSI seeks to influence policy to promote industry views 

A May 2020 study in Public Health Nutrition adds evidence that ILSI is a food industry front group. The study, based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records requests, reveals how ILSI promotes the interests of the food and agrichemical industries, including ILSI’s role in defending controversial food ingredients and suppressing views that are unfavorable to industry; that corporations such as Coca-Cola can earmark contributions to ILSI for specific programs; and, how ILSI uses academics for their authority but allows industry hidden influence in their publications.

The study also reveals new details about which companies fund ILSI and its branches, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions documented from leading junk food, soda and chemical companies.

A June 2019 paper in Globalization and Health provides several examples of how ILSI advances the interests of the food industry, especially by promoting industry-friendly science and arguments to policymakers. The study is based on documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know via state public records laws.  

The researchers concluded: “ILSI seeks to influence individuals, positions, and policy, both nationally and internationally, and its corporate members deploy it as a tool to promote their interests globally. Our analysis of ILSI serves as a caution to those involved in global health governance to be wary of putatively independent research groups, and to practice due diligence before relying upon their funded studies and/or engaging in relationship with such groups.”   

ILSI undermined obesity fight in China

In January 2019, two papers by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh revealed ILSI’s powerful influence on the Chinese government on issues related to obesity. The papers document how Coca-Cola and other corporations worked through the China branch of ILSI to influence decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Read the papers:

ILSI is so well-placed in China that it operates from inside the government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing.

Professor Geenhalgh’s papers document how Coca-Cola and other Western food and beverage giants “helped shape decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related diseases” by operating through ILSI to cultivate key Chinese officials “in an effort to stave off the growing movement for food regulation and soda taxes that has been sweeping the west,” the New York Times reported.  

Additional academic research from U.S. Right to Know about ILSI 

The UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents Archive has over 6,800 documents pertaining to ILSI.  

ILSI sugar study “right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook”

Public health experts denounced an ILSI-funded sugar study published in a prominent medical journal in 2016 that was a “scathing attack on global health advice to eat less sugar,” reported Anahad O’Connor in The New York Times. The ILSI-funded study argued that warnings to cut sugar are based on weak evidence and cannot be trusted.  

The Times story quoted Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research, on the ILSI study: “This comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science,” Nestle said. “This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.” 

Tobacco companies used ILSI to thwart policy 

A July 2000 report by an independent committee of the World Health Organization outlined a number of ways in which the tobacco industry attempted to undermine WHO tobacco control efforts, including using scientific groups to influence WHO’s decision-making and to manipulate scientific debate surrounding the health effects of tobacco. ILSI played a key role in these efforts, according to a case study on ILSI that accompanied the report. Findings indicate that ILSI was used by certain tobacco companies to thwart tobacco control policies. Senior office bearers in ILSI were directly involved in these actions,” according to the case study. See: 

The UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents Archive has more than 6,800 documents pertaining to ILSI

ILSI leaders helped defend glyphosate as chairs of key panel 

In May 2016, ILSI came under scrutiny after revelations that the vice president of ILSI Europe, Professor Alan Boobis, was also chairman of a UN panel that found Monsanto’s chemical glyphosate was unlikely to pose a cancer risk through diet. The co-chair of the UN Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), Professor Angelo Moretto, was a board member of ILSI’s Health and Environment Services Institute. Neither of the JMPR chairs declared their ILSI leadership roles as conflicts of interest, despite the significant financial contributions ILSI has received from Monsanto and the pesticide industry trade group. See: 

ILSI’s cozy ties at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  

In June 2016, U.S. Right to Know reported that Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of a CDC division charged with preventing heart disease and stroke, tried to help ILSI’s founder Alex Malaspina influence World Health Organization officials to back off policies to reduce sugar consumption. Bowman suggested people and groups for Malaspina to talk to, and solicited his comments on some CDC summaries of reports, the emails show. (Bowman stepped down after our first article was published reporting on these ties.)

This January 2019 study in the Milbank Quarterly describes key emails of Malaspina cozying up to Dr. Bowman. For more reporting on this topic, see: 

ILSI influence on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

report by the nonprofit group Corporate Accountability documents how ILSI has major influence on U.S. dietary guidelines via its infiltration of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.  The report examines the pervasive political interference of food and beverage transnationals like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nestlé, and PepsiCo, and how these corporations have leveraged the International Life Sciences Institute to cripple progress on nutrition policy across the globe.

ILSI influence in India 

The New York Times reported on ILSI’s influence in India in its article titled, “A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World.”

ILSI has close ties to some Indian government officials and, as in China, the nonprofit has pushed similar messaging and policy proposals as Coca-Cola – downplaying the role of sugar and diet as a cause of obesity, and promoting increased physical activity as the solution, according to the India Resource Center. 

Members of ILSI India’s board of trustees include Coca-Cola India’s director of regulatory affairs and representatives from Nestlé and Ajinomoto, a food additive company, along with government officials who serve on scientific panels that are tasked with deciding about food safety issues.  

Longstanding concerns about ILSI 

ILSI insists it is not an industry lobby group, but concerns and complaints are longstanding about the group’s pro-industry stances and conflicts of interest among the organization’s leaders. See, for example:

Untangle food industry influences, Nature Medicine (2019)

Food agency denies conflict-of-interest claim. But accusations of industry ties may taint European body’s reputation, Nature (2010)

Big Food Vs. Tim Noakes: The Final Crusade, Keep Fitness Legal, by Russ Greene (1.5.17) 

Real Food on Trial, by Dr. Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros (Columbus Publishing 2019). The book describes “the unprecedented prosecution and persecution of Professor Tim Noakes, a distinguished scientist and medical doctor, in a multimillion rand case that stretched over more than four years. All for a single tweet giving his opinion on nutrition.”

Litigation alleging Syngenta’s paraquat weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease moving toward trial

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Lawyers involved in U.S. litigation accusing Syngenta AG of spending decades selling an herbicide that causes Parkinson’s disease are moving toward selection of a bellwether trial to be held roughly a year from now, according to the federal judge overseeing the litigation.

In a hearing on Friday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel of the Southern District of Illinois told lawyers for the hundreds of plaintiffs so far involved in the cases against Syngenta that they should work quickly to have the plaintiffs complete assessment questionnaires and provide their medical records and other relevant documents.

She said lawyers should be planning for a trial this time next year, though it is not clear yet who the first plaintiff or group of plaintiffs will be.

Rosenstengel is overseeing what is known as “multidistrict litigation (MDL) as a means of  consolidating the pretrial proceedings, such as discovery of evidence and depositions of witnesses. There are currently more than 380 cases within the MDL.

The judge also advised lawyers for plaintiffs and the defendants to work to coordinate with lawsuits in state courts that are making the same allegations – that exposure to paraquat weed killer caused the plaintiffs to develop Parkinson’s disease, a devastating neurological disease. Cases are pending in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Along with Syngenta, the defendants include Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP, and Chevron USA, Inc. All have denied any liability.

On Friday, lawyers for Chevron USA Inc. filed a stipulation with the court stating that they had reached an agreement with plaintiffs’ co‐lead counsel allowing for the dismissal of Chevron USA and other entities from the litigation.

The stipulation states that Chevron Chemical Company (whose liabilities Chevron U.S.A. Inc.
assumed) stopped distributing paraquat in 1986 and transferred all paraquat registrations held by Chevron to a non‐Chevron entity at that time.

Lawyers around the United States are advertising for plaintiffs, seeking to draw in thousands of people who’ve been exposed to paraquat and now suffer from Parkinson’s.

The lawsuits include allegations “that manufacturers and sellers of paraquat deliberately concealed the dangers of paraquat for at least four decades, hid evidence of its dangers from government safety agencies, and knowingly unleased a product they knew caused Parkinson’s Disease on the public.”

On Oct. 27, Judge Rosenstengel issued an order regarding the “preservation and production”  of documents and other information. The defendants had already turned over a large amount of internal documents and other materials in a lawsuit that they settled earlier this year. Those materials are to be provided to the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the MDL action.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.  Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

Lawyers for plaintiff George Isaak sought the judge’s permission to grant Isaak an expedited trial early in 2022 but were rejected.

Litigation against Syngenta grows; lawyers fight over evidence and trial dates

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Syngenta AG is facing a growing number of U.S. lawsuits over allegations that its paraquat herbicide causes Parkinson’s disease, with a Fresno, California man pushing for an expedited trial that potentially would start within the next few months, and multiple plaintiffs’ lawyers jockeying for power and influence over future trial proceedings.

Plaintiff George Isaak used paraquat to treat weeds on orchard and vineyard property from 1964 through 2004, mixing, loading and spraying the pesticide routinely before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in May of 2020, according to his lawsuit.

Isaak used a 200-gallon “spraying rig” on the 60-acre farm where he raised peaches, nectarines, almonds, pistachios, and grapes before retiring in 2005. Isaak, 84, now has such severe Parkinson’s symptoms that he has suffered several falls, finds it hard to speak, and is confined to a wheelchair, according to his lawyers.

Isaak attorney Mike Miller said his client has been left with “horrible” injuries from Parkinson’s.

Isaak should now be given a trial date no later than January due to his decline in cognition and overall debilitation to his health, according to a court filing by The Miller Firm and co-counsel.

Isaak “had no reason to suspect that chronic, low-dose exposure to Paraquat could cause neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease,” the lawsuit states. But evidence will show, the lawsuit contends, that the paraquat use was a “substantial factor in causing Plaintiff George Isaak to suffer severe and permanent physical injuries, pain, mental anguish, and disability, and will continue to do so for the remainder of Plaintiff George Isaak’s life.”

Carol Isaak, George Isaak’s wife, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit and is seeking a claim for loss of consortium.

There are hundreds of cases pending in state and federal courts around the country, according to a June 22 court filing. The plaintiffs in those cases all allege Syngenta was aware of the risks but failed to warn users.

Syngenta, which is owned by a Chinese chemical company, has denied the allegations, and is seeking to dismiss, or limit the lawsuits. The company filed a “partial motion to dismiss” in federal court on Sept. 13, citing various state law provisions in asking the court to dismiss claims “for breach of warranty, fraud, and violation of certain consumer protection statutes.”

Along with Syngenta, the defendants include Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP, and Chevron USA, Inc. All have denied any liability.

Infighting among plaintiffs’ lawyers

Syngenta said in a Sept. 17 court filing that it opposes the granting of an expedited trial, known as a “preference” trial, for Isaak.

“Mr. Isaak has presented no evidence regarding his alleged paraquat exposures, and his medical records and doctor’s declaration cast doubt on whether he actually has Parkinson’s disease,” the company said in its filing.

Syngenta noted that there are many other plaintiffs expected to request preference trials.

In addition to the objection from Syngenta, Isaak’s lawyers effort to obtain court approval for a preference trial has come into conflict with an effort by other attorneys representing other plaintiffs in the paraquat litigation.

Plaintiffs law firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger is seeking to create a special committee made up of plaintiffs’ lawyers that would evaluate and screen cases seeking preference trials. Typically such requests for expedited trials go directly to a judge.

The firm said a committee was needed because many of the plaintiffs in the overall paraquat litigation would “likely qualify” for preference. They are proposing a protocol implemented by a five-member committee of plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“The majority of the plaintiffs, including both filed and unfiled cases known to plaintiffs’ counsel, are over the age of 65. The reality of these cases is that there are many plaintiffs, as well as many potential plaintiffs, whose disease progression is unstable and who have a real and substantial danger of losing their ability to testify, or losing their ability to meaningfully utilize their compensation, if their trials are not prioritized,” the firm stated in a court filing.

The firm added in a separate filing: “An uncontrolled race to file competing preference motions risks sending a plaintiff to trial who does not represent the plaintiff population. And should the initial trials be ultimately unsuccessful, it jeopardizes the rights of all remaining plaintiffs in the proceeding.”

Isaak’s lawyers oppose the formation of such a committee and filed a memorandum explaining that opposition on Sept. 17, arguing that the use of a preference committee is “unconstitutional on its face.”

Whether or not a plaintiff meets the criteria deserving of a preference trial should not be left up to the arbitrary nature of a committee of other plaintiffs’ attorneys, they said.

The attorneys registering opposition to the preference committee additionally allege that the Walkup firm has a conflict of interest because it has already reached a “large, lucrative” settlement agreement with Syngenta for some of its clients, and until that deal is finalized, Syngenta and the other defendants still could walk away from the deal.

Thus, the Walkup firm is “a conflicted law firm,” the attorneys allege. In addition to The Miller Firm, the law firms registering opposition are the Wagstaff Law Firm and Brady Law Group.

A hearing on the matter is set for Sept. 30.

Battle over discovery documents

The lawyers for plaintiffs have also been fighting over access to internal Syngenta corporate documents and other evidence obtained as part of court-ordered “discovery.”

Over the last few years, Syngenta and the other defendants turned over millions of documents to Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery in his representation of a paraquat lawsuit titled Hoffman V. Syngenta, that was pending in St. Clair County, Illinois. The Hoffman case had been set to go to trial earlier this year but Tillery and the defendants agreed to a settlement and no trial was held.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs pursuing trials want to make use of the materials already turned over in the Hoffman case, including internal corporate documents as well as depositions and expert reports. Tillery and Syngenta objected to sharing some of the materials but were ordered to do so by the federal judge overseeing consolidated paraquat proceedings in the Northern District of California.

Scientific studies

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.  Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

Syngenta argues that newer and more robust research, including by AHS scientists, has discounted a tie between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

A recent paper from AHS researchers stated that “Extensive literature suggests an association between general pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, with few exceptions, little is known about associations between specific pesticides and PD.”

Because the paraquat litigation is expected to continue to grow, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) in Washington, D.C. approved the consolidation of pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Illinois under the oversight of Chief Judge Nancy Rosenstengel.

Similarly, several other cases are consolidated in Judicial Council Coordination Proceedings in Contra Costa County Superior Court in California.

New analysis of glyphosate industry studies finds them outdated, flawed

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See Carey Gillam’s article in The Guardian, Corporate studies asserting herbicide safety show many flaws, new analysis finds (July 2, 2021). In this post we provide links to the 53 once-secret studies and related materials. 

Questions about the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) have persisted for years, as scientific research has split over whether or not the widely used weed killing chemical introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s causes cancer or other human health problems.

A number of independent studies show links between glyphosate herbicides and cancer and other health problems, leading the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

But Monsanto, purchased by Bayer AG in 2018, has maintained glyphosate is not carcinogenic, nor does it cause other health problems when used as directed. Other large chemical companies that sell glyphosate or related products echo Monsanto’s safety assurances.

Regulators in Europe and the United States, Canada and elsewhere have affirmed the corporate assertions of glyphosate safety. They point to decades of tests conducted by or for the companies that have not been published but which regulators have reviewed, as well as published studies in the scientific literature.

The corporate studies have long been kept secret, even by regulators. But in Europe, litigation by a group of European Parliament lawmakers led to the release of dozens of such studies.

A consumer advocacy group, SumOfUs, provided more than 50 studies to two independent scientists for review – Armen Nersesyan and Siegfried Knasmueller, both from the Institute of Cancer Research, Department of Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.

Knasmueller, the lead author, is an expert in genetic toxicology and along with his work at the cancer institute is editor-in-chief of two prominent scientific journals, including Mutation Research – Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis.

The goal of the evaluation was to determine if the industry studies examined comply with current international guidelines for chemical testing. The studies are those concerning the genotoxic properties of glyphosate.

The resulting analysis was released July 2, 2021 and concluded that the bulk of the industry studies were outdated and did not meet current guidelines. An array of shortcomings and flaws were found in the studies, rendering most of them unreliable, according to the analysis.

In fact, of the 53 studies submitted to regulators by the companies, only two were acceptable under current internationally recognized scientific standards, said Knasmueller.

Knasmueller said there are more reliable methods for detecting carcinogens but those were not used in the industry tests. Read the evaluation here. 

Regulatory renewal sought

The analysis of the older studies comes as the companies that sell glyphosate products are seeking reauthorization in Europe and trying to fight against calls for restrictions and bans on glyphosate across the globe.

In June 2021, the European Union’s (EU) Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) issued an 11,000-page draft report concluding that glyphosate is safe when used as directed and does not cause cancer. The finding is based in part on a dossier of roughly 1,500 studies submitted to European regulators by the “Glyphosate Renewal Group (GRG),” a collection of companies that includes Bayer.

Bayer confirmed that the older studies were included in the new dossier given to European regulators, but said the GRG was “required to submit all genotoxicity studies that have been conducted, including those submitted in past registration review cycles.” The company said the dossier also includes “new genotoxicity studies conducted since the previous re-approval of glyphosate and a vast review of thousands of published scientific publications regarding glyphosate.”

The companies are seeking the renewal of the EU authorization of glyphosate. Current authorization in Europe expires in December 2022. The companies say they also gave regulators a “literature review” of around 12,000 published scientific articles on glyphosate.

 The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) are organizing public consultations to start in September.

The Knasmueller analysis drew both criticism and support from a mix of scientists who reviewed the work. Here are two comments:

Paul Demers,  director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Ontario Health, in Canada:

The classification of the carcinogenicity of glyphosate has been particularly contentious with international bodies disagreeing not only on areas of interpretation but even on which studies to consider. The critical evaluation, using the latest OECD criteria, of 53 studies submitted to Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung and European Food Safety Authority is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. The observation by the authors that few of these studies met the OECD criteria should be considered by regulatory authorities tasked with protecting workers and the public. Personally, I agree with the approaches for evaluation taken by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which were used for glyphosate. That said, I also believe that there needs to room for scientific debate and disagreements on issues of interpretation, criteria for evaluation, and even what studies to include. However, there should not be a debate on transparency when it comes to the evidence considered by public bodies in determining the safety of chemicals.  Studies of health effects, with sufficient details regarding the methods used and the results, need to be accessible and open to the critical eyes of the scientific community and other concerned parties.” 

Raymond Tice, retired scientist, U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, former  President of the U.S. Environmental Mutagen Society: “An analysis of the experimental data supporting the safety of any chemical should be conducted using systematic review methodology… which takes into account not only the completeness of the information but also categorizes the risk of bias, whether positive or negative.  Clearly, this was not conducted by EFSA or by Dr. Knasmueller.  In general, it is not appropriate to disregard all studies that do not meet current standards, but rather to consider the results in terms of their limitations. Overall, It seems to me that Knasmueller is selective (i.e., exhibits bias) in what he presents and does not present. At the same time, I would fault EFSA for not doing due diligence in what they considered…  Also, I agree that there is a suggestion that (glyphosate) is linked to the induction of oxidative stress which can result in DNA damage (i.e., oxidative stress is one of the key characteristics of carcinogens) but would be expected to have a threshold below which damage is not likely to result in an adverse effect.”

Once-secret studies

See the full analysis, authors’ comments, industry summaries, a list of studies submitted for the current European Union re-authorization, and links to 53 previously secret corporate glyphosate studies below:

Reference-List-of-Glyphosate-Studies-submitted-for-the-Renewal-of-Approval-AIR5-of-Glyphosate-in-2020-EN

European Assessment Group on Glyphosate report on glyphosate renewal

Evaluation of the scientific quality of industry studies of genotoxic properties of glyphosate

Comments concerning the mutagenic/genotoxic properties of glyphosate

Toxicological and Metabolism Studies summary by industry

Albaugh 2014 glyphosate reverse mutation assay Switzerland

Syngenta 2012 glyphosate technical micronucleus assay in bone marrow cells of the mouse

Dow Chemical 2012 Micronucleus test of glyphosate TGAI in mice

Industrias Afrasa 2012 reverse mutation with glyphosate

Helm 2010 Reverse Mutation Assay glyphosate using bacteria

Helm 2010 reverse mutation assay 

Helm 2010 mutagenicity of glyphosate testing

Helm 2009 mutagenicity study of glyphosate Germany

Helm 2009 Micronucleus test of glyphosate in bone marrow cells of rat

Syngenta 2009 glyphosate reverse mutation

Jingma Chemicals China 2008 evaluation of the mutagenic potential of glyphosate by reverse mutation assay 

Jingma 2008 evaluation of mutagenic potential of glyphosate by micronucleus assay in mice

Syngenta 2008 glyphosate micronucleus assay in bone marrow cells of the mouse

Helm 2007 Mammalian erythrocyte micronucleus test for glyphosate

Helm Do Brasil 2007 Bacterial reverse mutation test glyphosate

Nufarm 2007 reverse mutation glyphosate technical 05068

Nufarm 2007 1061403 reverse mutation glyphosate technical 05067

Nufarm 2007 1061402 reverse mutation glyphosate technical 05070 

Nufarm 2005 glyphosate technical micronucleus test in the mouse

Monsanto 1998 Mouse micronucleus screening assay of MON-0818

Zeneca Glyphosate 1998 acid Invitro 

Cheminova 1996 reverse mutation glyphosate Brazil

Cheminova 1996 A micronucleus study in mice for the product GILFOS

Zeneca 1996 glyphosate mutagenicity potential

Zeneca 1996 Glyphosate acid mouse bone marrow micronucleus test

Zeneca 1996 glyphosate acid mouse lymphoma gene mutation assay

Sanko 1995 glyphosate in vitro cytogenetics

Sanko 1995 glyphosate DNA Repair Test

Sankyo 1995 reverse mutation study 

Mastra and Maruzen Kako 1995 Technical glyphosate

Mastra and Maruzen Kako 1995 reverse mutation assay glyphosate

Agrichem 1995 Evaluation of ability of glyphosate to induce chromosome aberrations

Feinchemie Schwebda 1994 DNA repair test with primary rat hepatocytes

Feinchemie Schwebda 1994 in vivo mammalian bone marrow cytogenetic test

Feinchemie Schwebda 1993 Mutagenicity-micronucleus glyphosate test in swiss albino mice

Feinchemie Schwebda 1992 Dominant lethal test in Wistar rats

Monsanto 1992 Mouse micronucleus study of Roundup

Monsanto 1992 glyphosate mutagenicity assay on Roundup

Monsanto 1992 Mouse micronucleus study of RODEO glyphosate formulation

Monsanto 1992 glyphosate mutagenicity assay on RODEO herbicide

Monsanto 1992 mouse micronucleus study of DIRECT formulation

Monsanto 1992 glyphosate mutagenicity potential DIRECT brand

Hoechst Dodigen 4022 1992 study of mutagenic potential in strains of salmonella and E Coli

Hoechst Dodigen 4022 1992 Chromosome aberrations in vitro in V79 Chinese hamster cells

Cheminova 1991 #12323 glyphosate mutagenicity test

Cheminova 1991 #12324 Mutagenicity test micronucleus glyphosate

Cheminova 1991 #12325 glyphosate mutagenicity test in vitro mammalian cell gene mutation test

Monsanto 1990 Ames Salmonella mutagenicity assay of MON 0818

Monsanto 1983 In vivo bone marrow cytogenetics study of glyphosate in Sprague-Dawley rats

Monsanto 1983 glyphosate gene mutation assay

Monsanto 1981 Ames salmonella mutagenicity assay of MON 8080

Monsanto 1980 Dominant lethal mutagenicity assay with technical glyphosate in mice

Institute of Environmental Toxicology 1978 Glyphosate report of mutagenic study with bacteria

U.S. judge sets trial in litigation against Syngenta alleging weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease

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A federal judge appointed to coordinate proceedings for claims that Syngenta AG’s paraquat weed killers cause Parkinson’s disease said Wednesday she was setting a jury trial date for Nov. 15, 2022.

U.S. Judge Nancy Rosenstengel of the Southern District of Illinois issued the order in an initial hearing with lawyers from multiple firms who are representing people alleging their exposure to Syngenta’s popular herbicides caused them or family members to develop and suffer from the dreaded neurological disorder.

There are 157 cases pending in state and federal courts around the country, according to a June 22 court filing. The plaintiffs allege Syngenta was aware of the risks but failed to warn users.

Syngenta, which is owned by a Chinese chemical company, has denied the allegations.

Along with Syngenta, the defendants include Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP, and Chevron USA, Inc. All have denied any liability.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.  Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

A more recent paper from AHS researchers stated that “Extensive literature suggests an association between general pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, with few exceptions, little is known about associations between specific pesticides and PD.”

Parkinson’s is an incurable progressive nervous system disorder that limits a person’s ability to control movement, causing tremors, loss of balance and eventually often leaving victims bedridden and/or bound to a wheelchair. The disease is not necessarily fatal but typically becomes severely debilitating.

Dutch neurologist Bastiaan Bloem, who recently authored a book about Parkinson’s, blames widespread exposure to herbicides such as paraquat, along with other toxic chemicals used in agriculture and manufacturing, for the spread of the disease.

The case number for the multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois is 3:21-md-03004-NJR

Some cases already settled

Even as more than 100 cases move forward, several are in the process of settling.

A “notice of settlement” was filed on June 18 in California, stating that the parties in 16 cases pending in that state had reached agreement on settlement terms.

Among the law firms involved in that settlement notice is the Missouri-based firm headed by lawyer Steve Tillery.

Tillery was scheduled to bring one of his cases, Hoffman V. Syngenta, to trial last month, and has accumulated thousands of pages of internal company documents through discovery. He had  threatened to introduce evidence that he said included internal company records showing Syngenta has known for decades that its product causes Parkinson’s Disease.

Tillery has refused to confirm settlement terms.

“Environmental catastrophe” in Nebraska tied to pesticide-contaminating plant; See regulatory docs on AltEn neonicotinoid problems

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(Updated June 10 with state regulatory announcement about seed company clean-up efforts.)

An “environmental catastrophe” unfolding in Nebraska is drawing scrutiny from around the United States and sparking questions about why regulators were unwilling or unable to rein in years of questionable activities by the company known as AltEn LLC.

AltEn has been operating an ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, and advertising the plant site as a disposal facility for seeds coated in an array of pesticides known to be dangerous to humans and wildlife.

It has become a common practice by large seed companies such as Monsanto-owner Bayer AG, Syngenta, Corteva and others to sell seeds for growing corn, soy, wheat and other crops that are coated with neonicotinoids and other chemicals designed to help the plants fight off insects and disease.

Disposing of unwanted supplies of these treated seeds can be costly and complicated, so AltEn’s eagerness to take in the coated seed was welcomed by the seed companies.  The companies say they believed AltEn would properly use and/or dispose of the seeds and they were not aware of a contamination threat.

But the concentration of pesticide-coated seeds being taken in at the AltEn site left the plant’s wastewater and byproducts such as distillers grains contaminated with an pesticides at levels much higher than what is considered safe.

Now the area’s water and soil is showing evidence of contamination.

Carol Blood, a Nebraska state senator, calls the situation an “environmental catastrophe.”  Fish die-offs have been reported miles downstream from the plant and university researchers have reported the decimation of dozens of honeybee colonies, while state officials have received reports of sick and dying geese and other birds.

See this May 29, 2021 story in the Guardian.

As reported in the Guardian, the contamination has been ongoing for years. There have been accidental spills and leaks of the plant’s pesticide-laden waste, which has been stored in poorly maintained lagoons and piled into hills of a putrid lime-green mash called “wet cake.” The company had also distributed the waste to area farmers for spreading across fields as “soil conditioner.”

It was only earlier this year – after the Guardian exposed the problems – that state officials ordered the plant to close, and began clean-up efforts. In February, roughly  a month after the revelations about the dangers of the AltEn plant’s practice of using pesticide-treated seeds, Nebraska state regulators ordered the plant closed.  

The Nebraska Attorney General’s office sued the company in March, alleging multiple violations of environmental regulations and said there is an “ongoing threat to the environment,” because of AltEn’s actions.

Nebraska lawmakers also have now passed a bill restricting the use of pesticide-treated seeds for ethanol production.

And researchers from the University of Nebraska and from Creighton University are launching a 10-year study of the impacts of the AltEn contamination on human and environmental health.

On June 10, 2021, the state announced that a coalition of seed companies – calling themselves the AltEn Facility Response Group – has formally asked the state to allow them develop and help implement short- and long-term remediation plans for the environmental cleanup.

The concerns in Mead are but the latest example of growing global fear about the impacts of neonicotinoids.

See here some of the regulatory documents related to the controversy as well as other background materials:

May 20, 2021 Bayer to NDEE email re pipe leak

May 20, 2021 seed company letter to NDEE re cattle facility sale

May 18, 2021 Bayer email with NDEE over pipe leak report

May 17, 2021 memorandum with aerial photos of AltEn site

May 14, 2021, NDEE approves Bayer request on AltEn water movement 

May 7, 2021 letter regarding pond pesticide sampling concerns

April 8 letter regarding soil sampling at Mead City Park

March 31, 2021 pond sampling results letter

Feb 14, 2021  inspection report of leak

Jan 13, 2021 EPA OPP letter to NDEE regarding pesticides in ethanol wastewater lagoons

Nov. 17, 2020, EPA OPP letter to NDEE regarding pesticides in AltEn wet cake 

Analysis of wetcake distillers grains

Wastewater analysis 

April 2018 citizen complaint

State response to April 2018 complaints

May 2018 state response to complaints

AltEn Stop use & sell letter June 2019

State letter denying permits and discussing problems

May 2018 list of farmers where they spread the waste

July 2018 discussion of wetcake being treated seed

Sept 2020 letter re spills with photos

October 2020 letter of noncompliance

February 2013 permit application from AltEn

Aerial Photos of site taken by state

How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees

Trends in neonicotinoid pesticide residues in food and water in the United States, 1999-2015

Letter from health experts to EPA warning on neonicotinoids

Letter from Endocrine Society to EPA on neonicotinoids 

Neonicotinoid pesticides can stay in the U.S. market, EPA says

Petition to California to regulate neonic-treated seeds

Vanishing Bees: Science, Politics and Honeybee Health (Rutgers University Press, 2017)

See photos below taken by Nebraska state investigators in May 2021 and provided to US Right to Know.

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Consolidation approved for lawsuits against Syngenta and Chevron over herbicide

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A U.S. judicial panel has ordered the pretrial consolidation of dozens of lawsuits against Syngenta and Chevron over allegations that paraquat weed killer, which has been used widely around the world for more than 50 years, causes Parkinson’s disease.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation said that “to date, 77 actions and potential tag-along actions are pending in sixteen different districts,” and they all involve “common factual issues concerning the propensity of paraquat to cause Parkinson’s Disease.” The cases will include “complex scientific and regulatory issues,” the panel said.

“Centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery; avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary,” the panel stated in its order.

The panel determined the cases will be transferred to the federal court in the Southern District of Illinois and assigned to U.S. Judge Nancy Rosenstengel for handling.

Lawyer Majed Nachawati, whose firm is among those representing hundreds of plaintiffs suing Syngenta and Chevron, applauded the decision, and said the litigation is “monumentally important.” It was Nachawati’s firm that requested the MDL.

Syngenta, a Swiss company owned by a larger Chinese chemical company, developed and markets the paraquat-based Gramoxone brand, while Chevron has been a distributor of Syngenta’s paraquat products in the United States.

The formation of the paraquat multidistrict litigation (MDL) underscores the legal threat Syngenta faces in the litigation.  An MDL was also formed for the lawsuits filed against Monsanto over allegations that its Roundup weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma; ultimately tens of thousands of people sued the company for such claims and Monsanto’s owner, Bayer AG, is now facing settlement payouts of more than $10 billion.

Syngenta said in a statement that it agrees with the decision to coordinate the various federal lawsuits before one judge.

“This will help the parties and the courts proceed in a timely and efficient way,” the company said.

Chevron did not respond to a request for comment.

Used since the ’60s

Paraquat has been used in the United States since 1964 as a tool to kill broadleaf weeds and grasses. Farmers often use paraquat before planting crops or before those crops emerge. It has long been known to be extremely dangerous to anyone who ingests even a small amount, and regulators have issued warnings and placed restrictions on its use because of poisoning risks.

The body of science showing links between Parkinson’s disease and paraquat is less clear, having evolved over time. The EPA does not currently confirm a causal link to Parkinson’s disease. But many scientists say the research showing causation is robust.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.

The Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which is backed by numerous U.S. agencies and researchers, has found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” And in 2011, AHS researchers reported that participants who used paraquat or another pesticide were “twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease” as people who were not exposed to those chemicals.

Syngenta maintains that newer and better research, including by AHS scientists, has discounted a tie between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

In addition to the cases brought on behalf of people suffering from Parkinson’s, additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Iowa on May 3 by a law firm representing people who fear they may get the disease in the future.

The suit seeks “equitable relief in the form of medical monitoring, including, but not limited to, the costs of diagnostic testing” for farmers and others exposed to paraquat who are allegedly at “increased risk” for Parkinson’s, according to the legal filing.

Settlement rumors

What was supposed to be the first trial over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat causes Parkinson’s has been delayed multiple times and the parties may be nearing a settlement, according to sources close to the case.

The trial in the case of Hoffman V. Syngenta is pending in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois and has had multiple trial dates set and then cancelled, the most recent earlier this month.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs in that case had pronounced publicly that he had internal Syngenta documents that would expose the company’s alleged knowledge of connections between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

But Syngenta steadfastly has denied any such evidence exists.

“Syngenta has great sympathy for the health issues faced by the plaintiffs and others suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease,” the company’s statement reads.  “We care deeply about the health and well-being of farmers and are dedicated to providing them safe and effective products. There is no credible evidence that Paraquat, which has been widely used for more than 55 years, causes Parkinson’s disease.  No peer reviewed study, including the largest study which involved 38,000 farmers, has ever concluded Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease.  The EPA and other government authorities have extensively analyzed this issue and similarly found no evidence that Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease. The facts simply do not support the Plaintiffs’ allegations, and we intend to defend this product and our legal position vigorously in court.”

Another delay for trial set to examine allegation that Syngenta weed killer causes Parkinson’s

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A highly anticipated first-ever trial pitting a group of farmers against the global agricultural giant Syngenta AG over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease has been delayed again and may not take place at all, according to sources close to the case.

The trial in the case of Hoffman V. Syngenta was scheduled to start June 1 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois before Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner. Previously it was set to begin May 10, and prior to that it had a trial date in April.

The cancellation of the June 1 trial date came amid speculation that the parties are deep into settlement talks. No new trial date has yet been set, according to a St. Clair County Circuit Court clerk.

The plaintiffs in the case developed Parkinson’s after repeated exposure to paraquat products, specifically Syngenta’s widely used Gramoxone brand. Three of the original plaintiffs in the case have died, including plaintiff Thomas Hoffman.

The trial was to be livestreamed by Courtroom View Network, and plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Tillery had vowed to unveil decades of internal corporate documents he said would show Syngenta knew its paraquat-based weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that impacts nerve cells in the brain and  leads in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.

Tillery would not respond to a request for comment, and a Syngenta spokesman also declined to comment.

Also named as defendants in the case are Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., formed as a joint venture between Chevron USA and Phillips 66. Chevron helped distribute Syngenta’s products in the United States. Illinois agricultural cooperative Growmark is also a defendant for its role in supplying paraquat products.

There are currently at least 20 lawsuits filed in multiple state and federal courts across the country on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and claim Syngenta’s paraquat weed killers are to blame.

The caseload is expected to grow rapidly, and on Thursday the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation heard arguments on a motion filed by the Texas-based law firm of Fears Nachawati asking that pending paraquat lawsuits be consolidated for pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California, the same federal court where Roundup litigation was consolidated.

Additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Iowa on May 3. The suit seeks “equitable relief in the form of medical monitoring, including, but not limited to, the costs of diagnostic testing” for farmers and others exposed to paraquat who are allegedly at “increased risk” for Parkinson’s, according to the legal filing.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.

Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

Syngenta argues that newer and more robust research, including by AHS scientists, has discounted a tie between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

Trial pitting farmers against Syngenta delayed until June

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A highly anticipated first-ever trial pitting a group of farmers against the global agricultural giant Syngenta AG over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease has been delayed until June, the parties involved said on Saturday.

The trial was set to begin Monday, livestreamed by Courtroom View Network, but a continuance was ordered setting a new trial date for June 1. A spokesman for the plaintiffs’ legal team said the delay was not due to any settlement efforts, but due to “a combination of scheduling and Covid issues.”

The case is titled Hoffman V. Syngenta and is set for a bench trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois before Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner.

The plaintiffs are farmers who developed Parkinson’s after repeated exposure to paraquat products, specifically Syngenta’s widely used Gramoxone brand, and the spouses of those farmers. Three of the original plaintiffs in the case have died, including plaintiff Thomas Hoffman.

Parkinson’s is a disorder that impacts nerve cells in the brain and  leads in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.

Experts in the study and treatment of Parkinson’s warn that the disease is on the rise. One such expert, Dutch neurologist Bastiaan Bloem, predicts the number of people suffering from Parkinson’s will double to more than 13 million in the next 20 years.

Bloem is one of many scientists who blame exposure to paraquat as among multiple risk factors for developing Parkinson’s.

Also named as defendants in the case are Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., formed as a joint venture between Chevron USA and Phillips 66. Chevron helped distribute Syngenta’s products in the United States. Illinois agricultural cooperative Growmark is also a defendant for its role in supplying paraquat products.

There are currently at least 20 lawsuits filed in multiple state and federal courts across the country on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and claim Syngenta’s paraquat weed killers are to blame.

Lawyer C. Calvin Warriner III, who is not involved in the Hoffman case but has other plaintiffs suing over the same issues, said he predicts “hundreds if not thousands of cases” will be filed in the next year because of “solid” scientific evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s.