Ever since Monsanto introduced its line of Roundup weedkillers to the world in 1974, the products have been touted by the company and regulators as extremely safe. The EPA reiterated that stance last week.
But the emergence of long-held corporate secrets in three public trials has revealed a covert campaign to cover-up the pesticide’s risks and raised troubling questions about lax oversight of all pesticides by the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies that are supposed to be protecting public health.
Two recently concluded Roundup product liability trials in California have resulted in large damage awards against Monsanto, after juries found the company’s herbicides contributed to cancer and that it failed to warn of the risks. Closing arguments in a third trial under way now in Oakland, California, are expected this week. Revelations that have emerged from the trial testimony include:
- Monsanto never conducted epidemiology studies for Roundup and its other formulations made with the active ingredient glyphosate, to see if the products could lead to cancer in people who used them.
- At the same time as Monsanto was refusing to conduct long-term product safety studies, the company was spending millions of dollars on secretive PR campaigns – including $17m budgeted in a single year – to finance ghostwritten studies and op-eds aimed at discrediting independent scientists whose work found dangers with Monsanto’s herbicides.
- Several Monsanto scientists spent years putting together a sweeping paper that was published in a scientific journal in 2000, concluding Roundup posed no health risk to people. Internal emails show the team was applauded by corporate leaders for their hard work on the paper. But when the work was published in a scientific journal, no Monsanto employees were listed as authors. A company scientist referred to the paper internally as one the company had “ghost” written. Monsanto has denied that characterization. Regulators, including the EPA, have cited that paper as a reference in assuring consumers that Roundup is safe.
- Numerous other examples of Monsanto employee ghostwriting have surfaced. In one from 2013, a company scientist emailed co-workers about a manuscript he wrote that he hoped he could make appear to be authored from someone other than himself by finding a willing academic, then “turn it over to them and just be a ghost-writer”. The scientist said it would be best if the paper did not appear to have come from Monsanto. But he was concerned that faculty members “may not want to just take something they did not produce and slap their names on it”.
- When the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sought to evaluate glyphosate toxicity in 2015, Monsanto expressed concern about what the agency might find and engaged the assistance of EPA officials to delay that review. The efforts delayed the release of the public draft of the review – originally to be issued three years ago – until earlier this month. Just as Monsanto had feared, the agency’s review found links between cancer and glyphosate.
- Although Monsanto was aware of tests showing how easily the chemicals in Roundup are absorbed into human skin, neither the company nor the EPA have warned consumers of a need to wear protective clothing.
- In the 1980s EPA scientists saw that mice dosed with glyphosate developed rare kidney tumors, which they said demonstrated cancer risks for people. But after protests from Monsanto, the EPA’s top brass overruled its own scientists and assured Americans that glyphosate poses no cancer risk.
We expect to have some more news relating to the third glyphosate cancer case and will go live on Facebook, stay tuned by following and liking our page here.