Roundup, whose active ingredient is the world’s most widely used weed killer, incurred a setback recently when a federal court unsealed documents raising questions about its safety and the research practices of its manufacturer, Monsanto. Roundup and similar products are used around the world on everything from row crops to home gardens. It is Monsanto’s flagship product, and industry-funded research has long found it to be relatively safe. A lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that conclusion, building on the findings of an international panel that claimed Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.
The documents in question were unsealed by Judge Vince Chhabria, who is presiding over litigation brought by folks who claim to have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of exposure to glyphosate. The litigation was touched off by a determination made nearly two years ago by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen, citing research linking it to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The court documents included Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement within the EPA over its own safety assessment. The Court records also show that Monsanto was tipped off to the determination by Jess Rowland, a deputy division director at the EPA, months beforehand. That led the company to prepare a public relations assault on the finding well in advance of its publication.
Monsanto executives, in their internal email traffic, also said Rowland had promised to beat back an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct its own review. Dan Jenkins, a Monsanto executive, said in an email in 2015 that Rowland, referring to the other agency’s potential review, had told him, “If I can kill this, I should get a medal.” The review never took place. In another email, Mr. Jenkins noted to a colleague that Mr. Rowland was planning to retire and said he “could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.”
To this day, Monsanto continues to state that glyphosate is not a carcinogen and also rebuts suggestions that the disclosures highlight concerns that the academic research it underwrites is compromised. In one unsealed e-mail, William F. Heydens, a Monsanto executive, told other company officials that they could “ghostwrite research” on glyphosate by hiring academics to put their names on papers that were actually written by Monsanto. “We would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak,” Mr. Heydens wrote, citing a previous instance in which he said the company had done this. These disclosures are the latest to raise concerns about the integrity of academic research financed by agrochemical companies.
The issue of glyphosate’s safety is not a trivial one for Americans. In the last two decades, Monsanto has genetically re-engineered corn, soybeans and cotton so it is much easier to spray them with the weed killer, and some 220 million pounds of glyphosate were used in 2015 in the United States.
John Tomlinson, a lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section, has filed cases involving Roundup exposure in both state and federal courts and is currently investigating other potential cases. If you need more information on this contact John at 800-898-2034 or by email at John.Tomlinson@beasleyallen.com.
Source: New York Times
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