Chemical giant Monsanto has faced continued scrutiny, primarily over its flagship product Roundup, whose active ingredient serves as the world’s most used weed killer. Despite public resistance and research revealing the dangers it has on humans and the environment, Monsanto has stood by its product, refuting the studies and instead promoting it as a safe product.
Now, a federal court case in San Francisco has challenged Monsanto’s claim that its product is, indeed, safe, building on the findings of a panel that discovered Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, can cause cancer.
Two years ago, when a U.N.-sponsored scientific agency announced the popular weed killer may cause cancer, chaos broke out, with Monsanto releasing a campaign to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s results.
On Tuesday, Monsanto’s attempt to hide mounting concerns over Roundup came crashing down when a federal court unsealed documents regarding its safety and research practices. The documents involve internal company emails exposing corruption within Monsanto, as the company recruited outside scientists to co-author reports defending the chemical.
Monsanto executive William Heydens suggested the company “ghost-write” one paper, writing in an email that “we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names.” He went on to say that Monsanto had taken this route to handle an earlier paper on glyphosate’s safety.
The company denied the accusation in a statement to CBS.
“These allegations are false. Monsanto scientists did not ghostwrite the paper,” Monsanto said. “No regulatory body in the world considers glyphosate to be a carcinogen.”
Published in 2000, the earlier paper Heydens is referring to acknowledges Monsanto’s help in building the data to support Roundup’s credibility as a safe product. However, the email doesn’t list any Monsanto employees as co-authors.
Another alarming aspect of the emails is the revelation of a likely close relationship between Monsanto and a senior regulator at the Environmental Protection Agency, Jess Rowland. The EPA has been conducting its own assessment of glyphosate’s health risks, but when the U.N. report came to light, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allegedly announced its plan to conduct a separate study.
In response to the CDC news, Rowland called a regulatory expert at Monsanto, Daniel Jenkins, to see who was working on the glyphosate study. Jenkins relayed the conversation to colleagues in an email, writing that Rowland “told me no coordination is going on and he wanted to establish some saying ‘If I can kill this I should get a medal.’ “
In another email, Jenkins wrote that “Jess will be retiring from EPA in ~5—6 months and could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.”
Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, called the exposed emails “a natural flow of information” that were “not an effort to manipulate the system.”
Monsanto seeking Rowland’s help to stop an investigation of glyphosate speaks far louder than the company’s claims that the emails were just a natural flow of information, however. When a product is the center of controversy, wouldn’t it be easier to prove everyone wrong, as opposed to keep building a bad reputation? It will be interesting to see how Monsanto moves forward from here, and how much time Roundup has left in the limelight before it is taken down for good.
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