here is, at the moment, a massive lawsuit against the Monsanto company regarding Roundup, its most popular pesticide. The company is being sued by citizens who maintain that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is responsible for their cancers. On Tuesday, the judge overseeing the case unsealed some of the documents that have been filed related to the case, and nobody comes out clean—not the company and, sadly, not the EPA, either. From The New York Times:
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 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 E.P.A. over its own safety assessment. In one email unsealed Tuesday, 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.
Bloomberg has focused in on one particular phone conversation that makes nobody look good.
The boast was made during an April 2015 phone conversation, according to farmers and others who say they’ve been sickened by the weed killer. After leaving his job as a manager in the EPA’s pesticide division last year, Jess Rowland has become a central figure in more than 20 lawsuits in the U.S. accusing the company of failing to warn consumers and regulators of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicide can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “If I can kill this I should get a medal,” Rowland told a Monsanto regulatory affairs manager who recounted the conversation in an email to his colleagues, according to a court filing made public Tuesday. The company was seeking Rowland’s help stopping an investigation of glyphosate by a separate office, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, that is part of the U.S. Health and Human Service Department, according to the filing.
The good people at Desmoh Blog have a solid review of the curious history that the EPA has with glyphosate, about which the EPA seems curiously ambivalent as regards classifying it as a carcinogen.
For example, why did the EPA determine in 1985 that glyphosate should be classified as a group C carcinogen — possibly cancer-causing in humans but lacking sufficient studies of humans and animals — only to reverse that decision six years later? Did it have anything to do with Monsanto’s influence over the agency, or did new studies emerge that cast doubt on previous conclusions? The latter seems less likely considering the fact that the bulk of independent research has reached the same conclusions about the existence of a probable link between Roundup’s glyphosate and cancers. Another question that these documents could finally answer is why the EPA has been constantly at odds with the majority of the scientific community over the potential dangers of glyphosate. If, in fact, Monsanto was submitting ghostwritten research to the agency, which then failed to do its own testing, that might explain why the EPA has never found a link (beyond the original determination in the 1980s). The answers to those questions may appear during the ongoing trials against Monsanto and as more documents are released from the trial.
This behavior seems bizarre at best, and ethically dubious at worst, and it happened under the stewardship of the previous administration. I am not optimistic that things will improve under Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator, whose campaigns back in Oklahoma were into Monsanto for considerable dough. The discovery process can be a wonderful—if terrifying—thing.