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USDA Drops Plan to Test for Monsanto Weed Killer in Food

By Carey Gillam

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has quietly dropped a plan to start testing food for residues of glyphosate, the world's most widely used weed killer and key ingredient in Monsanto's branded Roundup herbicides.

The agency spent the last year coordinating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in preparation to start testing samples of corn syrup for glyphosate residues on April 1, according to internal agency documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. Documents show that at least since January 2016 into January of this year, the glyphosate testing plan was moving forward. But when asked about the plan this week, a USDA spokesman said no glyphosate residue testing would be done at all by USDA this year.

The USDA's plan called for the collection and testing of 315 samples of corn syrup from around the U.S. from April through August, according to the documents. Researchers were also supposed to test for the AMPA metabolite, the documents state. AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) is created as glyphosate breaks down. Measuring residues that include those from AMPA is important because AMPA is not a benign byproduct but carries its own set of safety concerns, scientists believe.

On Jan. 11, USDA's Diana Haynes, wrote to colleagues within USDA:

"Based on recent conversations with EPA, we will begin testing corn syrup for glyphosate and its AMPA metabolite April 1, 2017 with collection ending August 31, 2017. This program change will need to be announced at the February PDP Conference Call."

Haynes is director of a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service division that annually conducts the Pesticide Data Program (PDP), which tests thousands of foods for hundreds of different pesticide residues.

The USDA spokesman, who did not want to be named, acknowledged there had been a glyphosate test plan but said that had recently changed: "The final decision for this year's program plan, as a more efficient use of resources, is to sample and test honey which covers over100 different pesticides." Glyphosate residue testing requires a different methodology and will not be part of that screening in honey, he said.

The USDA does not routinely test for glyphosate as it does for other pesticides used in food production. But that stance has made the USDA the subject of criticism as controversy over glyphosate safety has mounted in recent years. The discussions of testing this year come as U.S. and European regulators are wrestling with cancer concerns about the chemical, and as Monsanto, which has made billions of dollars from its glyphosate-based herbicides, is being sued by hundreds of people who claim exposures to Roundup caused them or their loved ones to suffer from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Internal Monsanto documents obtained by plaintiffs' attorneys in those cases indicate that Monsanto may have manipulated research regulators relied on to garner favorable safety assessments and last week, Congressman Ted Lieu called for a probe by the Department of Justice into Monsanto's actions.

Along with the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration also annually tests thousands of food samples for pesticide residues. Both agencies have done so for decades as a means to ensure that traces of weed killers, insecticides, fungicides and other chemicals used in farming do not persist at unsafe levels in food products commonly eaten by American families. If they find residues above the "maximum residue level" (MRL) allowed for that pesticide and that food, the agencies are supposed to inform the EPA, and actions can be taken against the supplier. The EPA is the regulator charged with establishing MRLs, also called "tolerances," for different types of pesticides in foods, and the agency coordinates with USDA and FDA on the pesticide testing programs.

But despite the fact that glyphosate use has surged in the last 20 years alongside the marketing of glyphosate-tolerant crops, both USDA and FDA have declined to test for glyphosate residues aside from one time in 2011 when the USDA tested 300 soybean samples for glyphosate and AMPA residues. At that time the agency found 271 samples contained glyphosate, but said the levels were under the MRL—low enough not to be worrisome. The Government Accountability Office took both agencies to task in 2014 for the failure to test regularly for glyphosate.

Europe and Canada are well ahead of the U.S. when it comes to glyphosate testing in food. In fact, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is preparing to release its own findings from recent glyphosate testing. The CFIA also routinely skipped glyphosate in annual pesticide residue screening for years. But it began collecting data in 2015, moving to address concerns about the chemical that were highlighted when the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in March 2015.

Canadian food activist and researcher Tony Mitra obtained more than 7,000 records from CFIA about its glyphosate testing last year, and claims that results are alarming, showing glyphosate pervasive in many foods. CFIA would not respond to requests for comment about its glyphosate testing.

One of the USDA's explanation's for not testing for glyphosate over the years has been cost—the agency has said that it is too expensive and inefficient to look for glyphosate residues in food headed for American dinner tables. And because glyphosate is considered so safe, testing would be a waste of time, the USDA has stated. That argument mimics Monsanto's own—the company, which patented glyphosate in 1974 and has been a dominant provider of glyphosate ever since, says if the USDA did seek to test for glyphosate residues in food it would be a "misuse of valuable resources."

FDA Tests Remain in Limbo

The FDA began its own limited testing program for glyphosate residues—what it called a "special assignment"—last year. But the effort was fraught with controversy and internal difficulties and the program was suspended last fall. Before the suspension, one agency chemist found alarming levels of glyphosate in many samples of U.S. honey, levels that were technically illegal because there have been no allowable levels established for honey by the EPA. That revelation caused angst in the bee keeping industry and at least one large honey company was sued by consumer organizations over the glyphosate contamination. The same chemist also found glyphosate levels in many samples of oatmeal, including infant oat cereal. The FDA did not publicize those findings, but they were revealed in internal records obtained through a FOIA request.

Officially, the FDA was only looking for glyphosate residues in corn, soy, eggs and milk in last year's testing assignment, though internal records discussed testing in sugar beets, popcorn, wheat and other foods or grains. Newly obtained FDA documents show the agency is engaged now in a glyphosate "collaboration" designed to validate the testing methodology to be used for glyphosate by multiple FDA laboratories.

"Once the first phase of this collaboration is completed and approved by quality control reviewers, the special assignment can be restarted," said FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney.

CropLife America, an industry organization that represents the interests of Monsanto and other agrichemical companies, keeps a close eye on the government's pesticide residue testing. Last year the organization sought to diffuse potential legal problems related to glyphosate and other pesticides in honey by asking EPA to set a blanket tolerance that would cover inadvertent contamination of honey by pesticides. Records show regulators have found 26 different pesticides in honey samples in past tests.

CropLife also has complained to USDA that data from its testing program is used by proponents of organic agriculture to promote organics over conventional foods. The group last year sent USDA a series of questions about its testing, and asked USDA: "What can we do to assist you in fighting these scaremongering tactics?"

The USDA's most recent published report on pesticide residues in food found that for 2015 testing, only 15 percent of the 10,187 samples tested were free from any detectable pesticide residues. That's a marked difference from 2014, when the USDA found that over 41 percent of samples were "clean" or showed no detectable pesticide residues. Most of the samples, over 99 percent, had residues below the EPA's established tolerances and are at levels that "do not pose risk to consumers' health and are safe."

Many scientists take issue with using MRLs as a standard associated with safety, arguing they are based on pesticide industry data and rely on flawed analyses. Much more research is needed to understand the impact on human health of chronic dietary exposures to pesticides, scientists say.

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Judge Threatens to Sanction Monsanto for Secrecy in Roundup Cancer Lawsuits

By Carey Gillam

Nearly a year after a mysterious leak of industry-friendly information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many pressing questions remain about the agency's interactions with agribusiness giant Monsanto and its handling of cancer concerns with Monsanto's top-selling herbicide. But thanks to a federal court judge in California, we may soon start getting some answers.

The transcript of a recent court hearing reveals that Judge Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing a combination of more than 55 lawsuits filed against Monsanto in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, warned Monsanto that many documents it is turning over in discovery will not be kept sealed despite the company's pleas for privacy. He threatened to impose sanctions if Monsanto persists in "overbroad" efforts to keep relevant documents out of public view.

The litigation against Monsanto has been filed by people from around the U.S. who allege that exposure to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system and has been on the rise in recent decades. While those lawsuits are being handled together as "multi-district litigation" (MDL) in San Francisco, hundreds of other plaintiffs are making similar allegations in lawsuits in multiple state courts as well. And the teams of lawyers involved say they are continuing to meet with prospective additional plaintiffs.

"I have a problem with Monsanto, because it's—it is insisting that stuff be filed under seal that should not be filed under seal," Judge Chhabria told the attorneys for both sides. When documents are "relevant to the litigation, they shouldn't be under seal, even if they are not—are embarrassing to Monsanto, you know, even if Monsanto doesn't like what they say."

This week the judge also gave a green light—over Monsanto's objection—to a plaintiffs' request to obtain documents and depose a key former Monsanto official from Europe. Other Monsanto officials are to be deposed within the next few weeks.

The central question to the mass of lawsuits is causation—can Roundup cause cancer, and has Monsanto wrongly covered up or ignored the risks. But the litigation is also threatening to pull back a curtain of secrecy that cloaks the government's work with Monsanto and its assessment of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup. There were concerns expressed years ago at the EPA that glyphosate could be carcinogenic, and many independent scientists have pointed to research that raises red flags about both glyphosate and the formulated products like Roundup. The International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. But the EPA has been steadfast in its assessment that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic.

Now plaintiffs' attorneys allege they are finding evidence in the discovery documents of apparent collusion between Monsanto and at least one high-level EPA official, though Monsanto vehemently denies that.

Monsanto has made billions of dollars a year for decades from its glyphosate-based herbicides, and they are the lynchpin to billions of dollars more it makes each year from the genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops it markets. As it moves toward a planned merger with Bayer AG, defending the safety of what has been the world's most widely used weed killer is critical.

So far, Monsanto has turned over close to 10 million documents to lawyers for the plaintiffs. Among those documents are some that detail Monsanto's interactions with EPA officials, including Jess Rowland, head of the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee. A report by that committee was leaked to the public on April 29 of last year, posted on an EPA website when it should not have been, the agency said. The report stayed on the website only until May 2 before being deleted, but it was long enough for Monsanto to copy the report and tout it on its website and in social media postings. Monsanto also referenced the report in a key court hearing in May in the MDL cases.

The timing of the leak of the report was favorable to Monsanto, which at that time was not only trying to slow the advancement of the MDL litigation, but also was trying to convince European regulators to re-approve glyphosate in Europe and was suing California to try to keep the state from adding glyphosate to a list of chemical carcinogens.

According to court filings by plaintiffs' attorneys, discovery evidence "strongly suggests that Mr. Rowland's primary goal was to serve the interests of Monsanto." Rowland left the agency shortly after the April 29 leak and has not publicly addressed the matter. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Monsanto very much wants to keep its internal documents, including those related to Rowland, out of the public eye. The company says the information can be taken out of context and exploited unfairly to sway public opinion. According to the transcript, Monsanto attorney Eric Lasker complained to the judge that the plaintiffs' attorneys are "trying to try the case in litigation and the press." This is litigation, he said, "that people are following, that what happens in this courtroom ends up on blogs, posts, ends up in articles."

Nevertheless, Chhabria said he sees the documents related to Rowland and to the EPA and International Agency for Research on Cancer as relevant and not appropriate for sealing, meaning they could be made available in court filings soon.

Plaintiffs' attorneys have subpoenaed Rowland's deposition over initial objections from the EPA to a request for his deposition. In the hearing, the judge indicated that he favored allowing the deposition, though he gave the EPA until March 28 to file a motion to quash the subpoena.

Plaintiffs' attorneys are also preparing for the March 15 deposition of Monsanto's chief regulatory liaison, Dan Jenkins, who was in regular contact with the EPA regarding glyphosate for years. They plan to depose Susan Martino-Catt, the company's global supply chain strategy and operations lead on March 30. And the judge ruled that they may also depose and obtain documents from Mark Martens, a former employee of Monsanto in Belgium.

The judge is pushing both sides to keep to a frenzied pace for gathering experts and evidence. A key hearing is set for October in which the opposing parties will present expert witness testimony to the judge, and trial dates could begin in 2018, the attorneys project.

The consumer advocacy group I work for, U.S. Right to Know, on Thursday sued the EPA seeking a release of documents dealing with the Cancer Assessment Review Committee leak and other matters as questions persist about the safety of the product and whether or not assessments have been properly conducted.

The unfolding court case could soon start providing some answers.

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EPA Sued for Failure to Release Glyphosate Documents

U.S. Right to Know, a consumer advocacy organization, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Public Citizen Litigation Group, a public interest law firm in Washington, DC, is representing U.S. Right to Know in the action.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, seeks documents related to EPA's assessment of a controversial chemical called glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is the key ingredient in Monsanto's branded Roundup herbicides as well as other weed-killing products. Concerns about the chemical have grown since the World Health Organization in 2015 said its cancer experts classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Other scientists have also said research shows safety problems with the chemical and the formulations its used in.

U.S. Right to Know requested the EPA records after the EPA posted an internal memorandum titled GLYPHOSATE: Report of the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) to the agency's website on April 29, 2016. The internal EPA report, known as the CARC report, concluded that glyphosate was "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans." The EPA then deleted the public posting on May 2, 2016, saying that the document was posted inadvertently. But before it was deleted Monsanto officials copied the document, promoted it on the company website and on social media and made reference to it in a court hearing dealing with lawsuits filed by agricultural workers and others who allege Monsanto's herbicide gave them cancer.

The May 12, 2016, FOIA request asked for certain records relating to the CARC report on glyphosate as well as records of communications between Monsanto and EPA officials that discussed glyphosate issues. Under FOIA, the EPA had 20 working days to respond to the request, but well over 190 working days have now passed and the EPA has yet to produce any records in response to the request. The EPA has also failed to comply with similar, more recent FOIA requests made by U.S. Right to Know for documentation of EPA dealings with Monsanto regarding glyphosate, though those requests are not part of this lawsuit.

The lawsuit specifically claims that U.S. Right to Know has a statutory right under FOIA to the requested records and that EPA has no legal basis for refusing to produce these records. The complaint asks the court to order EPA to make the requested records promptly available.

Koch-Connected Dark Money Funds Much More Than Climate Denial

By Stacy Malkan

British writer George Monbiot has a warning for those of us trying to grasp the new political realities in the U.S. and the UK: "We have no hope of understanding what is coming until we understand how the dark money network operates," he wrote in the Guardian.

Corporate America may have been slow to warm up to President Trump, but once Trump secured the nomination, "the big money began to recognize an unprecedented opportunity," Monbiot wrote. "His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it."

This network, or dark money ATM as Mother Jones described it, refers to the vast amount of hard-to-trace money flowing from arch-conservative billionaires, such as Charles and David Koch and allies, and corporations into front groups that promote extreme free-market ideas—for example, fights against public schools, unions, environmental protection, climate change policies and science that threatens corporate profits.

Investigative writers Jane Mayer, Naomi Oreskes, Erik Conway and others have exposed how "the story of dark money and the story of climate change denial are the same story: two sides of the same coin," as U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse described it last year in a speech.

The strategies of the "Koch-led, influence-buying operation"—including propaganda operations that spin science with no regard for the truth—"are probably the major reason we don't have a comprehensive climate bill in Congress," Whitehouse said.

While these strategies have been well-tracked in the climate sphere, less reported is the fact that the funders behind climate-science denial also bankroll a network of PR operatives who have built careers spinning science to deny the health risks of toxic chemicals in the food we eat and products we use every day.

The stakes are high for our nation's health. Rates of childhood cancer are now 50 percent higher than when the "war on cancer" began decades ago and the best weapon is one we are hardly using: policies to limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

"If we want to win the war on cancer, we need to start with the thousand physical and chemical agents evaluated as possible, probable or known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization," wrote scientist and author Devra Lee Davis, PhD, MPH, in The Hill.

Reducing known agents of harm has had "less to do with science and more to do with the power of highly profitable industries that rely on public relations to counteract scientific reports of risks," Davis noted.

Chemical Industry Propagandists

When products important to the chemical and junk food industries run into trouble with science, a predictable cast of characters and groups appear on the scene, using well-worn media strategies to bail out corporations in need of a PR boost.

Their names and the tactics they use—lengthy adversarial articles, often framed by personal attacks—will be familiar to many scientists, journalists and consumer advocates who have raised concerns about toxic products over the past 15 years.

Public records requests by U.S. Right to Know that have unearthed thousands of documents, along with recent reports by Greenpeace, the Intercept and others, are shining new light on this propaganda network.

Key players include Jon Entine, Trevor Butterworth, Henry I. Miller and groups connected with them: STATS, Center for Media and Public Affairs, Genetic Literacy Project, Sense About Science and the Hoover Institute.

Despite well-documented histories as PR operatives, Entine, Butterworth and Miller are presented as serious science sources on many media platforms, appearing in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Philadelphia Enquirer, Harvard Business Review and, most often, Forbes—without disclosure of their funding sources or agenda to deregulate the polluting industries that promote them.

Their articles rank high in Google searches for many of the chemical and junk food industry's top messaging priorities—pushing the narratives that GMOs, pesticides, plastic chemicals, sugar and sugar substitutes are safe and anyone who says otherwise is "anti-science."

In some cases, they are even gaining in influence as they align with establishment institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cornell University and the University of California, Davis.

Yet their funding sources trace back to the same "ultra free market" ideologues from oil, pharmaceutical and chemical fortunes who are financing climate science denial—Searle Freedom Trust, Scaife Foundations, John Templeton Foundation and others identified as among the largest and most consistent funders of climate-change-denial groups, according to a 2013 study by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, PhD.

Those seeking to understand the dark money network's policy goals for dismantling health protections for our food system would do well to keep an eye on these modern propagandists and their messaging.

Jon Entine—Genetic Literacy Project / STATS

Jon Entine, a former journalist, presents himself as an objective authority on science. Yet ample evidence suggests he is a longtime public relations operative with deep ties to chemical companies plagued with questions about health risks.

Over the years, Entine has attacked scientists, professors, funders, lawmakers and journalists who have raised concerns about fracking, nuclear power, pesticides and industrial chemicals used in baby bottles and children's toys. A 2012 Mother Jones story by Tom Philpott describes Entine as an "agribusiness apologist" and Greenpeace details his history on their Polluter Watch website.

Entine is now director of the Genetic Literacy Project, a group that promotes genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The site claims to be neutral, but "it's clearly designed to promote a pro-industry position and doesn't try to look neutrally at the issues," said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

"The message is that genetic engineering is good and anybody who criticizes it is a horrible ideologue, but that's just not indicative of where the scientific debate actually is."

Entine claims, for example, that the "scientific consensus on GMO safety is stronger than for global warming"—a claim contradicted by the World Health Organization, which states it is not possible to make general statements about GMO safety and by hundreds of scientists who have said there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.

The Genetic Literacy Project also has not been transparent about its connections to Monsanto. As one example, the site published several pro-GMO academic papers that emails later revealed were assigned to professors by a Monsanto executive who provided talking points for the papers and promised to pump them out all over the internet.

Another example: Genetic Literacy Project partners with Academics Review on the Biotechnology Literacy Project, pro-industry conferences that train scientists and journalists on how to "best engage the GMO debate with a skeptical public."

Academics Review, which published a report in 2014 attacking the organic industry, presents itself as an independent group, but emails revealed it was set up with the help of a Monsanto executive who promised to find funding "while keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information." Emails also showed that Academics Review co-founder Bruce Chassy had been receiving undisclosed funds from Monsanto via the University of Illinois Foundation.

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Cancer Lawsuits Allege EPA-Monsanto Collusion

By Carey Gillam

A new court filing made on behalf of dozens of people claiming Monsanto's Roundup herbicide gave them cancer includes information about alleged efforts within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect Monsanto's interests and unfairly aid the agrichemical industry.

The filing, made late Friday by plaintiff's attorneys, includes what the attorneys represent to be correspondence from a 30-year career EPA scientist accusing top-ranking EPA official Jess Rowland of playing "your political conniving games with the science" to favor pesticide manufacturers such as Monsanto. Rowland oversaw the EPA's cancer assessment for glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's weed-killing products, and was a key author of a report finding glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic. But in the correspondence, longtime EPA toxicologist Marion Copley cites evidence from animal studies and writes: "It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to say how they obtained the correspondence, which is dated March 4, 2013. The date of the letter comes after Copley left the EPA in 2012 and shortly before she died from breast cancer at the age of 66 in January 2014. She accuses Rowland of having "intimidated staff" to change reports to favor industry, and writes that research on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, shows the pesticide should be categorized as a "probable human carcinogen." The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, declared as much—that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen—in March 2015 after reviewing multiple scientific studies. Monsanto has rejected that classification and has mounted a campaign to discredit IARC scientists.

The communication, if authentic, could be an explosive development in the snowballing multi-district litigation that now includes more than 60 plaintiffs from around the United States accusing Monsanto of covering up evidence that Roundup herbicide could cause cancer. The plaintiffs, all of whom are suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) or lost a loved one to NHL, have asserted in recent court filings that Monsanto wielded significant influence within the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), and had close ties specifically to Rowland, who until last year was deputy division director within the health effects division of the OPP. Rowland managed the work of scientists who assessed human health effects of exposures to pesticides like glyphosate and he chaired the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) that determined glyphosate was "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans." Rowland left the EPA in 2016, shortly after a copy of the CARC report was leaked and cited by Monsanto as evidence that the IARC classification was flawed.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs want the federal judge in the case to lift a seal on documents that detail Monsanto's interactions with Rowland regarding the EPA's safety assessment of glyphosate. Monsanto turned the documents over in discovery but marked them "confidential," a designation plaintiffs' attorneys say is improper. They also want to depose Rowland. But Monsanto and the EPA object to the requests, court documents show. Rowland could not be reached for comment, and the EPA declined to comment about the court matters.

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Monsanto and EPA Seek to Keep Talks About Glyphosate Cancer Review a Secret

By Carey Gillam

Monsanto and officials within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are fighting legal efforts aimed at exploring Monsanto's level of influence over regulatory assessments of the key chemical in the company's Roundup herbicide, new federal court filings show.

The revelations are contained in a series of filings made within the last few days in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as part of litigation brought by more than 50 people who are suing Monsanto. The plaintiffs claim they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Roundup herbicide, and that Monsanto has spent decades covering up the chemical's cancer risks.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs want the court to lift a seal on documents that detail Monsanto's interactions and discussions with former top EPA brass Jess Rowland regarding the EPA's safety assessment of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Monsanto turned the documents over in discovery but marked the documents "confidential," a designation plaintiffs' attorneys say is improper. They also want to depose Rowland. But Monsanto and the EPA are fighting both requests, the filings show.

The EPA has spent the last few years assessing the health and environmental safety aspects of glyphosate as global controversy over the chemical has mounted. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared in March 2015 that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, with a positive association found between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Monsanto has been fighting to refute that classification because of financial and legal liability ramifications.

Rowland has been key in Monsanto's efforts to rebut the IARC finding because until last year he was a deputy division director within the health effects division of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, managing the work of scientists who assessed human health effects of exposures to pesticides like glyphosate. And, importantly, he chaired the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review committee (CARC) that issued an internal report in October 2015 contracting IARC's findings. That 87-page report, signed by Rowland, determined that glyphosate was "not likely to be carcinogenic."

The report was a godsend to Monsanto because it has helped bolster the company's defense against the Roundup liability lawsuits, and helped shore up market support for a product that brings in billions of dollars in revenues to the company annually. The EPA's stamp of approval for the safety of glyphosate has also been key to the success of Monsanto's genetically engineered, glyphosate-tolerant crops, which have been popular with farmers.

But the handling of the CARC report raised questions last year when it was "inadvertently" posted to a public EPA website on April 29, 2016, and kept on the site three days, before being pulled down. The agency said the report was not final and that it should not have been posted, but Monsanto touted the report as a public affirmation of its safety claims for glyphosate. The company also cited the report at a May court hearing in the Roundup litigation as a counter point to the IARC cancer classification. Shortly after the CARC report was removed from the EPA website, Rowland left his 26-year career at the EPA.

Plaintiffs' attorneys have asked to depose Rowland to learn about that situation and other dealings with Monsanto. But, along with Monsanto's objection to a release of the documents that relate to its conversations with Rowland, the EPA has specifically refused the deposition request, saying it would "not clearly be in the interests of EPA" to allow attorneys to question Rowland about the cancer review and interactions with Monsanto.

Monsanto has so far turned over roughly six million pages of documents through the court-ordered discovery process, but has designated roughly 85 percent of the information as "confidential," meaning plaintiffs' attorneys must black out information from those documents in any court filings that could be accessed by reporters or other members of the public. That designation is improper for many of the documents, especially ones dealing with the company's interactions with, and influence attempts over, EPA officials, plaintiffs' lawyers argue.

The lawyers said that the documents obtained through discovery show that "Monsanto has been confident all along that EPA would continue to support glyphosate, whatever happened and no matter who held otherwise." According to the court filings by plaintiffs' attorneys, the documents show "it is clear that Monsanto enjoyed considerable influence within the EPA's OPP, and was close with Mr. Rowland ... The documentary evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Rowland's primary goal was to serve the interests of Monsanto."

The EPA is a taxpayer-funded, public agency and its dealings with Monsanto should be subject to public scrutiny, particularly given the widespread use of glyphosate herbicide products and the current ongoing international debate over the safety of the chemical, the lawyers claim.

"The health and safety of millions of U.S. citizens is at stake," states the Jan. 16 plaintiffs' filing. "Decisions affecting the public health should not be based on secret conversations between Monsanto and EPA officials. If Monsanto wants to advocate on behalf of glyphosate to EPA employees, they should have to do it publicly, so that concerned citizens have equal opportunity to advocate for their health and the health of their families. This issue is too important to allow Monsanto to improperly influence the EPA, and then hide such communication behind an improper 'confidential' designation."

Monsanto is adamant that its documents not be made public, saying releasing them would be "premature and improper." Allowing public dissemination "of a few select internal corporate documents taken out of context … would be prejudicial to Monsanto and could cause reputational harm," the company's attorneys wrote in their response.

The plaintiffs' attorneys say at least four specific documents they have obtained are clearly in the public interest and "illuminate that one of Monsanto's chief business strategies is its secret and untoward influence on EPA." The documents include both internal memos and email chains, according to descriptions of the documents.

"Since Monsanto's communications with the EPA remain secret, these known lobbying efforts are only the tip of the iceberg of Monsanto's collusion with the EPA. Monsanto's bad acts in violating U.S. regulations through secret communications with the EPA should not by rewarded by allowing them to keep these communications secret by merely stamping them 'confidential,'" the plaintiffs' attorney state in the filings. "These documents summarize communications with EPA which are not elsewhere memorialized; they are not trade secrets and the public has a compelling interest in disclosure."

Monsanto argues otherwise, saying the four documents at issue "contain sensitive, non-public commercial information, relate to a motion seeking to obtain discovery from a non-party, and bear only a tangential, at best, connection to the questions at issue in this litigation; hence, any public interest 'is minimal.'"

U.S. District Jude Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing the multi-district Roundup litigation, could rule on these matters any day.

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New USDA Data Shows 85% of Foods Tested Have Pesticide Residues

By Carey Gillam

As Americans gather with their families for Thanksgiving this week, new government data offers a potentially unappetizing assessment of the U.S. food supply—Residues of many types of bug-killing pesticides, fungicides and weed killing chemicals have been found in roughly 85 percent of thousands of foods tested.

Data released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows varying levels of pesticide residues in everything from mushrooms to potatoes and grapes to green beans. One sample of strawberries contained residues of 20 pesticides, according to the Pesticide Data Program report issued this month by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. The report is the 25th annual such compilation of residue data for the agency, and covered sampling the USDA did in 2015.

Notably, the agency said only 15 percent of the 10,187 samples tested were free from any detectable pesticide residues. That's a marked difference from 2014, when the USDA found that more than 41 percent of samples were "clean" or showed no detectable pesticide residues. Prior years also showed roughly 40-50 percent of samples as free of detectable residues, according to USDA data. The USDA said it is not "statistically valid" to compare one year to others, however, because the mix of food sampled changes each year. Still the data shows that 2015 was similar to the years prior in that fresh and processed fruits and vegetables made up the bulk of the foods tested.

Though it might sound distasteful, the pesticide residues are nothing for people to worry about, according to the USDA. The agency said "residues found in agricultural products sampled are at levels that do not pose risk to consumers' health and are safe …"

But some scientists say there is little to no data to back up that claim, stating that regulators do not have sufficient comprehensive research regarding how consumption of residues of multiple types of pesticides impact human health over the long term, and government assurances of safety are simply false.

"We don't know if you eat an apple that has multiple residues every day what will be the consequences 20 years down the road," said Chensheng Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "They want to assure everybody that this is safe but the science is quite inadequate. This is a big issue."

The USDA said in its latest report that 441 of the samples it found were considered worrisome as "presumptive tolerance violations," because the residues found either exceeded what is set as safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or they were found in foods that are not expected to contain the pesticide residues at all and for which there is no legal tolerance level. Those samples contained residues of 496 different pesticides, the USDA said.

Spinach, strawberries, grapes, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon were among the foods found with illegal pesticide residue levels. Even residues of chemicals long banned in the U.S. were found, including residues of DDT or its metabolites found in spinach and potatoes. DDT was banned in 1972 because of health and environmental concerns about the insecticide.

Absent from the USDA data was any information on glyphosate residues, even though glyphosate has long been the most widely used herbicide in the world and is commonly sprayed directly on many crops, including corn, soy, wheat and oats. It is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.'s branded Roundup herbicide, and was declared a probable human carcinogen last year by a team of international cancer scientists working with the World Health Organization. But Monsanto has said glyphosate residues on food are safe. The company asked the EPA to raise tolerance levels for glyphosate on several foods in 2013 and the EPA agreed to do so.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also annually samples foods for residues of pesticides. New documents obtained from the FDA show illegal levels of two types of insecticides—propargite, used to kill mites, and flonicamid, usually aimed at killing aphids and whiteflies—were recently found in honey. Government documents also show that DEET, a common insect repellant, was recently detected by regulators in honey, and the herbicide acetochlor was found on mushrooms.

FDA scientists also reported illegally high levels of the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam found in rice, according to information from the agency. Syngenta has asked the EPA to allow for higher residues of thiamethoxam permitted in numerous crops because the company wants it to have expanded use as a leaf spray. That request is still pending, according to an EPA spokeswoman.

The most recent public residue report issued by the FDA shows that violation rates for pesticide residues have been climbing in recent years. Residue violations in domestic food samples totaled 2.8 percent for the year 2013; double the rate seen in 2009. Violations totaled 12.6 percent for imported foods in 2013, up from 4 percent in 2009.

Like the USDA, the FDA has skipped glyphosate in decades of testing for pesticide residues. But the agency did launch a "special assignment" this year to determine what levels of glyphosate might be showing up in a small group of foods. An FDA chemist reported finding glyphosate residues in honey and several oatmeal products, including baby food.

Private testing data released this month reported the presence of glyphosate residues in Cheerios cereal, Oreo cookies and a variety of other popular packaged foods.

Questions on Cumulative Impacts

Whether or not consumers should worry about food containing pesticide residues is a matter of ongoing dispute. The trio of federal agencies involved in pesticide residue issues all point to what they refer to as "maximum residue limits" (MRLs), or "tolerances," as guidelines for what they say is considered safe. The EPA uses data supplied by the agrichemical industry to help determine where MRLs should be set for each pesticide and each crop the pesticides are expected to be used with.

As long as most of foods sampled show pesticide residues in food below the MRLs, there is no reason to worry, the USDA maintains. "The reporting of residues present at levels below the established tolerance serves to ensure and verify the safety of the Nation's food supply," the 2015 residue report states. The agrichemical industry offers even broader assurances, saying there is nothing to fear from consuming residues of the chemicals it sells farmers for use in food production, even if they exceed legal tolerances.

But many scientists say the tolerances are designed to protect the pesticide users more than consumers. Tolerances vary widely depending upon the pesticide and the crop. The tolerance for the insecticide chlorpyrifos on an apple, for instance, can be very different than the amount of chlorpyrifos allowed on citrus fruits, or on a banana or in milk, according to government tolerance data.

In the case of chlorpyrifos, the EPA has actually said it wants to revoke all food tolerances because studies have linked the chemical to brain damage in children. Though the agency has long considered residues of chlorpyrifos safe, now the agency says, they may not be.

The "EPA cannot, at this time, determine that aggregate exposure to residues of chlorpyrifos, including all anticipated dietary exposures and all other non-occupational exposures for which there is reliable information, are safe," the EPA said last year. Dow AgroSciences, which developed chlorpyrifos in the 1960s, is protesting the EPA efforts, arguing chlorpyrifos is a "critical tool" for farmers. In the latest USDA residue report, chlorpyrifos was found in peaches, apples, spinach, strawberries, nectarines and other foods, though not at levels considered to violate tolerances.

The EPA defends its work with tolerances, and says it has been complying with the Food Quality Protection Act that requires the EPA to consider the cumulative effects of residues of substances "that have a common mechanism of toxicity." The agency says that to set a tolerance for a pesticide, it looks at studies submitted by pesticide companies to identify possible harmful effects the chemical could have on humans, the amount of the chemical likely to remain in or on food, and other possible exposures to the same chemical.

But critics say that is not good enough—assessments must consider more realistic scenarios that take into account the broader cumulative impacts of many different types of pesticide residues to determine how safe it is to consume the mixtures seen in a daily diet. Given that several pesticides commonly used in food production have been linked to disease, declines in cognitive performance, developmental disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children, there is an urgent need for more in-depth analysis of these cumulative impacts, many scientists say. The National Research Council has declared that "dietary intake represents the major source of pesticide exposure for infants and children, and the dietary exposure may account for the increased pesticide-related health risks in children compared with adults."

"With the ubiquitous exposure to chemical mixtures, assurances of safety based on lists of individual toxicity thresholds can be quite misleading," said Lorrin Pang, an endocrinologist with the Hawaii Department of Health and a former advisor to the World Health Organization.

Tracey Woodruff, a former EPA senior scientist and policy advisor who specializes in environmental pollutants and child health, said there is a clear need for more research. Woodruff directs the program on reproductive health and the environment at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

"This is not a trivial matter," she said. "The whole idea of looking at cumulative exposures is a hot topic with scientists. Evaluating individual tolerances as if they occur in solo is not an accurate reflection of what we know—people are exposed to multiple chemicals at the same time and the current approaches do not scientifically account for that."

Critics say scrutiny of pesticide safety is likely to only soften given President-elect Donald Trump's decision to name Myron Ebell to oversee transition efforts at the EPA. Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is a staunch advocate of pesticides and their safety.

"Pesticide levels rarely, if ever, approach unsafe levels. Even when activists cry wolf because residues exceed federal limits that does not mean the products are not safe," states the SAFEChemicalPolicy.org website Ebell's group runs. "In fact, residues can be hundreds of times above regulatory limits and still be safe."

"The mixed messages make it hard for consumers to know what to believe about the safety of pesticide residues in food," said Therese Bonanni, a Clinical Dietitian at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

"Although the cumulative effect of consuming these toxins over a lifetime is not yet known, short-term data suggests there is certainly a reason to be cautious. The message to consumers becomes very confusing."

Trump Picks 'Puppet' for Special Interests Mike Pompeo to Head CIA

By Carey Gillam

News that President-elect Donald Trump has asked U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo to be CIA director shows just how dark the days ahead might be for America's burgeoning food movement, which has been advocating for more transparency and fewer pesticides in food production.

Mike Pompeo has shown himself to be a "puppet" for special interests

Pompeo, a Republican from the farm state of Kansas, was the designated hitter for Monsanto and the other Big Ag chemical and seed players in 2014 when the industry rolled out a federal effort to block states from mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. Pompeo introduced the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act" in April of that year with the intention of overriding bills in roughly two dozen states.

In bringing the bill forward, Pompeo was acting on behalf the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents the interests of the nation's largest food and beverage companies. The bill, which critics called the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" Act, or the "DARK Act," went through two years of controversy and compromise before a version passed and was signed into law by President Obama this summer. The law nullified a mandatory labeling bill set to take effect in Vermont in July of this year, and it offered companies options to avoid stating on their packaging whether or not a product contained GMO ingredients.

Pompeo has shown himself to be a "puppet" for special interests. If he accepts Trump's offer to head the CIA, it could spell a significant setback for consumers, according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

"The worst choice I can think of," Kimbrell said of Pompeo. "Far from draining the swamp, Pompeo is the ultimate "swamp" creature. He is little more than a puppet for the big chemical and biotech companies."

Consumer groups have pushed for mandatory labeling for years because of concerns that genetically engineered crops on the market now carry potential and actual risks for human health and the environment. A chief concern has to do with the fact that most GMO crops are sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. The World Health Organization has declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and residues of glyphosate are increasingly being detected in commonly consumed foods.

The Trump transition team answer for those consumer concerns about pesticides doesn't look reassuring either. Trump has named Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead transition efforts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That's happy news for the agrichemical industry because Ebell appears to be a big fan of pesticides. His group's SAFEChemicalPolicy.org website champions the safety and benefits of chemicals used in agriculture and elsewhere, and discounts research that indicates harm.

"The EPA is supposed to protect us from dangerous chemicals, not defend them, as Ebell would almost certainly do if he ran the agency," the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement.

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