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Tribunal Judges: Monsanto Violates Basic Human Rights to a Healthy Environment

The five international judges for the Monsanto Tribunal presented their legal opinion Tuesday, which includes key conclusions on the conduct of Monsanto and the need for important changes to international laws governing multinational corporations.

The judges concluded that Monsanto has engaged in practices that have impinged on the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food and the right to health. Additionally, Monsanto's conduct has a negative impact on the right of scientists to freely conduct indispensable research.

The judges also concluded that despite the development of regulations intended to protect the environment, a gap remains between commitments and the reality of environmental protection. International law should now precisely and clearly assert the protection of the environment and establish the crime of ecocide. The Tribunal concluded that if ecocide were formally recognized as a crime in international criminal law, the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide.

In the third part of the advisory opinion, the Tribunal focused on the widening gap between international human rights law and corporate accountability.

It called for the need to assert the primacy of international human and environmental rights law. A set of legal rules is in place to protect investors' rights in the frame of the World Trade Organization and in bilateral investment treaties and in clauses in free-trade agreements. These provisions tend to undermine the capacity of nations to maintain policies, laws and practices protecting human and environmental rights. United Nations bodies urgently need to take action. Otherwise, key questions of human and environmental rights violations will be resolved by private tribunals operating entirely outside the United Nations framework.

The Tribunal also urged to hold non-state actors responsible within international human rights law. The Tribunal reiterated that multinational enterprises should be recognized as responsible actors and should be subjected to the International Criminal Court jurisdiction in case of infringement of fundamental rights. The Tribunal clearly identified and denounced a severe disparity between the rights of multinational corporations and their obligations. Therefore, the advisory opinion encouraged authoritative bodies to protect the effectiveness of international human rights and environmental law against the conduct of multinational corporations.

The very clear conclusions will be of interest to both the critics of Monsanto and industrial agriculture and to the shareholders of chemical companies and especially Bayer. The reputation of Monsanto—and Bayer in case of a merger—will not exactly improve with these conclusions by the judges of the Tribunal. The advisory opinion is a strong signal to those involved in international law, but also to the victims of toxic chemicals.

The Tribunal has created links and shared important information between lawyers and organizations that represent the victims. Therefore, it is likely that the conclusions will lead to more liability cases against Monsanto and similar companies. This will shine a light on the true cost of production and will affect Monsanto (Bayer) shareholder value in the long run. Companies that cause damage to health, food and healthy environment should and will be held accountable for their actions.

Organizing groups behind the Monsanto Tribunal include the Organic Consumers Association, Navdanya, IFOAM Organics International, Biovision Foundation and Regeneration International.

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Boulder County, Colorado farm. Photo credit: Flickr

GMO Crops, Bee-Killing Insecticides to Be Banned on Boulder County-Owned Land

Boulder County, Colorado will completely phase out genetically modified (GMO) corn and sugar beets, and neonicotinoid insecticides on county-owned land.

According to the Daily Camera, commissioners voted 2-1 last week to approve the latest version of a transition plan that bans the cultivation of GMO corn by the end of 2019 and GMO sugar beets by the end of 2021. Neonicotinoids, which have been widely blamed for the declines of bees and other pollinators, will also be phased out within five years on county properties.

GMO corn and sugar beets are the only GMO crops grown on county-owned land, accounting for 1,200 acres, or eight percent, of Boulder County's leased open space in 2015.

The plan, however, leaves open the possibility for Boulder County to consider growing GMO crops with traits that do not rely on the use of pesticides.

Commissioner Elise Jones, who voted for the transition plan, noted that she is not concerned about the safety of GMO crops specifically but the effects of the pesticides used on some of these crops.

"Let's acknowledge: This is not an easy issue; it's not a simple one," Jones said.

But commissioner Cindy Domenico dissented, commenting that "the science on [genetically engineered] crops is not settled."

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Monsanto's herbicide Roundup is the most popular weedkiller in the United States. Photo credit: Flickr

Monsanto Sued for 'Misleading' Roundup Labeling

Monsanto is staring down yet another lawsuit over its glyphosate-based product, Roundup.

Two nonprofit groups allege that the agribusiness giant intentionally mislabels its weedkiller as "target[ing] an enzyme found in plants but not in people or pets." The lawsuit charges that Monsanto's statement is "false, deceptive and misleading" because the enzyme targeted by glyphosate "in fact, is found in people and pets."

Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association, through their attorneys at Richman Law Group, filed the lawsuit in Washington, DC, court on Friday under the District of Columbia's Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The case is Beyond Pesticides et al v Monsanto Co. et al.

"Monsanto aggressively markets Roundup as safe for humans and animals, despite newer studies indicating that glyphosate may be carcinogenic and affect human and animal cardiovascular, endocrine, nervous and reproductive systems," the complaint states.

"Reasonable consumers must and do rely on Monsanto to report honestly Roundup's effects on humans and animals and whether the enzyme it targets is found in people and pets," it says. "No reasonable consumer seeing these representations would expect that Roundup targets a bacterial enzyme that is found in humans and animals and that affects their immune health."

The plaintiffs claim that Monsanto knows its representations are false but profited monetarily off Roundup anyway.

"Monsanto is aware of how glyphosate works on the shikimate pathway, and ... is aware of studies showing that the shikimate pathway is present in bacteria integral to the digestive systems of people and pets. Monsanto therefore knows that glyphosate targets an enzyme present not only in plants, but also in people and pets," the complaint states.

"By deceiving consumers about the nature and effects of Roundup, Monsanto is able to sell a greater volume of Roundup, and to command a higher price for Roundup," it says.

The groups are seeking equitable relief on behalf of the general public, with all profits earned by Monsanto for sales of Roundup in DC to be deposited into a charitable fund for the raising of consumer awareness of the effects of glyphosate.

Glyphosate has been at the center of many recent controversies. The chemical was recently added to California's Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing agents. And in a separate Roundup lawsuit, court documents suggest that Monsanto may have ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics to cover up the alleged cancer risks of glyphosate. Further, the documents suggest that a senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may have worked on the company's behalf to quash reviews of the chemical.

Independent studies have detected glyphosate residues in commonly consumed foods such as cookies, crackers, popular cold cereals and chips. Another study found trace amounts of the herbicide in evaluated brands of cat and dog foods, including Purina, Friskies, Iams, 9 Lives, Kibbles 'n Bits and Rachael Ray.

Monsanto has long maintained the safety of its product and adamantly denies that it causes cancer.

But Jay Feldman, the executive director of Beyond Pesticides, said "Monsanto is falsely telling the public that its product cannot hurt them."

Ronnie Cummins, the Organic Consumers Association's international director, added, "For decades, Monsanto has used false labeling claims to dupe consumers into believing that they can spray Roundup on their yards and in their gardens, without risk to themselves, their children or their pets. It's time for the courts to step in."

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How to Feed the World Without Destroying the Planet

By Cyrus Sutton

Island Earth is the story of a young indigenous scientist's journey through both sides of the GMO battle in Hawaii. Groomed to work for Monsanto, Cliff Kapono had a lot to consider over the past few years. His ancestral ways of farming fed a similar population than what inhabits the island today with some of the most advanced biodynamic farming ever documented. Yet one of his most lucrative job options would be for a company promising to "feed the world."

Island Earth follows Kapono's journey of discovery along with a handful of Hawaiians struggling to take back their communities in the face of the current GMO occupation.

I decided to dive into this project after I learned from a few activists that more GMO crops are tested per acre in Hawaii than any other state in the U.S. I was shocked to learn that this island paradise was home to such activities. Their testing involves multiple combinations of restricted-use pesticides that both our government and the scientific community agree are toxic to the environment and our health. The testing is occurring outdoors right next to low-income communities.

What's happening in Hawaii effects the rest of the country and visa versa. These tiny Islands are a microcosm for the problems we all face but also the solutions we could embody. The vast majority of the world's seeds are owned by the same powerful chemical companies who are testing their crops in Hawaii. They are using genetic modification to alter plants so they can withstand higher doses of the pesticides they manufacture. As such, the Hawaiian people are rising up and pushing back, drafting bills and engaging with their local legislature, as well as returning to their traditional methods of farming in an effort to become self-reliant again.

The question, "How are we going to feed the world?" gets raised a lot and has been the chief marketing slogan for the these GMO companies. According to the former editor of National Geographic and author of End of Plenty, Joel Bourne Jr. states that "we are going to need to grow as much food in the next 35 years as we've grown since the beginning of human civilization."

This number sounds daunting, however this figure was determined based on our current agricultural system which measures raw yields and fails to take into account the amount of food waste and lack of distribution to the people who need it most. If calories were grown again near the areas they were consumed it would be a much different picture.

Hawaii is an island chain that used to be completely self-reliant. Today they import 80-90 percent of the food they eat. Much of it being the products of the seeds tested on their lands. The problems they face are global, and increasingly we all owe our survival to corporations who provide us food, water, shelter and power. Yet every day we learn that often these companies do not have our best interests in mind.

The little mainstream media coverage we've seen about the anti-GMO protests in Hawaii paints this issue as one of eccentric hippies getting angry about food that isn't up to their ideals, when in reality this is a grassroots movement of people from all walks of life coming together to protect the land and water that they hold sacred.

In talks with scientists, doctors, mothers, elders and activists I've come to believe many of the problems we impose upon ourselves are solvable if we can balance our current globalized approach to survival by re-establishing local community-based systems that create and distribute resources. Only with consistent effort to push back politically and to create decentralizing solutions will we make measurable change and hopefully render many of the current problems obsolete. But it's going to take patience and creativity. It's much easier to take what is handed to us and complain about it than it is to create the solutions.

Three years and multiple trips later, I've finished editing with my team and we are touring the film across the world. I just got back from a tour across Hawaii and Australia and am now heading off on a West Coast tour of the U.S. from San Diego to Canada. For a complete list of upcoming screenings, click here. Individuals can host their own screening of Island Earth at their local theatre, school or environmental organization.

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California Judge Rules Against Monsanto, Allows Cancer Warning on Roundup

California is the first U.S. state to require Monsanto to label its blockbuster weed killer, Roundup, as a possible carcinogen, according to a ruling issued Friday by a California judge.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Kapetan previously issued a tentative ruling on Jan. 27 in Monsanto Company v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, et al.

Judge Kapetan formalized her ruling Friday against Monsanto, which will allow California to proceed with the process of listing glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, as a chemical "known to the state to cause cancer" in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known as Proposition 65.

In January of 2016, Monsanto filed a lawsuit against the State of California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) over the agency's notice of intent to list glyphosate as a Prop 65 chemical.

OEHHA issued the notice after the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a report on glyphosate, which classified the chemical as a "probable human carcinogen." The IARC report compelled OEHHA to list glyphosate as a Prop 65 chemical and warn consumers about the possible danger associated with glyphosate exposure.

Why Did Monsanto Sue the State of California?

In 1986, California voters approved Proposition 65 to address concerns about exposure to toxic chemicals. Prop 65 requires California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

OEHHA is the administrator for the Proposition 65 program and determines in many cases whether chemicals or other substances meet the scientific and legal requirements to be placed on the Proposition 65 list. The agency uses a "Labor Code" listing mechanism, which directs the OEHHA to add chemicals or substances to the Prop 65 list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer if they meet certain classifications by the IARC.

Monsanto's lawsuit against OEHHA argued that the statutory basis underlying the agency's action to list glyphosate as a Prop 65 chemical violates both the California and U.S. Constitutions. According to the complaint, listing glyphosate as chemical known to the state to cause cancer cedes regulatory authority to an "unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable, and foreign body" that isn't subject to oversight by California or the United States.

Though, according Judge Kapetan ruling:

"… the Labor Code listing mechanism does not constitute an unconstitutional delegation of authority to an outside agency, since the voters and the legislature have established the basic legislative scheme and made the fundamental policy decision with regard to listing possible carcinogens under Proposition 65, and then allowed the IARC to make the highly technical fact-finding decisions with regard to which specific chemicals would be added to the list.

"As Monsanto admits, the IARC's list is not created in response to the Labor Code listing mechanism or Proposition 65, and in fact IARC has stated that it disavows any policy or rulemaking role, and that it does not intend its determinations to carry the force of law."

In the months that followed, a number of interested nonparties joined the lawsuit as "intervenors," either on behalf of Monsanto or on behalf of the State of California. When a case has the potential to affect the rights of interested nonparties (individuals or organizations not named in the lawsuit), they can become intervenors, effectively joining the litigation either as a matter of right or at the court's discretion without the permission of the original litigants. Intervention simply gives nonparties that could be affected by a case's outcome a chance to be heard.

Below are the intervenors in Monsanto Company v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, et al.

Monsanto Intervenors:

  • California Citrus Mutual
  • Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA)
  • California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations
  • California Grain & Feed Association
  • Almond Alliance of California
  • Western Plant Health Association

OEHHA Intervenors:

  • Center for Food Safety
  • Sierra Club
  • United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (AFL-CIO, CLC)
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Environmental Law Foundation
  • Canadian Labor Congress

Teri McCall is one of many California residents to cheer the ruling against Monsanto. Her husband, Jack, sprayed Roundup on the family's Cambia, California farm for nearly 30 years. In September 2015, Jack went to see a doctor to treat swollen lymph nodes in his neck. That day in the hospital, he learned that the swelling was caused by anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare and aggressive version of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Three months later, Jack suffered a severe stroke due to complications with his cancer treatment. He died on Dec. 26, 2015.

In the wake of her husband's death, Teri McCall filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Monsanto, alleging the company knew about the link between Roundup and cancer, but failed to warn the public about the risk.

"My husband Jack was very conscious of the dangers of chemicals and his misfortune was taking Monsanto's word that Roundup was safe," McCall said at a press conference held in January in Fresno, California, following Judge Kapetan's tentative ruling.

"I don't want to see any more unsuspecting people die from cancer because they didn't know of the danger to their health from exposure to Roundup. Glyphosate in Roundup needs to be on the list of Prop 65 chemicals that are dangerous to our health so that people can make informed decisions for themselves about the risks they are willing to take. I don't believe my husband would have been willing to take that risk," McCall said.

It's great to see democracy is alive and well in California where judges are still willing to stand up for science, even against the most powerful corporate polluters. This decision gives Californians the right to protect themselves and their families from chemical trespass.

I am representing Ms. McCall along with Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman. We are also representing 230 other plaintiffs (45 from California) who are suing Monsanto for non-Hodgkin lymphoma from exposure to Roundup, with more clients coming onboard every week.

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California Becomes First State to Declare Glyphosate Causes Cancer

The state of California has finalized its decision designating glyphosate, the main ingredient in the pesticide Roundup, as a known human carcinogen under the state's Proposition 65. The listing was prompted by the World Health Organization's finding that glyphosate is a "probable" human carcinogen. The World Health Organization's cancer research agency is widely considered to be the gold standard for research on cancer.

"When it comes to Roundup, California has become a national leader in flagging the very real danger posed by this vastly over-used pesticide," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity and a former cancer researcher. "The state based its decision on the findings of the world's most reliable, transparent and science-based assessment of glyphosate."

Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in the U.S. and the world. It is also the most widely used pesticide in California, as measured by area of treated land. An analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity found that more than half of the glyphosate sprayed in California is applied in the state's eight most-impoverished counties. The analysis also found that the populations in these counties are predominantly Hispanic or Latino, indicating that glyphosate use in California is distributed unequally along both socioeconomic and racial lines.

"It's become painfully clear that we can no longer ignore the risk that this pesticide poses to people and wildlife," Donley said.

Earlier this month, a report released by a key scientific advisory panel concluded that the pesticides office at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to follow its own guidelines when it found last year that glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto's flagship pesticide Roundup—is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

And court documents released last week revealed that the chair of the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee on glyphosate was in regular contact with Monsanto, providing insider information that guided Monsanto's messaging. The chair promised to thwart the Department of Health and Human Services' review of glyphosate's safety, saying that if he was successful he deserved a medal. The department never did review glyphosate's safety.

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16 European Nations Vote Against GMO Crops

The majority of European Union governments voted against a proposal to authorize two new strains of genetically modified (GMO) maize today.

The two varieties of maize, DuPont Pioneer's 1507 and Syngenta's Bt11, kill insects by producing its own pesticide and is also resistant Bayer's glufosinate herbicide.

If approved, the varieties would be the first new GMO crops authorized for cultivation in the EU since 1998.

However, as Reuters noted, the votes against authorization did not decisively block their entry to the EU because the opposition did not represent a "qualified majority."

A qualified majority is achieved when at least 16 countries, representing at least 65 percent of the European population, vote in favor or against. (Scroll down for the vote breakdown)

The majority of EU governments also voted against renewing the license for another maize, Monsanto's MON810, the only GMO crop currently grown in the EU. The votes against its renewal was not considered decisive either.

MON810 is banned in 17 EU countries and is grown on less than 1 percent of agricultural land, mainly in Spain and Portugal, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.

The Brussels-based environmental advocacy group says the fates of the three crops now rests with the European Commission and is calling on Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, to reject the new GMO crops.

"Whether he likes it or not, the buck now stops at Jean-Claude Juncker," said Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, in a statement. "He can put himself on the side of the majority of countries, citizens and farmers who do not want genetically-modified crops, or he can back the mega-corporations behind the industrialization of our countryside."

Greenpeace EU explained that if the three authorizations are approved, they would only be valid in nine out of 28 EU countries, as well as in three regions (England in the UK, Flanders and the Brussels region in Belgium). The remaining 19 EU countries and regions in the UK and Belgium have used the EU's opt-out mechanism to prevent GMO crops from being grown in their territories.

Although GMO crops are grown in many parts of the world, the topic is fraught with contention in Europe. While many scientific reviews have concluded that the crops are safe for human consumption and the environment, there are many others that conclude the opposite. Many EU countries have strict laws against GMOs due to public health and environmental concerns. All 28 EU member countries require GMO labeling.

Friends of the Earth Europe has expressed safety concerns of these GMO crops, "especially whether they unintentionally kill butterflies and moths."

"There is no political or public support for genetically-modified crops; farmers don't even want them. It's time for President Juncker to pull the plug on this failed technology once and for all, and to focus on how we make farming resilient to climate change, save family farms and stop the destruction of nature. It's time to close our countryside to genetically-modified crops and move on," Schimpf added.

Similarly, Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg commented that the European Commission should back away from supporting "risky" products.

"When he was elected, Commission President Juncker promised more democratic decision-making. This vote leaves no doubt that approving these GMO crops would break that promise," Achterberg said in a statement. "A majority of governments, parliamentarians and Europeans oppose them, and two thirds of European countries ban GMO cultivation on their lands. Instead of backing risky products peddled by multinational corporations, the commission should support ecological farming and the solutions it provides for rural areas, farmers and the environment."

Katherine Paul, associate director of Organic Consumers Association agrees. "President Juncker has an opportunity to do the right thing, by siding with the majority of EU countries that oppose the introduction of these new GMO crops," she told EcoWatch.

"To do anything less, would send EU leaders and citizens the wrong message—that corporations can buy the approval of crops that farmers and citizens don't want, crops that must be grown using chemicals that are toxic to humans and the environment. We hope Mr. Juncker will stand up to corporate pressure, and instead come down in favor of health, safety and organic, regenerative alternatives to chemical agriculture."

Ken Roseboro of the Organic & Non-GMO Report shared the same sentiment. "The European Union has remained steadfast in rejecting GM crops in their member states for nearly 20 years, and these votes reflect that anti-GMO stand," he said. "The European people don't want to eat GM foods, there is not market for them there, and yet the biotech companies continue to try to push their GMOs. Hopefully,Commission President Juncker will side with the wishes of the majority of the European people and reject approval of these GM crops."

Here is Monday's vote breakdown, according to Friends of the Earth Europe:

On renewal of GMO maize MON 810

8 Member States voted in favor, representing 34.45% of the EU population: CZ, EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, SV, UK.

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.26% of the EU population: BE, DE, HR, MT, PT, SK

14 Member states voted to reject, representing 43.29% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, IT, LT 14

On authorisation of GMO maize 1507

6 Member States voted in favor, representing 30.45% of the EU population: EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, UK

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.28% of the EU population: BE, CZ, DE, HR, MT, SK

16 Member states voted to reject, representing 47.27% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, SV, IT, LT, PT

On authorisation of GMO maize Bt 11

6 Member States voted in favor, representing 30.45% of the EU population: EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, UK

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.28% of the EU population: BE, CZ, DE, HR, MT, SK

16 Member states voted to reject, representing 47.27% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, SV, IT, LT, PT 47,27%

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4 Tactics Used by Monsanto to Undermine Potential Link Between Glyphosate and Cancer

By Genna Reed

Emails unsealed in a California lawsuit last week reveal that agribusiness giant Monsanto engaged in activities aimed at undermining efforts to evaluate a potential link between glyphosate—the active ingredient of the company's popular herbicide Roundup—and cancer. The documents reveal the company's plans to seed the scientific literature with a ghostwritten study and its efforts to delay and prevent U.S. government assessments of the product's safety.

Many corporate actors, including the sugar industry, the oil and gas industries and the tobacco industry, have used tactics such as denying scientific evidence, attacking individual scientists, interfering in government decision-making processes and manufacturing counterfeit science through ghostwriting to try to convince policymakers and the public of their products' safety in the face of independent scientific evidence to the contrary. This case underscores the urgent need for greater transparency and tighter protections to prevent these kinds of corporate disinformation tactics that could put the public at risk.

High Stakes in Glyphosate-Cancer Link

The case centers on the scientific question of whether glyphosate causes a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In the California lawsuit in which the key company documents were unsealed, plaintiffs with non-Hodgkin lymphoma claim that their disease is linked to glyphosate exposure.

The science is still unclear on this question. The EPA's issue paper on this topic said that glyphosate is "not likely carcinogenic," but some of its Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) members point to critical data gaps and even suggest that there is "limited but suggestive evidence of a positive association" between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemical Agency have both concluded that scientific evidence does not support classifying glyphosate as a carcinogen. More than 94 scientists from institutions across the world have called for changes to EFSA's scientific evaluation process.

It's complex. What is clear, however, is that independent science bodies should be conducting their assessments on glyphosate without interference from outside players with a stake in the final determination.

The stakes for public health—and for Monsanto's bottom line—are enormous. Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S. Sold by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup, it is the company's flagship product. U.S. farmers spray nearly 300 million pounds of it on corn, soybeans and a variety of other crops every year to kill weeds. It is also commonly used in the U.S. for residential lawn care. As a result of its widespread use, traces of Roundup have been found in streams and other waterways and in our food and farmers and farmworkers are at risk for potentially heavy exposure to the chemical. (More on the ramifications of its agricultural use and the related acceleration of herbicide-resistant weeds here).

Setting the Scene for Science Manipulation

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a compulsory risk assessment of glyphosate as part of its pesticide reregistration process. The agency's process risked the possibility that the chemical could be listed as a possible carcinogen, as the agency is required to review new evidence since its last review in the mid-1990s and determine whether it will cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and human health. From Monsanto's standpoint, such a classification change posed a clear threat for its lucrative product, possibly resulting in changes to labels and public perception of the product's safety that could tarnish the brand's image.

Compounding the companies' woes, in March 2015, the United Nations-sponsored International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released an assessment concluding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen after evaluating the available scientific research on glyphosate's link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma. IARC recommended that glyphosate be classified as a 2A carcinogen, along with pesticides like DDT and malathion. IARC's was a science-based determination, not regulatory in nature. But the IARC assessment, the pending EPA review and a slated evaluation by yet another U.S. agency—the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—appears to have spurred Monsanto to use at least four separate tactics to inappropriately influence public perception and the assessment process.

Tactic 1: Suppress the Science

In one disturbing revelation, the emails suggest that Monsanto representatives had frequent communications with a U.S. government official: Jess Rowland, former associate director of the Health Effects Division at the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs and chair of the agency's Cancer Assessment Review Committee. Internal Monsanto emails indicate that Rowland tipped the company off to the IARC assessment before its release. The emails also quote Rowland as saying he would work to quash the ATSDR study on glyphosate, reportedly telling Monsanto officials: "If I can kill this I should get a medal." The emails suggest that Monsanto was working with staff inside a U.S. government agency, outside of the established areas of public input to decision-making processes, in a completely inappropriate manner.

Tactic 2: Attack the Messenger

Immediately following the IARC assessment, Monsanto not only disputed the findings but attacked the IARC's credibility, trying to discredit the internationally renowned agency by claiming it had fallen prey to "agenda-driven bias." The IARC's working group members were shocked by Monsanto's allegations questioning their credibility. IARC relies on data that are in the public domain and follows criteria to evaluate the relevance and independence of each study it cites. As one IARC member, epidemiologist Francesco Forastiere, explained: "… none of us had a political agenda. We simply acted as scientists, evaluating the body of evidence, according to the criteria." Despite Monsanto's attacks, the IARC continues to stand by the conclusions of its 2015 assessment.

Tactic 3: Manufacture Counterfeit Science

In perhaps the most troubling revelation, emails show that in February 2015, Monsanto discussed manufacturing counterfeit science—ghostwriting a study for the scientific literature that would downplay the human health impacts of glyphosate and misrepresenting its independence. William Heydens, a Monsanto executive, suggested that the company could keep costs down by writing an article on the toxicity of glyphosate and having paid academics "edit & sign their names so to speak" and recommended that the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology be contacted since the company "had done such a publication in the past" at that journal.

The 2000 paper Heydens referenced, the lead author of which is a faculty member at New York Medical College (NYMC), cites Monsanto studies, thanks Monsanto for "scientific support," but fails to disclose Monsanto funding or other direct involvement in its publication. That paper concluded that, "Roundup herbicide does not pose a health risk to humans." After a quick investigation to assess the integrity of this study, NYMC announced that there was "no evidence" that the faculty member had broken with the school's policy not to author ghostwritten studies.

Tactic 4: Undermine Independent Scientific Assessment

The emails and other court documents also document the ways in which Monsanto worked to prevent EPA's use of a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to review the agency's issue paper on glyphosate's cancer risk and to delay and help shape the SAP findings through suggested changes to the composition of the panel. Within the unsealed emails, Monsanto mentioned that it opposed the EPA's plan to create a SAP to review glyphosate because "the scope is more likely than not to be more comprehensive than just IARC … SAPs add significant delay, create legal vulnerabilities and are a flawed process that is probable to result in a panel and determinations that are scientifically questionable and will only result in greater uncertainty." This is a bogus claim. Scientific Advisory Panels, when they are fully independent, are a critical source of science advice.

EPA's SAP meetings on glyphosate, scheduled to begin in October 2016, were postponed just a few days before they were slated to start. This occurred after intense lobbying from CropLife America, an agrichemical trade organization representing Monsanto and other pesticide makers, which questioned the motives of the SAP looking into the health impacts of glyphosate. CropLife submitted several comments to the EPA, including one that attacked the integrity of a nominated SAP scientist. The agency subsequently announced the scientist's removal from the panel in November 2016, one month before the rescheduled meetings took place.

Simultaneously, Monsanto created its own "expert panel" in July 2015 composed of 16 individuals, some scientists and some lobbyists, only four of whom have never been employed by or consulted with Monsanto. Who needs independent assessments when you have ready, willing and substantially funded agribusiness scientists who call themselves "independent"?

Defending the Scientific Process

The revelations from the unsealed Monsanto emails underscore the vital need for independent science and transparency to ensure credibility, foster public trust in our system of science-based policymaking and prevent entities like Monsanto from undermining objective scientific assessments. Clearly, better controls and oversight are needed to safeguard the scientific process from tactics like ghostwriting and more transparency and accountability are needed to ensure that scientific bodies are able to adequately assess the risks and benefits of any given product. Given what is now known about Monsanto's actions, the need for independently conducted research and impartial science-based assessments about glyphosate's safety is more important than ever.

Genna Reed is a science and policy analyst in the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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