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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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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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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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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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Monsanto Faces Hundreds of New Cancer Lawsuits as Debate Over Glyphosate Rages On

Monsanto has been slapped with another slew of cancer lawsuits over its most popular pesticide as the debate over the health risks of glyphosate rages on.

Los Angeles-based law firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman filed lawsuits last week on behalf of 136 plaintiffs from across the country who allege that exposure to Monsanto's glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Three bundled complaints were filed last week in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

"We're bringing the lawsuit to address the injuries that have been caused by Roundup and glyphosate to mainly farmers and farm workers, but we think that consumers and home gardeners have also been affected," Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a co-counsel in the lawsuit, told St. Louis Public Radio.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. at a press conference with Baum Hedlund clients outside of the courthouse in Fresno, California in January.Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman

The firm also filed another 40 cases in Alameda County, California, Superior Court, on Friday. The 40 individuals, all from California, allege that exposure to the herbicide caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The St. Louis plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death and personal injuries against defendants Monsanto, Osborn & Barr Communications, Inc. and Osborn & Barr Holdings, Inc., all of St. Louis, Missouri.

The Alameda lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death and personal injuries against defendants Monsanto and Wilbur Ellis Company, LLC of San Francisco, California.

More than 700 Roundup cancer claims have now been filed in state and federal courts. Kennedy estimated that claims could increase to 3,000 in the next few months.

Monsanto, which is awaiting a multi-billion dollar merger with Germany's Bayer, is facing a spate of controversy this month over its flagship product.

First, California became the first U.S. state to require the company to label Roundup as a possible carcinogen in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65.

Then last week, a federal judge in San Francisco unsealed documents suggesting that company employees had ghostwritten scientific reports that U.S. regulators used to determine glyphosate does not cause cancer. Court files also indicated that Jess Rowland—a former senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who chaired a committee on cancer risk—worked with Monsanto to suppress reviews of glyphosate.

"Monsanto's newly released documents expose a culture corrupt enough to shock the company's most jaded critics," Kennedy said in a statement. "Those papers show sociopathic company officials ghostwriting scientific studies to conceal Roundup's risks from Monsanto's regulators and customers, including food consumers, farmers and the public."

"One wonders about the perverse morality that incentivizes executives to lie so easily and to put profits before human life," he added. "All humanity will benefit when a jury sees this scheme and gives this behemoth a new set of incentives."

Glyphosate, the most heavily used weedkiller in agricultural history, is currently used in more than 160 countries. However, a number of environmental and human health risks have been associated with its rampant use.

As Alternet wrote:

"In addition to its potential cancer-causing properties, Roundup has been linked to a host of other health issues such as ADHD, Alzheimer's disease, kidney disease, liver disease, reproductive problems and birth defects, as well as environmental impacts, such as the record decline of monarch butterflies. A 2014 study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey detected the presence of Roundup in 75 percent of air and rainfall test samples take from the Mississippi Delta, a fertile agricultural region."

According to a press release from Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, the lawsuits allege that Monsanto continues to proclaim to the world that Roundup creates no risks to human health or to the environment.

They also claim that Monsanto "championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies that revealed Roundup's dangers in order to prove that Roundup is safe for human use, while also ghostwriting studies and leading a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers, and the general population that Roundup was safe."

Monsanto's glyphosate woes all started when the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research (IARC) on Cancer concluded in 2015 that the chemical is a "probable carcinogen" to humans. Furthermore, the IARC said that the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other hematopoietic cancers.

The biotech giant refutes the classification and insists that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer.

"We empathize with anyone facing cancer," Monsanto spokesperson Charla Lord told St. Louis Public Radio via email. "We can also confidently say that glyphosate is not the cause. No regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate a carcinogen."

The IARC's classification contrasts with findings from several international agencies including the EPA and the European Chemicals Agency, which concluded earlier this month that glyphosate should not be classified as a cancer-causing substance.

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Unsealed Court Documents Suggest Monsanto Ghostwrote Research to Coverup Roundup Cancer Risk

By Reynard Loki

Monsanto suffered a major setback Tuesday when a federal judge in San Francisco unsealed documents that call into question the agrichemical giant's research practices and the safety of its best-selling herbicide, Roundup, the world's most-produced weedkiller. The documents counter industry-funded research that has long asserted Monsanto's flagship product—used by home gardeners, public park gardeners and farmers and applied to hundreds of crops—is relatively safe.

According to 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.

One of the documents unsealed by Judge Vince Chhabria was an email written by William F. Heydens, a Monsanto executive, giving his colleagues the green light to ghostwrite glyphosate research and then hire academics to put their names on the papers. He even cited an instance where the company had used this method in the past. "We would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak," wrote Heydens.

The documents also indicate that within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there was not only internal disagreement regarding the agency's own safety assessment of Roundup, but also foul play. In one email from 2015, Dan Jenkins, a Monsanto executive, said that Jess Rowland, an EPA official who was heading the cancer risk evaluation of Roundup, referring to an agency review, had told him over the phone, "If I can kill this, I should get a medal." The review never happened.

The revelations from the current court challenge, a combination of more than 55 lawsuits filed against Monsanto in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California—including individuals who claim to have developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma due to glyphosate exposure—adds significant weight to the mounting concerns about the widespread use of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. It also raises concerns about Monsanto's questionable methods to ensure a light regulatory hand on its marketplace activities.

The litigation was set in motion following the determination by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization's cancer arm, in March 2015, that Monsanto's controversial herbicide is "probably carcinogenic to humans." In its finding, IARC noted that "case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides."

In addition to its potential cancer-causing properties, Roundup has been linked to a host of other health issues such as ADHD, Alzheimer's disease, kidney disease, liver disease, reproductive problems and birth defects, as well as environmental impacts, such as the record decline of monarch butterflies. A 2014 study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey detected the presence of Roundup in 75 percent of air and rainfall test samples take from the Mississippi Delta, a fertile agricultural region.

First approved for use in the 1970s, glyphosate is currently used in more than 160 countries. In California, farmers apply it to around 250 different crops. But as concerns have mounted, glyphosate bans have been passed by some nations, including El Salvador, Colombia, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and France, whose ban was passed just months after the IARC determination.

Monsanto isn't alone in its assertion that Roundup is safe. Some governmental agencies, including the EPA and the European Food Safety Agency, have disagreed with IARC's conclusion that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

Though Monsanto may have found pro-industry allies within the EPA, the judiciary has proved to be a tough arena for the world's largest seed company. The disclosure of the damning documents in San Francisco comes on the heels of a ruling Friday by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Kapetan that California's EPA can now list glyphosate as a chemical "known to the state to cause cancer" in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, more commonly known as Proposition 65. Kapetan's decision gives the state the authority to require Monsanto to label Roundup a possible carcinogen. Monsanto's attorney, Trenton Norris, argued that the warnings would hurt the company because it would dissuade some consumers from purchasing the product.

While Monsanto is on the defense in California, the collection of cases overseen by Judge Chhabria will soon have a global dimension, as he overruled Monsanto's objection to the plaintiffs' request to secure documents and depose a former Monsanto official from Europe. The New York Times reports that other Monsanto officials will be deposed in the coming weeks.

Chhabria also threatened Monsanto with sanctions if the company continues "overbroad" efforts to hide relevant documents from the public. "I have a problem with Monsanto, because … it is insisting that stuff be filed under seal that should not be filed under seal," he said at the hearing. When documents are "relevant to the litigation, they shouldn't be under seal, even … if Monsanto doesn't like what they say."

New court filings earlier this month focus on alleged collusion between Monsanto and the EPA. The basis for the allegation is a 2013 letter written by Marion Copley, in which the late EPA senior toxicologist asserts, "It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer," contradicting the agency's 1991 ruling that the chemical is not a human carcinogen. In that letter, Copley also accused Rowland of unethical behavior: "For once in your life, listen to me and don't play your political conniving games with the science to favor the registrants ... For once do the right thing and don't make decisions based on how it affects your bonus."

The recent legal setbacks, which comprise hundreds of lawsuits across the U.S., have put Monsanto on its back foot, but the company remains steadfast in its claims that glyphosate is relatively safe and has vowed to continue its fight in the courts. Monsanto spokesman Samuel Murphey called California's proposal to list the chemical under Proposition 65 "flawed and baseless," claiming it violates both the state and U.S. Constitution. "Monsanto will continue to challenge this unfounded proposed ruling on the basis of science and the law," Murphey said.

"Glyphosate is not a carcinogen," Monsanto insisted in a statement. The company added, "The allegation that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans is inconsistent with decades of comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world. The plaintiffs have submitted isolated documents that are taken out of context." The company also rejected claims that the academic research it funds should be discredited.

For environmental, public health and corporate accountability advocates, the mounting legal pressure on Monsanto is welcome, but long overdue—and a bit surprising.

"Initially when these cases started to be filed, I was skeptical because Monsanto has such a strong track record of prevailing in court," said Carey Gillam, a director of the consumer group U.S. Right to Know. "But the more information that comes out through discovery and new scientific research that's emerging, the more it looks like the plaintiffs may have a case."

While hundreds of cases against Monsanto have already been filed in state and federal courts, Tim Litzenburg, an attorney with the Miller Firm, a Virginia-based law office filing many of the cases, believes that the number will increase rapidly. "Six to eight weeks from now they could number in the thousands," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

And though the science around glyphosate may not be settled in some regulatory agencies, sustained public debate about the chemical, as well as increased transparency in regard to its regulation, sale and marketing can only benefit consumers, farmers and wildlife. As John Barton, a farmer from Bakersfield, California, who believes Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma, recently told the Fresno Bee, "I don't want anyone to go through what I have gone through."

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

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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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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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