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EU Approval of Glyphosate Based on Review That Plagiarized Monsanto Studies

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Glyphosate applied to a North Yorkshire field. Chafer Machinery / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The European Union's license extension of the world's most popular weedkiller, glyphosate, was based on a review that heavily plagiarized industry studies, according to a report (pdf) commissioned by European parliamentarians (MEPs).

The new analysis released Tuesday compares whether a risk assessment of the controversial herbicide was actually authored by scientists representing Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) or by the European Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), an industry group that includes Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate-based Roundup, in its ranks.


"Plagiarism was discovered exclusively in the chapters dealing with the assessment of published studies on health risks related to glyphosate," according to the report by plagiarism researcher Stefan Weber and biochemist Helmut Burtscher-Schaden. "In these chapters, 50.1 percent of the content was identified as plagiarism."

In one of their most "remarkable findings," the report's authors determined that even BfR's assessment methods were directly lifted from GTF text.

"The BfR had thus copied Monsanto's explanation of Monsanto's approach in evaluating the published literature, yet had presented it as the approach of the authority. This is a striking example of deception regarding true authorship," the report states.

The BfR and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) rejected the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer's March 2015 classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen. The EFSA based its conclusion on the BfR's stance. Critics have previously accused both agencies of its close ties to the industry.

Weber pointed out to POLITICO that BfR's plagiarizing also means that dozens of studies dismissed by the Glyphosate Task Force were similarly disregarded by European food safety authorities.

"It is very concerning under the hypothesis that all these studies ignored are simply considered as not reliable," he said.

MEPs from the Greens, Socialists & Democrats and European United Left–Nordic Green Left parties commissioned the new report not long after the Guardian revealed that the BfR's glyphosate safety assessment copy-and-pasted large sections of text from a study conducted by Monsanto.

"It is extremely worrying to see that up to 50 percent of some chapters of the German regulator's assessment were actually written by Monsanto," Greens/EFA MEP Bart Staes said in press release.

"Just as tobacco companies can no longer talk about the health benefits of smoking, the chemical industry shouldn't be able to write its own authorization for its own potentially harmful products," he added.

The report was released just before a parliamentary vote on greater transparency and independent scrutiny surrounding the authorization procedure for pesticides, The Guardian noted.

The authors concluded that "BfR's practice of copy paste and plagiarism is at odds with an independent, objective, and transparent assessment of the risks, and that this practice influenced the authority's conclusions on glyphosate's safety."

"In addition," they said, "the study authors found clear evidence of BfR's deliberate pretense of an independent assessment, whereas in reality the authority was only echoing the industry applicants' assessment."

The BfR rejected the report's findings. "In Europe, it was customary and recognized in evaluation procedures for plant protection products that, following critical evaluation, assessment authorities would also integrate relevant passages of documents submitted by applicants into their assessment reports as long as these were up to standard," the agency stated in a press release.

"For the overall assessment of the scientific work of the authorities, quantitative percentages of the share of the official work are not relevant," it added.

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