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.
#Monsanto Cancer Lawsuits Take Dramatic Turn Over @EPA Official's 'Highly Suspicious' Role, via @EcoWatch https://t.co/uSBsoPNXUS— Gary Ruskin (@Gary Ruskin)1488299479.0
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.
California Judge Rules Against Monsanto, Allows Cancer Warning on Roundup https://t.co/8cduwUXJHw— carey gillam (@carey gillam)1489274743.0
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.
In celebration of Earth Day, a star-studded cast is giving fans a rare glimpse into the secret lives of some of the planet's most majestic animals: whales. In "Secrets of the Whales," a four-part documentary series by renowned National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Brian Skerry and Executive Producer James Cameron, viewers plunge deep into the lives and worlds of five different whale species.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b102b19b2719f50272ab718c44703dd0"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xOySOlB78dM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. Luis Lamar / National Geographic for Disney+
Belugas are extremely social creatures with a varied vocal range. Peter Kragh / National Geographic for Disney+
A Southern Right whales is pictured in the accompanying book, "Secrets of the Whales." Brian Skerry / National Geographic
The coronavirus has isolated many of us in our homes this year. We've been forced to slow down a little, maybe looking out our windows, becoming more in tune with the rhythms of our yards. Perhaps we've begun to notice more, like the birds hopping around in the bushes out back, wondering (maybe for the first time) what they are.
A Coeligena helianthea hummingbird is photographed during a birdwatching trail at the Monserrate hill in Bogota on November 11, 2020. Colombia is the country with the largest bird diversity in the world, home to about 1,934 different bird species, a fifth of the total known. JUAN BARRETO / AFP / Getty Images
1. Choosing the Right Binoculars<p>Binoculars are a relatively indispensable tool for most birders – but, for those just starting out, it might not yet be worth the several-hundred-dollar investment. If you aren't able to scour the attics of friends or borrow a pair from a fellow bird watcher, some local birding and naturalist groups have <a href="https://vashonaudubon.org/all-about-vashon-birds/binoculars-check-out/" target="_blank">binocular loaning programs</a> for members, allowing you to plan ahead for a day (or week) of birding.</p><p>When you're ready to take the plunge, choosing a pair or binoculars should take some careful deliberation based on your needs and preferences; some <a href="https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/explore/optics/top-10-tips-buying-binoculars-bird-watching.php" target="_blank">major considerations</a> might include size, ease of use, <a href="https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/binoculars.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">magnification</a>, and price. While professional binoculars can easily run north of $1,000, there are plenty of perfectly suitable entry-level binoculars under $200. You might not get the perfect precision and clarity of more elite models, but a less expensive pair will allow you to strengthen your birding skills while deciding if you're interested in investing in a premium pair.</p><p>For a budget-friendly option, check out resale options on eBay, Facebook marketplace, or neighborhood yard sales: you might find a nicer pair whose retail price isn't within your budget.</p>
2. Know What Birds Are in Your Area<p>When I began to pay more attention to the birds just outside my apartment building, I started to learn what species have always been around me: European starlings, house sparrows, blue jays, black capped chickadees, and the occasional red-bellied woodpecker. They had always been there, but I hadn't ever taken the time to identify them. Once you learn to <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/get-know-these-20-common-birds_" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recognize common birds</a> in your area, you'll be able to identify the typical species right outside your window and in your community. Of course, permanent residential birds in your neighborhood will <a href="https://nestwatch.org/learn/focal-species/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vary by region</a>, as will those migrating through it.</p>
3. Get Out and Explore<p>Venturing elsewhere might allow you to spot some different species beyond those frequenting your backyard. Anywhere with water or greenery offers a place for birding; as an urbanite myself, I've found that even small- and mid-sized parks in New York City allow me to find more elusive birds (although Central Park takes the crown for an afternoon of urban birding).</p><p>If you are able to travel a bit further from home, <a href="https://www.fws.gov/refuges/" target="_blank">national wildlife refuges</a> and <a href="https://www.americasstateparks.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">state/national parks</a> are excellent places to explore bird habitats and perhaps log some less-common sightings. The American Birding Association also lists <a href="https://www.aba.org/aba-area-birding-trails/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">birding trails by state</a>, and Audubon and BirdLife International identify <a href="https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Important Bird Areas (IBAs)</a> across the country – important bird habitats and iconic places that activists are fighting to protect – where birders can spot birds of significance.</p>
4. Finding a Bird: Stop, Look, Listen, Repeat<p>The National Audubon Society recommends the "<a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-find-bird" target="_blank">stop, look, listen, repeat</a>" mantra when seeking and identifying birds.</p><p>First and foremost, spotting birds requires attention. Stopping – getting out of the car, pausing on the sidewalk, trail, or in the backyard to look up – is the most important step.</p><p>When looking for birds, try to avoid gazing wildly around; rather, scan your surroundings, focusing on any odd shapes or shadows, trying to think about where a bird might perch (power lines, fence posts, branches), or keep an eye on the sky for flying eagles and hawks. In open areas like fields and beaches, you might have a more panoramic view, and can take in different sections of the landscape at a time. Look around with the naked eye before reaching for the binoculars to hone in.</p><p>While it can be hard to sift through the noise, listening for birds is perhaps an even more important element of bird watching than looking. Once you spend more time in the field, you'll be able to parse apart the racket and identify specific species, especially aided by Audubon's Bird Guide app or by learning from their <a href="https://www.audubon.org/section/birding-ear" target="_blank">Birding by Ear series</a>.</p><p>Repeat this pattern as you continue on your way, stopping to look and listen for birds as you go, rather than waiting for them to come to you. </p>
5. Identification<p>When you head out for a day of bird watching – especially when you're hoping to spot some new species – you'll want to be armed with the tools to identify what you see. <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-identify-birds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Major considerations when identifying birds</a> are their group (such as owls, hawks, or sparrow-like birds), size and shape, behavior, voice, field marks, season, and habitat.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.sibleyguides.com/about/the-sibley-guide-to-birds/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sibley Guide to Birds</a> and the <a href="https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/peterson-field-guide-to-birds-of-north-america-second-edition/9781328771445" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Peterson Field Guide</a> are widely considered the best books for identifying birds in North America, although many <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/what-bird-guide-best-you" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">specialized guides</a> focus on specific species or regions as well.</p><p>Plenty of <a href="https://blog.nature.org/science/2013/05/27/boucher-bird-blog-apps-smart-birder/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bird identification apps</a> have popped up in recent years – including National Geographic Birds, Sibley eGuide to Birds, iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and Birdsnap – which are basically a <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/the-best-birding-apps-and-field-guides" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">field guide in your pocket</a>. I'm partial to the Audubon Bird Guide, which allows users to filter by common identifiers, including a bird's habitat, color, activity, tail shape, and general type, adding them all to a personal map to view your sightings.</p>
6. Recording Your Sightings<p><span>As you deepen your commitment to birding, you might join the community of birders that track and quantify their sightings, building their </span><a href="https://www.thespruce.com/what-birds-count-on-a-life-list-386704#:~:text=A%20life%20list%20is%20a,which%20birds%20you%20have%20seen." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">life list</a><span>.</span></p><p>While a standard notebook noting the date, species name, habitat, vocalizations, or any other data you wish to include will suffice, some birders opt for a more <a href="https://www.riteintherain.com/no-195-birders-journal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">structured birder's journal</a> with pre-determined fields to record your encounters, take notes, draw sketches, etc.</p><p>Many birders also choose to record their sightings online and in shared databases (which include many of the field guide apps), often pinpointing them on a map for others to view. Launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, <a href="https://ebird.org/home" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird is one of the largest databases and citizen science projects around birding</a>, where hundreds of thousands of birders enter their sightings, and users can explore birds in regions and hotspots around the world. Users can also record their sightings on the <a href="https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ebird/id988799279" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird app</a>.</p>
7. Attracting Birds to Your Own Yard<p>Feeding birds is a common phenomenon: more than 40% of Americans maintain a birdfeeder to attract birds and watch them feast.</p><p>Not all birdfeed is created equal, however. Many commercial varieties are mostly made with "fillers" (oats, red millet, etc.) that birds will largely leave untouched. After researching what birds to expect in your area – and which ones you want to attract – you can create your own birdfeed with <a href="https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/types-of-bird-seed-a-quick-guide/?pid=1142" target="_blank">seeds that will appeal to them</a>.</p><p>Beyond filling a birdfeeder, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/eco-friendly-lawn-2651194858.html" target="_self">transforming your yard into an eco-friendly oasis</a> is by far the best way to attract birds. Choosing to forgo mowing your lawn, planting native flowers and grasses, and ditching the pesticides will bring back the bugs that birds feed on, and provide a safe haven in which birds can happily live and eat.</p><p>While it's widely considered acceptable – and even beneficial – to feed birds with appropriate seeds, communal birdfeeders often <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/to-feed-or-not-feed" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">foster unlikely interactions between different species</a>, who can then transmit harmful diseases and parasites to one another. Maintaining several bird feeders with different types of seeds might keep different species from coming into contact, and feeders can be <a href="https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-to-clean-your-bird-feeder/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cleaned to prevent the spread of infection</a>.</p>
8. Inclusivity and Anti-Racism in the Birding Community<p>Like all outdoor activities and areas of scientific study, birding communities are subject to racist and discriminatory ideologies. Black birders have long experienced discrimination and underrepresentation in outdoor spaces. The work of organizations like the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/birdersfund/" target="_blank">Black & Latinx Birders Fund</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/birdability/" target="_blank">Birdability</a>, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/feministbirdclub/" target="_blank">Feminist Bird Club</a> highlight the contributions and importance of birders of color, birders with disabilities, and women and LGBTQ+ birders to the birding community, as do activists and naturalists like <a href="https://www.instagram.com/hood__naturalist/" target="_blank">Corina Newsome</a> and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/tykeejames/" target="_blank">Tykee James</a>. The work of <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/its-bird-new-comic-written-central-park-birder-christian-cooper" target="_blank">Christian Cooper</a>, <a href="https://camilledungy.com/publications/" target="_blank">Camille Dungy</a> (read her poem <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/58363/frequently-asked-questions-10" target="_blank">Frequently Asked Questions: 10</a>), and <a href="https://orionmagazine.org/article/9-rules-for-the-black-birdwatcher/" target="_blank">J. Drew Lanham</a> – including his essay "<a href="https://lithub.com/birding-while-black/" target="_blank">Birding While Black</a>" – are a great place to start.</p><p>Getting involved in birding means educating ourselves on these issues and taking meaningful action; the work of <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/its-bird-new-comic-written-central-park-birder-christian-cooper" target="_blank">Christian Cooper</a> and <a href="https://orionmagazine.org/article/9-rules-for-the-black-birdwatcher/" target="_blank">J. Drew Lanham</a> – including his essay "<a href="https://lithub.com/birding-while-black/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Birding While Black</a>" – are a great place to start. Just as birders are activists for protecting habitats and natural areas, we must also be active and aware of inclusivity in these spaces.</p>
9. Get Involved<p>To learn from and enjoy the company of other birders, check out local birding groups in your area to join. Many Audubon chapters host trips, meetings, and bird walks for members. The American Birding Association even maintains a <a href="https://www.aba.org/festivals-events/" target="_blank">directory of birding festivals</a> across the country.</p><p>Volunteering for birds is also a great way to meet other birders and take action for birds in your community; local organizations might have opportunities for assisting with habitat restoration or helping at birding centers.</p><p>Like all wildlife, climate change and habitat destruction threaten the livelihood of birds, eliminating their breeding grounds and food sources. A <a href="https://www.audubon.org/climate/survivalbydegrees" target="_blank">2019 report released by the National Audubon Society</a> found that two-thirds of North American birds may face extinction if global temperatures rise 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Staying informed about and taking action for legislation designed to protect birds and our climate – such as the recent <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5552/text" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Migratory Bird Protection Act</a> – is important for ensuring a livable future for wildlife and humans alike.</p><p><em>Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. </em><em>Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.</em></p>
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