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Publisher: Roundup Studies Failed to Fully Disclose Monsanto's Role

Health + Wellness

A scientific journal issued a rare "Expression of Concern" and requested corrections from authors involved in a group of papers that determined Monsanto's controversial herbicide glyphosate is safe, Bloomberg reported.

The editor-in-chief and publisher of Critical Reviews in Toxicology said Wednesday that the five articles, which were published in the journal's 2016 supplemental issue, failed to adequately disclose ties to the agribusiness giant.


"We have requested corrigenda from the authors to provide additional disclosure as to contributions to the articles," they said. "To date, we have only received corrigenda for three of the five articles that have been agreed by all authors. We have not received an adequate explanation as to why the necessary level of transparency was not met on first submission."

Although the articles have been flagged, the scientific findings are unchanged and the title of the supplemental issue remains as, "An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate."

"When reading the articles, we recommend that readers take this context into account. We will continue to work to update these articles and ensure full disclosure of all contributions to them," the editor-in-chief and publisher said.

Their expression of concern has added fuel to claims that Monsanto employees "ghost-wrote" safety reviews of glyphosate and hired academics to put their names on the papers to cover up the cancer risk of its blockbuster product, Roundup.

As noted by the Center for Biological Diversity in a press release, each of the articles were highly critical of the 2015 finding by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen.

"It's deplorable that Monsanto was the puppet master behind the supposedly 'independent' reviews of glyphosate's safety," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the center, in the press release. "These papers were manufactured as a way to counteract the World Health Organization's findings on glyphosate's cancer risks. They could mislead the public in dangerous ways and should be completely retracted."

Monsanto's alleged role in the safety reviews of glyphosate was offered as evidence in a landmark trial that resulted in the company being ordered to pay $289 million to a California groundskeeper who said he developed cancer from exposure to Roundup.

Germany's Bayer, which acquired Monsanto for $63 billion, is appealing the verdict and is facing roughly 9,500 plaintiffs in the U.S. who say exposure to glyphosate causes cancer, Bloomberg reported.

In October 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity and three other national environmental health groups sent a letter to the publisher of Critical Reviews in Toxicology demanding a retraction of the articles at question.

The journal requires disclosure of any potential author conflicts. But according to the Center for Biological Diversity's press release, the Declaration of Interest statement that was originally published with the papers:

  • Failed to disclose that at least two panelists who authored the review worked as consultants for, and were directly paid by, Monsanto for their work on the paper.
  • Failed to disclose that at least one Monsanto employee extensively edited the manuscript and was adamant about retaining inflammatory language critical of the IARC assessment—against some of the authors' wishes; the disclosure falsely stated that no Monsanto employee reviewed the manuscript.

Monsanto spokesman Sam Murphy told Bloomberg an email that the articles at issue are "a small part of an extensive body of research" showing the herbicide is safe.

Further, he said the company's influence on the papers was "non-substantive" such as providing formatting assistance and giving a history of regulatory overview, according to Bloomberg.

"The scientific conclusions are those of the authors and the authors alone," Murphy added.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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