Quantcast
GMO

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.

Keep reading... Show less
GMO

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
GMO
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

EPA Sued for Failure to Release Glyphosate Documents

U.S. Right to Know, a consumer advocacy organization, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Public Citizen Litigation Group, a public interest law firm in Washington, DC, is representing U.S. Right to Know in the action.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, seeks documents related to EPA's assessment of a controversial chemical called glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is the key ingredient in Monsanto's branded Roundup herbicides as well as other weed-killing products. Concerns about the chemical have grown since the World Health Organization in 2015 said its cancer experts classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Other scientists have also said research shows safety problems with the chemical and the formulations its used in.

U.S. Right to Know requested the EPA records after the EPA posted an internal memorandum titled GLYPHOSATE: Report of the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) to the agency's website on April 29, 2016. The internal EPA report, known as the CARC report, concluded that glyphosate was "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans." The EPA then deleted the public posting on May 2, 2016, saying that the document was posted inadvertently. But before it was deleted Monsanto officials copied the document, promoted it on the company website and on social media and made reference to it in a court hearing dealing with lawsuits filed by agricultural workers and others who allege Monsanto's herbicide gave them cancer.

The May 12, 2016, FOIA request asked for certain records relating to the CARC report on glyphosate as well as records of communications between Monsanto and EPA officials that discussed glyphosate issues. Under FOIA, the EPA had 20 working days to respond to the request, but well over 190 working days have now passed and the EPA has yet to produce any records in response to the request. The EPA has also failed to comply with similar, more recent FOIA requests made by U.S. Right to Know for documentation of EPA dealings with Monsanto regarding glyphosate, though those requests are not part of this lawsuit.

The lawsuit specifically claims that U.S. Right to Know has a statutory right under FOIA to the requested records and that EPA has no legal basis for refusing to produce these records. The complaint asks the court to order EPA to make the requested records promptly available.

GMO

Monsanto Cancer Lawsuits Take Dramatic Turn Over EPA Official's 'Highly Suspicious' Role

Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official Jess Rowland may have to testify over claims that he covered up evidence that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's top-selling herbicide Roundup, could cause cancer.

A federal judge said at a hearing in San Francisco on Monday that he is likely to grant the deposition of Rowland, a key figure named in multi-district cancer lawsuits alleging that Monsanto failed to warn about the cancer risks associated with exposure to glyphosate.

"My reaction is when you consider the relevance of the EPA's reports, and you consider their relevance to this litigation, it seems appropriate to take Jess Rowland's deposition," U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said at the hearing.

The plaintiffs' lawyers argue that Rowland had a "highly suspicious" relationship with Monsanto, Bloomberg reported.

Rowland, a former deputy division director at the EPA, chaired the agency's Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC). The CARC determined that glyphosate was "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans," which differs from the International Agency for Research on Cancer conclusion that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. Rowland left the agency just days after a copy of the CARC report was leaked to the press in May 2016.

This new development in the case—Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco)—is yet another litigious nightmare for the St. Louis-based agrochemical giant, which is pending acquisition from Bayer AG. Incidentally, the German pharmaceutical company recently signaled that its $66 billion mega-merger with Monsanto may face delays amid regulatory concerns.

In response, Monsanto insisted that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer.

"While we empathize with anyone facing these terrible illnesses, there is no evidence that glyphosate is the cause," Scott Partridge, Monsanto's Vice President of Global Strategy, said in a statement published by Bloomberg. "The very long and well-established history of safe glyphosate use—over 40 years in more than 160 countries—shows clearly that these claims are supported neither by the science nor the facts."

As U.S. Right to Know reported, the litigation involves more than 60 plaintiffs accusing Monsanto of covering up evidence that Roundup herbicide could cause cancer. The plaintiffs, all of whom are suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or lost a loved one to the disease, have asserted in recent court filings that Monsanto wielded significant influence within the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), and had close ties specifically to Rowland, who until last year was deputy division director within the health effects division of the OPP.

A Feb. 10 court filing includes correspondence dated March 4, 2013, from a 30-year career EPA scientist Marion Copley accusing Rowland of playing "political conniving games with the science" to favor pesticide companies such as Monsanto.

Citing evidence from animal studies, Copley wrote, "It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer." Copley went on to say that Rowland and another official "intimidated staff" into changing reports related to the glyphosate findings.

According to Bloomberg, Raven M. Norris, a lawyer at the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco representing the EPA, said it was "premature" to take Rowland's testimony.

The EPA has until March 28 to file written arguments opposing Rowland's deposition.

Sponsored
GMO

Cancer Lawsuits Allege EPA-Monsanto Collusion

By Carey Gillam

A new court filing made on behalf of dozens of people claiming Monsanto's Roundup herbicide gave them cancer includes information about alleged efforts within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect Monsanto's interests and unfairly aid the agrichemical industry.

The filing, made late Friday by plaintiff's attorneys, includes what the attorneys represent to be correspondence from a 30-year career EPA scientist accusing top-ranking EPA official Jess Rowland of playing "your political conniving games with the science" to favor pesticide manufacturers such as Monsanto. Rowland oversaw the EPA's cancer assessment for glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's weed-killing products, and was a key author of a report finding glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic. But in the correspondence, longtime EPA toxicologist Marion Copley cites evidence from animal studies and writes: "It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to say how they obtained the correspondence, which is dated March 4, 2013. The date of the letter comes after Copley left the EPA in 2012 and shortly before she died from breast cancer at the age of 66 in January 2014. She accuses Rowland of having "intimidated staff" to change reports to favor industry, and writes that research on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, shows the pesticide should be categorized as a "probable human carcinogen." The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, declared as much—that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen—in March 2015 after reviewing multiple scientific studies. Monsanto has rejected that classification and has mounted a campaign to discredit IARC scientists.

The communication, if authentic, could be an explosive development in the snowballing multi-district litigation that now includes more than 60 plaintiffs from around the United States accusing Monsanto of covering up evidence that Roundup herbicide could cause cancer. The plaintiffs, all of whom are suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) or lost a loved one to NHL, have asserted in recent court filings that Monsanto wielded significant influence within the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), and had close ties specifically to Rowland, who until last year was deputy division director within the health effects division of the OPP. Rowland managed the work of scientists who assessed human health effects of exposures to pesticides like glyphosate and he chaired the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) that determined glyphosate was "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans." Rowland left the EPA in 2016, shortly after a copy of the CARC report was leaked and cited by Monsanto as evidence that the IARC classification was flawed.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs want the federal judge in the case to lift a seal on documents that detail Monsanto's interactions with Rowland regarding the EPA's safety assessment of glyphosate. Monsanto turned the documents over in discovery but marked them "confidential," a designation plaintiffs' attorneys say is improper. They also want to depose Rowland. But Monsanto and the EPA object to the requests, court documents show. Rowland could not be reached for comment, and the EPA declined to comment about the court matters.

GMO
Mike Mozart

Monsanto and EPA Seek to Keep Talks About Glyphosate Cancer Review a Secret

By Carey Gillam

Monsanto and officials within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are fighting legal efforts aimed at exploring Monsanto's level of influence over regulatory assessments of the key chemical in the company's Roundup herbicide, new federal court filings show.

The revelations are contained in a series of filings made within the last few days in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as part of litigation brought by more than 50 people who are suing Monsanto. The plaintiffs claim they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Roundup herbicide, and that Monsanto has spent decades covering up the chemical's cancer risks.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs want the court to lift a seal on documents that detail Monsanto's interactions and discussions with former top EPA brass Jess Rowland regarding the EPA's safety assessment of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Monsanto turned the documents over in discovery but marked the documents "confidential," a designation plaintiffs' attorneys say is improper. They also want to depose Rowland. But Monsanto and the EPA are fighting both requests, the filings show.

The EPA has spent the last few years assessing the health and environmental safety aspects of glyphosate as global controversy over the chemical has mounted. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared in March 2015 that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, with a positive association found between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Monsanto has been fighting to refute that classification because of financial and legal liability ramifications.

Rowland has been key in Monsanto's efforts to rebut the IARC finding because until last year he was a deputy division director within the health effects division of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, managing the work of scientists who assessed human health effects of exposures to pesticides like glyphosate. And, importantly, he chaired the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review committee (CARC) that issued an internal report in October 2015 contracting IARC's findings. That 87-page report, signed by Rowland, determined that glyphosate was "not likely to be carcinogenic."

The report was a godsend to Monsanto because it has helped bolster the company's defense against the Roundup liability lawsuits, and helped shore up market support for a product that brings in billions of dollars in revenues to the company annually. The EPA's stamp of approval for the safety of glyphosate has also been key to the success of Monsanto's genetically engineered, glyphosate-tolerant crops, which have been popular with farmers.

But the handling of the CARC report raised questions last year when it was "inadvertently" posted to a public EPA website on April 29, 2016, and kept on the site three days, before being pulled down. The agency said the report was not final and that it should not have been posted, but Monsanto touted the report as a public affirmation of its safety claims for glyphosate. The company also cited the report at a May court hearing in the Roundup litigation as a counter point to the IARC cancer classification. Shortly after the CARC report was removed from the EPA website, Rowland left his 26-year career at the EPA.

Plaintiffs' attorneys have asked to depose Rowland to learn about that situation and other dealings with Monsanto. But, along with Monsanto's objection to a release of the documents that relate to its conversations with Rowland, the EPA has specifically refused the deposition request, saying it would "not clearly be in the interests of EPA" to allow attorneys to question Rowland about the cancer review and interactions with Monsanto.

Monsanto has so far turned over roughly six million pages of documents through the court-ordered discovery process, but has designated roughly 85 percent of the information as "confidential," meaning plaintiffs' attorneys must black out information from those documents in any court filings that could be accessed by reporters or other members of the public. That designation is improper for many of the documents, especially ones dealing with the company's interactions with, and influence attempts over, EPA officials, plaintiffs' lawyers argue.

The lawyers said that the documents obtained through discovery show that "Monsanto has been confident all along that EPA would continue to support glyphosate, whatever happened and no matter who held otherwise." According to the court filings by plaintiffs' attorneys, the documents show "it is clear that Monsanto enjoyed considerable influence within the EPA's OPP, and was close with Mr. Rowland ... The documentary evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Rowland's primary goal was to serve the interests of Monsanto."

The EPA is a taxpayer-funded, public agency and its dealings with Monsanto should be subject to public scrutiny, particularly given the widespread use of glyphosate herbicide products and the current ongoing international debate over the safety of the chemical, the lawyers claim.

"The health and safety of millions of U.S. citizens is at stake," states the Jan. 16 plaintiffs' filing. "Decisions affecting the public health should not be based on secret conversations between Monsanto and EPA officials. If Monsanto wants to advocate on behalf of glyphosate to EPA employees, they should have to do it publicly, so that concerned citizens have equal opportunity to advocate for their health and the health of their families. This issue is too important to allow Monsanto to improperly influence the EPA, and then hide such communication behind an improper 'confidential' designation."

Monsanto is adamant that its documents not be made public, saying releasing them would be "premature and improper." Allowing public dissemination "of a few select internal corporate documents taken out of context … would be prejudicial to Monsanto and could cause reputational harm," the company's attorneys wrote in their response.

The plaintiffs' attorneys say at least four specific documents they have obtained are clearly in the public interest and "illuminate that one of Monsanto's chief business strategies is its secret and untoward influence on EPA." The documents include both internal memos and email chains, according to descriptions of the documents.

"Since Monsanto's communications with the EPA remain secret, these known lobbying efforts are only the tip of the iceberg of Monsanto's collusion with the EPA. Monsanto's bad acts in violating U.S. regulations through secret communications with the EPA should not by rewarded by allowing them to keep these communications secret by merely stamping them 'confidential,'" the plaintiffs' attorney state in the filings. "These documents summarize communications with EPA which are not elsewhere memorialized; they are not trade secrets and the public has a compelling interest in disclosure."

Monsanto argues otherwise, saying the four documents at issue "contain sensitive, non-public commercial information, relate to a motion seeking to obtain discovery from a non-party, and bear only a tangential, at best, connection to the questions at issue in this litigation; hence, any public interest 'is minimal.'"

U.S. District Jude Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing the multi-district Roundup litigation, could rule on these matters any day.

Sponsored

New USDA Data Shows 85% of Foods Tested Have Pesticide Residues

By Carey Gillam

As Americans gather with their families for Thanksgiving this week, new government data offers a potentially unappetizing assessment of the U.S. food supply—Residues of many types of bug-killing pesticides, fungicides and weed killing chemicals have been found in roughly 85 percent of thousands of foods tested.

Data released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows varying levels of pesticide residues in everything from mushrooms to potatoes and grapes to green beans. One sample of strawberries contained residues of 20 pesticides, according to the Pesticide Data Program report issued this month by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. The report is the 25th annual such compilation of residue data for the agency, and covered sampling the USDA did in 2015.

Notably, the agency said 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 more than 41 percent of samples were "clean" or showed no detectable pesticide residues. Prior years also showed roughly 40-50 percent of samples as free of detectable residues, according to USDA data. The USDA said it is not "statistically valid" to compare one year to others, however, because the mix of food sampled changes each year. Still the data shows that 2015 was similar to the years prior in that fresh and processed fruits and vegetables made up the bulk of the foods tested.

Though it might sound distasteful, the pesticide residues are nothing for people to worry about, according to the USDA. The agency said "residues found in agricultural products sampled are at levels that do not pose risk to consumers' health and are safe …"

But some scientists say there is little to no data to back up that claim, stating that regulators do not have sufficient comprehensive research regarding how consumption of residues of multiple types of pesticides impact human health over the long term, and government assurances of safety are simply false.

"We don't know if you eat an apple that has multiple residues every day what will be the consequences 20 years down the road," said Chensheng Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "They want to assure everybody that this is safe but the science is quite inadequate. This is a big issue."

The USDA said in its latest report that 441 of the samples it found were considered worrisome as "presumptive tolerance violations," because the residues found either exceeded what is set as safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or they were found in foods that are not expected to contain the pesticide residues at all and for which there is no legal tolerance level. Those samples contained residues of 496 different pesticides, the USDA said.

Spinach, strawberries, grapes, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon were among the foods found with illegal pesticide residue levels. Even residues of chemicals long banned in the U.S. were found, including residues of DDT or its metabolites found in spinach and potatoes. DDT was banned in 1972 because of health and environmental concerns about the insecticide.

Absent from the USDA data was any information on glyphosate residues, even though glyphosate has long been the most widely used herbicide in the world and is commonly sprayed directly on many crops, including corn, soy, wheat and oats. It is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.'s branded Roundup herbicide, and was declared a probable human carcinogen last year by a team of international cancer scientists working with the World Health Organization. But Monsanto has said glyphosate residues on food are safe. The company asked the EPA to raise tolerance levels for glyphosate on several foods in 2013 and the EPA agreed to do so.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also annually samples foods for residues of pesticides. New documents obtained from the FDA show illegal levels of two types of insecticides—propargite, used to kill mites, and flonicamid, usually aimed at killing aphids and whiteflies—were recently found in honey. Government documents also show that DEET, a common insect repellant, was recently detected by regulators in honey, and the herbicide acetochlor was found on mushrooms.

FDA scientists also reported illegally high levels of the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam found in rice, according to information from the agency. Syngenta has asked the EPA to allow for higher residues of thiamethoxam permitted in numerous crops because the company wants it to have expanded use as a leaf spray. That request is still pending, according to an EPA spokeswoman.

The most recent public residue report issued by the FDA shows that violation rates for pesticide residues have been climbing in recent years. Residue violations in domestic food samples totaled 2.8 percent for the year 2013; double the rate seen in 2009. Violations totaled 12.6 percent for imported foods in 2013, up from 4 percent in 2009.

Like the USDA, the FDA has skipped glyphosate in decades of testing for pesticide residues. But the agency did launch a "special assignment" this year to determine what levels of glyphosate might be showing up in a small group of foods. An FDA chemist reported finding glyphosate residues in honey and several oatmeal products, including baby food.

Private testing data released this month reported the presence of glyphosate residues in Cheerios cereal, Oreo cookies and a variety of other popular packaged foods.

Questions on Cumulative Impacts

Whether or not consumers should worry about food containing pesticide residues is a matter of ongoing dispute. The trio of federal agencies involved in pesticide residue issues all point to what they refer to as "maximum residue limits" (MRLs), or "tolerances," as guidelines for what they say is considered safe. The EPA uses data supplied by the agrichemical industry to help determine where MRLs should be set for each pesticide and each crop the pesticides are expected to be used with.

As long as most of foods sampled show pesticide residues in food below the MRLs, there is no reason to worry, the USDA maintains. "The reporting of residues present at levels below the established tolerance serves to ensure and verify the safety of the Nation's food supply," the 2015 residue report states. The agrichemical industry offers even broader assurances, saying there is nothing to fear from consuming residues of the chemicals it sells farmers for use in food production, even if they exceed legal tolerances.

But many scientists say the tolerances are designed to protect the pesticide users more than consumers. Tolerances vary widely depending upon the pesticide and the crop. The tolerance for the insecticide chlorpyrifos on an apple, for instance, can be very different than the amount of chlorpyrifos allowed on citrus fruits, or on a banana or in milk, according to government tolerance data.

In the case of chlorpyrifos, the EPA has actually said it wants to revoke all food tolerances because studies have linked the chemical to brain damage in children. Though the agency has long considered residues of chlorpyrifos safe, now the agency says, they may not be.

The "EPA cannot, at this time, determine that aggregate exposure to residues of chlorpyrifos, including all anticipated dietary exposures and all other non-occupational exposures for which there is reliable information, are safe," the EPA said last year. Dow AgroSciences, which developed chlorpyrifos in the 1960s, is protesting the EPA efforts, arguing chlorpyrifos is a "critical tool" for farmers. In the latest USDA residue report, chlorpyrifos was found in peaches, apples, spinach, strawberries, nectarines and other foods, though not at levels considered to violate tolerances.

The EPA defends its work with tolerances, and says it has been complying with the Food Quality Protection Act that requires the EPA to consider the cumulative effects of residues of substances "that have a common mechanism of toxicity." The agency says that to set a tolerance for a pesticide, it looks at studies submitted by pesticide companies to identify possible harmful effects the chemical could have on humans, the amount of the chemical likely to remain in or on food, and other possible exposures to the same chemical.

But critics say that is not good enough—assessments must consider more realistic scenarios that take into account the broader cumulative impacts of many different types of pesticide residues to determine how safe it is to consume the mixtures seen in a daily diet. Given that several pesticides commonly used in food production have been linked to disease, declines in cognitive performance, developmental disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children, there is an urgent need for more in-depth analysis of these cumulative impacts, many scientists say. The National Research Council has declared that "dietary intake represents the major source of pesticide exposure for infants and children, and the dietary exposure may account for the increased pesticide-related health risks in children compared with adults."

"With the ubiquitous exposure to chemical mixtures, assurances of safety based on lists of individual toxicity thresholds can be quite misleading," said Lorrin Pang, an endocrinologist with the Hawaii Department of Health and a former advisor to the World Health Organization.

Tracey Woodruff, a former EPA senior scientist and policy advisor who specializes in environmental pollutants and child health, said there is a clear need for more research. Woodruff directs the program on reproductive health and the environment at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

"This is not a trivial matter," she said. "The whole idea of looking at cumulative exposures is a hot topic with scientists. Evaluating individual tolerances as if they occur in solo is not an accurate reflection of what we know—people are exposed to multiple chemicals at the same time and the current approaches do not scientifically account for that."

Critics say scrutiny of pesticide safety is likely to only soften given President-elect Donald Trump's decision to name Myron Ebell to oversee transition efforts at the EPA. Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is a staunch advocate of pesticides and their safety.

"Pesticide levels rarely, if ever, approach unsafe levels. Even when activists cry wolf because residues exceed federal limits that does not mean the products are not safe," states the SAFEChemicalPolicy.org website Ebell's group runs. "In fact, residues can be hundreds of times above regulatory limits and still be safe."

"The mixed messages make it hard for consumers to know what to believe about the safety of pesticide residues in food," said Therese Bonanni, a Clinical Dietitian at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

"Although the cumulative effect of consuming these toxins over a lifetime is not yet known, short-term data suggests there is certainly a reason to be cautious. The message to consumers becomes very confusing."

GMO

EPA Bows to Industry in Delay of Glyphosate Cancer Review

By Carey Gillam

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was slated to hold four days of public meetings, Oct. 18-21, focused on essentially one question: Is glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide, safe?

However, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) meetings were "postponed," just four days before they were suppose to meet, after intense lobbying by the agrichemical industry, including Monsanto. The industry first fought to keep the meetings from being held at all, and argued that if they were held, several leading international experts should be excluded from participating, including "any person who has publicly expressed an opinion regarding the carcinogenicity of glyphosate."

As the meetings drew near, CropLife America, which represents the interests of Monsanto and other agribusinesses, specifically took issue with at least two scientists chosen for the panel, alleging the experts might be unfavorably biased against industry interests. On Oct. 12, the group sent a letter to the EPA calling for Dr. Kenneth Portier of the American Cancer Society to be more deeply scrutinized for any "pre-formed conclusions" about glyphosate. More notably, CropLife called for leading epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante to be completely disqualified from panel participation.

"EPA should replace Dr. Infante with an epidemiologist without such patent bias," CropLife told the EPA. The chemical industry group said Infante was unlikely to give industry-sponsored research studies the credibility the industry believes they deserve. CropLife said Infante has testified in the past for plaintiffs in chemical exposure cases against Monsanto.

Croplife also argued that because Infante was the "only epidemiologist on the glyphosate SAP" he would have enhanced influence in the evaluation of epidemiological data about glyphosate and cancer. The CropLife letter was dated Oct. 12 and by Oct. 14, the EPA announced it was looking for additional epidemiology expertise to ensure "robust representation from that discipline." The EPA also said one panelist had voluntarily departed, though the agency refused to say who that panelist was.

Challenging Infante's role is a gutsy move. After all, Infante spent 24 years working for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration helping determine cancer risks to workers during the development of standards for toxic substances, including asbestos, arsenic and formaldehyde. His resume includes a stint at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health where he conducted epidemiological studies related to carcinogens, and he has served as an expert consultant in epidemiology for several world bodies, including the EPA and the World Trade Organization.

According to sources close to the situation, Infante remains a panelist as of this week, but there is no certainty when the meetings might be rescheduled, and what the panel membership might look like when they are rescheduled. The EPA has refused to discuss who remains on the panel, but some onlookers believe that the EPA was clearly bowing to agrichemical industry interests.

"This is outrageous. The industry wants to say that our own government scientists, the top ones in their fields, aren't good enough for these panels," said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at the Consumers Union. "If the EPA wants to add extra epidemiologists that is great but why didn't they do it before? They are doing this because of pressure from industry."

The industry clearly has much at stake, as does the public. Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Monsanto's branded Roundup herbicides as well as herbicides marketed by numerous agrichemical companies around the world. It is also the key to what has been 20 years of sales of genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto. The future sales of both the chemical and the crops are being jeopardized by the mounting concerns that glyphosate can cause cancer and other illnesses or disease.

Scientists around the world have been raising red flags for years over worrisome research findings, and last year the International Agency of Research on Cancer, said glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. More than three dozen lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto by people claiming Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and both European and U.S. regulators are evaluating the chemical for continued use.

Since the International Agency of Research on Cancer classification, Monsanto has asked the EPA to back industry assurances that glyphosate is safe, and so far, the EPA has done exactly that, issuing a series of reports and memos that dovetail with Monsanto's position. Monsanto also has sought to bolster arguments for glyphosate's safety by pointing to supportive research papers published in late September in Critical Reviews in Toxicology. Monsanto hired the group that arranged for the panel, and most of the 16 scientists involved are former Monsanto employees or Monsanto consultants. At least one, Gary Williams, has also consulted for Monsanto on litigation matters involving glyphosate.

It seems more than a little hypocritical that those scientists are presented as credible by the industry, but scientists like Infante and Portier are said to be unfit to advise the EPA because of suspected bias. Like Infante, Portier has a long track record as an independent scientist. He is vice president of the Statistics & Evaluation Center at the American Cancer Society. He has participated in more than 60 other SAP meetings and has served on expert and advisory panels for the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Toxicology Program, and the World Health Organization Food and Agriculture Organization.

Portier also would not comment about the industry concerns about him, the postponement or changes to the makeup of the SAP, other than to say that as of today, he remains on the panel. EPA said it is "working to reschedule as soon as possible." But the delay and the maneuvering by industry to influence panel participation does little to bolster consumer confidence for the likelihood of an objective outcome.

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox