Study reveals Monsanto manipulated glyphosate approval process

Written by Dallas McQuarrie on August 13, 2018

David Coon, MLA for Fredericton South and New Brunswick Green Party Leader, accepting another batch of petitions against spraying the forest in 2016. Photo by Nick Hawkins.

A new study details how Monsanto, a company that manufactures glyphosate-based products, used deceit and manipulation to have the chemical herbicide declared safe.

The scientific article, published in the August 2018 edition of the Journal of Public Health Policy, documents how Monsanto attempted to manipulate scientific evidence for its own business interests.

The study, by Dr. Sheldon Krimsky and Carey Gilliam, uses documents from 3,500 lawsuits against Monsanto and information obtained through the American Freedom of Information Act. Krimsky and Gilliam show that Monsanto engaged in the “ghost writing” of scientific articles, interfered in the reporting of test data by a scientific journal, prepared presentations for supposedly “independent” scientists, and exercised “undue influence on [the American] regulatory agency” that approved the use of glyphosate.

New Brunswick government and forest industry spokespersons, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, continue to say that glyphosate is no threat to public health.

The best-known glyphosate product is the herbicide, Roundup, which is used in agriculture. VisionMax, Forza and Weedmaster are glyphosate-based products used in forestry.

Roundup is also the central issue in the 3,500 lawsuits against Monsanto. Krimsky and Gilliam note that, in every case, the individuals suing Monsanto say that “she or he, or their loved ones, developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to Roundup exposure. Moreover, the plaintiffs allege that Monsanto had long covered up the risks of the glyphosate-based herbicide.”

The glyphosate scandal erupted in March 2015 when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate was a probable cause of cancer and reported “strong” evidence that glyphosate caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.

The glyphosate-cancer link was brought to the attention of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly by Green Party leader David Coon. Coon’s opposition to dangerous herbicides and defoliants dates back to the mid-1980s when he was opposing the provincial government’s use of the cancer-causing Agent Orange.

Monsanto feared the IARC would link glyphosate to cancer, even before the IARC report was published. Krimsky and Gilliam note a February 2015 internal email by Monsanto scientist William Heydens that “discussed with colleagues various papers the company wanted to see published to counter what the company expected the IARC to find.”

The fact that Monsanto was clearly convinced well ahead of time that the IARC would find glyphosate to be a cause of cancer raises questions about what internal data Monsanto had, and whether it knew that the chemical caused cancer.

In his e-mail, Monsanto’s Heydens suggests that they “ghostwrite” sections of a scientific paper that was being prepared by other researchers, and adds, “we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit and sign their names.” That deception worked, and Krimsky and Gilliam note that this Monsanto-ghostwritten paper “has been cited hundreds of times” and was “referenced by the [American] Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its finding… that glyphosate was ‘not likely’ carcinogenic.”

As well, in an internal memo by Monsanto scientist David Saltmiras, he admits that he “ghost wrote cancer review paper Greim et al. (2015),” a document also cited by the EPA in its 2016 decision that glyphosate was safe for human use.

In 2016, Monsanto hired the firm Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy to write articles discrediting the World Health Organization’s research linking glyphosate to cancer. Intertek initially denied contact by Monsanto, but court documents cited by Krimsky and Gilliam show those denials were lies. In fact, as Krimsky and Gilliam note, “the documents demonstrate Monsanto was engaged in organizing, reviewing, and editing the drafts, even arguing with one of the authors and overruling him about language in the manuscript.”

The Krimsky-Gilliam article cites “internal Monsanto documents [that] show that Monsanto officials directed and organized a campaign to pressure” another journal into withdrawing a peer-reviewed paper showing harmful effects to animals exposed to Roundup.

Monsanto also gave Wallace Hayes, the editor-in-chief 0f scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, a secret $400 an hour consulting contract. Hayes never declared the conflict of interest.

The Krimsky-Gilliam article details how “Monsanto officials developed presentations for academic scientists to deliver at seminars and other public forums,” despite the fact that “scientists who present their findings at scientific meetings are generally expected to disclose any conflicts of interest, as well as any collaborators.” Monsanto did this “in multiple instances involving multiple professors.”

Not content with using tame scientists, Monsanto also worked closely with at least three EPA officials in the United States “to derail a review of glyphosate by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) that was underway in 2015.” Monsanto’s fear was that ATSDR review “would find carcinogenecity concerns with glyphosate just as IARC had.”

“Coon has been fighting glyphosate spraying for many years”: Glyphosate opponent

Cocagne resident and long-time anti-glyphosate activist Serge Robichaud, said Coon “was the only party leader seriously opposed to it during the last provincial election in 2014, and he has shown his commitment to banning glyphosate during his time in office.”

In December 2016, Coon proposed legislation to amend the Crown Lands and Forests Act. Coon proposed to replace clear-cutting and glyphosate spraying with ecological sustainability, fairness for private woodlot owners and independent sawmill operators, and acknowledgment of Aboriginal rights. The Liberals and Conservatives did not support the bill.

Robichaud notes that “Coon has been fighting glyphosate spraying for many years,” and adds he doesn’t trust the other parties to support a glyphosate ban. He said, “What is needed now to stop the use of glyphosate is a class action lawsuit against the federal government based on the very flawed Canadian approval process.”

Rod Cumberland is a wildlife biologist concerned about the presence of glyphosate in food. He is not satisfied with the provincial government’s approach to the potential dangers of a chemical the World Health Organization says probably causes cancer.

“The people of New Brunswick … should care enough about their health and welfare that they demand the New Brunswick government–specifically the Office of Chief Medical Officer of Health–begin to test for glyphosate residues in our foods, as well as test for its presence in the wildlife we consume and the farm products and meats sold to [New Brunswickers] as healthy products, rather than” allowing them “to take a ‘wait and see’ approach,” Cumberland said.

“The health and safety of New Brunswick residents should be important enough that we are offered a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach by our elected officials,” Cumberland added.

Dallas McQuarrie covers the environment from Mi’kmaq territory in Kent County.

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