The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) dismissed a study linking glyphosate to cancer after Jess Rowland, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official with alleged ties to Monsanto, raised concerns about the study’s legitimacy.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s blockbuster herbicide, Roundup. Hundreds of people, from across the U.S., have filed lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Mr. Rowland served as a Deputy Director of the Health Effects Division for EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) before retiring from the agency last year. Rowland is a central figure in the Roundup cancer litigation, as court documents appear to show that he had ties to Monsanto while working at EPA.
In a 2015 telephone conversation with Monsanto executive Dan Jenkins, Rowland allegedly bragged that he “should get a medal” if he could kill another U.S. agency’s investigation into glyphosate. At the time of the phone conversation, plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Roundup litigation allege that Monsanto was courting Rowland’s assistance in killing an Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) investigation into glyphosate.
Jenkins, Monsanto’s head of regulatory affairs, didn’t believe Rowland could actually kill the investigation. Though, according to court documents, ATSDR ended its investigation into glyphosate based on direction from EPA.
In another email from around the same time, Jenkins wrote to colleagues at Monsanto that Rowland was about to retire from EPA, and that he “could be useful as we move forward with [the] ongoing glyphosate defense.”
How Jess Rowland Allegedly Influenced EFSA Conclusion on Glyphosate
According to various media reports, Jess Rowland took part in a teleconference with EFSA as an observer in 2015. One of the topics discussed in the call was an important 2001 study on glyphosate, known as the Kumar study, which found a causal link between glyphosate and malignant lymphoma in rodents.
Rowland’s alleged involvement in EFSA’s dismissal of the Kumar study was revealed in a letter sent by Jose Tarazona, the head of EFSA’s pesticide unit, to Peter Clausing, a representative of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) in Germany. According to Tarazana, “the observer from the US-EPA [Rowland] informed participants during the teleconference about potential flaws in Kumar's (2001) study related to viral infections.”
The Guardian reported that EFSA adopted Rowland’s argument to reject the Kumar study six weeks after the teleconference took place. According to an EFSA report released at the time, the Kumar study “was reconsidered during the second experts’ teleconference as not acceptable due to viral infections.”
Did EFSA have any other reasons to dismiss the Kumar study outside of Rowland’s viral infections claim? According to Tarazona, EFSA experts “found additional indications that confirmed deficiencies in the health status of animals, which supported the plausibility of a viral infection.”
In 2015, EFSA issued its ‘Conclusion on the Peer Review of the Pesticide Risk Assessment of the Active Substance Glyphosate,’ which stated that the Kumar study was “not acceptable due to viral infections that could influence survival as well as tumor incidence—especially lymphomas.”
In another 2015 paper explaining why EFSA came to a different conclusion than the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on glyphosate’s carcinogenicity (IARC concluded that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen”), Tarazana and his co-authors from EFSA and Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) wrote that the Kumar study “was excluded due to a likely viral infection in the experimental population.”
According to GMWatch, both papers mention viral infections without providing any supporting evidence for the claim, which begs the question: did EFSA simply take Rowland at his word in deciding to dismiss the study?
The question certainly deserves scrutiny, considering other European agencies say there is no evidence to support the viral infections claim.
A May 2016 report, based on industry data submitted by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), said the following of the Kumar study:
“During a teleconference (TC 117) on carcinogenicity of glyphosate hold [sic.] by EFSA … it was mentioned by an U.S. EPA observer that the Kumar (2001, ASB2012-11491) study had been excluded from U.S. EPA evaluation due to the occurrence of viral infection that could influence survival as well as tumour incidences, especially those of lymphomas. However, in the study report itself, there was no evidence of health deterioration due to suspected viral infection and, thus, the actual basis of EPA’s decision is not known.”
Rowland isn’t the only one to claim that viral infections played a role in the Kumar study; viral infections first showed up in a 2015 review on glyphosate written by Monsanto employee David Saltmiras and published in the industry-friendly journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.
In the review, Saltmiras and his co-authors wrote of a “possible viral infection” that “may have confounded interpretation of results” in Kumar.
Rowland’s alleged intervention in EFSA’s glyphosate review caught the attention of a number of politicians and non-profit organizations, who are calling for a public inquiry. “We urgently need a thorough investigation into the EFSA assessment before glyphosate can be considered for re-approval in Europe,” said Greenpeace spokeswoman Franziska Achterberg, who called the possibility of Monsanto meddling in regulatory safety assessments “wholly unacceptable.”