On August 1, dozens of Monsanto emails were released by the law firm Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman show that Monsanto employees were involved in editing and drafting scientific reviews on glyphosate that were purportedly independent. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, the world’s most widely used herbicide.
The emails reveal that Monsanto worked with an outside consulting firm to publish a review on glyphosate in the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology. Published in Sept. 2016, ‘An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate’ was aimed at rebutting the 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report on glyphosate, which concluded the chemical is a probable human carcinogen. According to the IARC report, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the cancer most associated with exposure to glyphosate.
The report opened the door for California to list glyphosate as a chemical “known to the State to cause cancer” in accordance with California Proposition 65. The IARC classification also started a firestorm of lawsuits against Monsanto filed by over 1,000 farmers, agricultural workers, gardeners, and other individuals throughout the country who allege exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Monsanto Employees Edited and Ghostwrote Parts of Glyphosate Review Used by Regulators
Prior to the Sept. 2016 glyphosate review published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, Monsanto disclosed that it paid Intertek Group Plc. to develop the review, but that was the company’s only involvement. According to Monsanto’s Declaration of Interest Statement:
“The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, Intertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company … Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”
But according to the internal Monsanto emails, executive William Heydens and other company scientists were heavily involved in organizing, editing and even drafting the language that made the final published version of the review. In one stunning exchange, Mr. Heydens shoots down a panelist’s request to tone down language in the review that was critical of IARC.
The panelist, Dr. John Acquavella, was a former Monsanto employee who now works at Aarhus University in Denmark, according to Bloomberg. “An extensive revision of the summary article is necessary,” Acquavella wrote in an email and attached his edits to the review draft.
Heydens reedited Acquavella’s proposed edits and argued in the document’s margins that the language Acquavella found overly critical of IARC should not be changed. Heydens’ edits remained in the published review.
The emails include an invoice Acquavella sent to Monsanto – $20,700 for one month of work on the review, which took over a year to complete.
Before the review was to be published, Roger McClellan, the editor of Critical Reviews in Toxicology, emailed final instructions to Ashley Roberts, the coordinator of the glyphosate review for Intertek. In the email, McClellan said:
“If there was any review of the reports by Monsanto or their legal representatives, that needs to be disclosed.”
Roberts forwarded the email to Heydens, who replied, “Good grief.”
In the published review, Monsanto’s Declaration of Interest Statement makes no mention of its employees’ involvement in the review, nor does it mention that at least two panelists on the review were paid by Monsanto.
Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy, defended the review’s independence, saying the company only performed “cosmetic editing” of the paper. Genna Reed, a science and policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, said Monsanto’s involvement in the review is “in direct opposition” to the company’s Declaration of Interest.
“It does seem pretty suspicious,” Reed says.
Monsanto Toxicologist Made Substantial Undisclosed Changes to a Glyphosate Study
According to the internal Monsanto emails, the Critical Reviews in Toxicology paper is not the only time that a company official edited and crafted language in a scientific paper without disclosing the company’s involvement.
In 2011, Monsanto scientist Donna Farmer made substantial changes and crafted language in a study on glyphosate that was published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Farmer is not listed as a study author, nor is her participation noted in the study’s Declaration of Interest.
According to Partridge, she was excluded as an author because her contributions did not warrant authorship. However, nearly all of her edits were included in the final published version of the study.