The academic journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology issued corrections yesterday for articles that were published in a 2016 supplemental issue dedicated to reviewing the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.
The corrections indicate that Monsanto did not fully disclose its involvement in the five articles published under the title, “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate,” which concluded that glyphosate was not likely carcinogenic to humans. The review was written by expert panels overseen by Intertek, a consulting firm hired by Monsanto.
Critical Reviews in Toxicology’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, issued a rare “Expression of Concern” because the review authors failed to provide “an adequate explanation as to why the necessary level of transparency was not met on first submission.”
The journal’s correction bolsters what Roundup cancer attorneys have been saying for years: rather than informing consumers and the public about the link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Monsanto ghostwrote science and engaged in deceptive PR campaigns to create the impression that its blockbuster Roundup herbicide is safe.
The national law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, which represents nearly 1,000 plaintiffs in Roundup cancer lawsuits, issued the following statement on the journal corrections:
This decision confirms, as we have long contended based on the documentary evidence, that Monsanto made substantial contributions to these manuscripts. However, while some of Monsanto’s involvement in these publications has been acknowledged in the corrections, the investigation by Taylor & Francis fell far short of revealing the extent to which Monsanto violated scientific standards and ethics in this “independent” review.
The corrections, incorporating apologies from several authors for their declaration failures, are a step in the right direction but do not go far enough to address what we know to be true based on the evidence.
- One of the corrections notes that Dr. John Acquavella was “paid directly by Monsanto” for his participation on one of the expert panels. Acquavella received $20,000 for his work on the review paper. He was not the only review author to accept money from Monsanto, however. Larry Kier received more than $27,000 from Monsanto to author one of the reviews. Another Monsanto email confirms that Dr. Kier was a “consultant” working in “the same role as Acquavella for the expert panel.” A third review author, Dr. Tom Sorahan, may also have received payment directly from Monsanto based on an email exchange between Acquavella and Heydens. The payments Monsanto made to Kier and possibly Sorahan remain uncorrected.
- Another correction states that Monsanto scientist William Heydens “pointed out some typographical errors.” Based on the documents we have, Heydens was far more involved in drafting, editing and organizing the reviews than the correction indicates. In an email correspondence with Dr. Ashley Roberts of Intertek, Heydens admits to writing “a draft introduction chapter” for the series of reviews, then asks Roberts “who should be the ultimate author” of the introduction chapter he ghostwrote. Dr. Heydens’ full involvement in these reviews remains uncorrected despite the fact that many of his edits and revisions can be found in the published final manuscript.
- The reviews were conceived as part of a company plan to discredit IARC well before the agency came to its conclusion that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. One of the plan’s stated goals was to “orchestrate outcry with IARC decision, ”while another plan made clear that the company sought a “WHO Retraction” and made it a priority to “invalidate relevance of IARC.” A Monsanto “Post-IARC Meeting” details several scientists that Monsanto pegged as potential authors. The meeting presentation also asks the question, “How much writing can be done by Monsanto scientists to help keep costs down?” In an email under the subject “Post-IARC Activities to Support Glyphosate,” Monsanto executive Michael Koch wrote that the review on animal data cited by IARC should be “initiated by MON as ghost writers,” and “this would be more powerful if authored by non-Monsanto scientists (e.g., Kirkland, Kier, Williams, Greim and maybe Keith Solomon.)
- The authors of these papers cited previous reviews that were ghostwritten by Monsanto. In an email discussing the plan for the review papers, Heydens wrote, “An option would be to add Greim and Kier or Kirkland to have their names on the publication, but we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak. Recall that is how we handled Williams, Kroes & Munro, 2000.”
While we are pleased that the journal will take steps to correct some of the falsehoods in the original declaration of interest and acknowledgment, and we commend the authors who apologized for their violation of disclosure requirements, the scientific integrity of this “review” was compromised the day it was published and, therefore, a complete disclosure of Monsanto’s involvement, ghostwriting and payments to the experts undermining any assertions of their independence is necessary.
Our release of the Monsanto Papers and their part in the recent Monsanto verdict clearly put pressure on these authors to take at least these steps toward correcting the misleading impression that their reviews were free of Monsanto involvement and direction. It is a shame that Monsanto and now Bayer refuse to apologize for their role in this affair. We will continue to put pressure on Monsanto and Bayer to vindicate the rights of our clients.
Allegations of Ghostwriting Central to $289.2 Million Monsanto Roundup Verdict
Monsanto has long maintained that the 2016 glyphosate review in Critical Reviews in Toxicology was independent, and the original Declaration of Interest underscored the company’s claim:
“The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, Intertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company. Funding for this evaluation was provided to Intertek by the Monsanto Company which is a primary producer of glyphosate and products containing this active ingredient. 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 internal company documents obtained during the discovery phase of the Monsanto Roundup litigation, it is evident that “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate” was anything but independent.
Allegations of ghostwriting scientific literature on glyphosate and Roundup were presented in the first Monsanto Roundup lawsuit to proceed to trial. The suit, filed by former California groundskeeper, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, culminated in a $289.2 million verdict last month against Monsanto.
Internal company documents that are now part of the Monsanto Papers show that Monsanto scientist and executive William Heydens did not just review the glyphosate review; Heydens actually drafted and edited the work without disclosing his or his company’s involvement.
In an email communication between Heydens and Dr. Ashley Roberts, Heydens wrote:
“OK, I have gone through the entire document and indicated what I think should stay, what can go, and in a couple spots I did a little editing. I took a crack at adding a little text: on page 10 to address John’s comments about toxicologists’ use of Hill’s criteria…”
Heydens also argued with one of the paper’s authors, Dr. John Acquavella, about statements he wanted to include about IARC. In the comments of a draft of the paper, Acquavella deemed the statements “inflammatory” and “not necessary,” to which Heydens said, “I would ignore John’s comment.”
During a deposition, Heydens admitted that draft manuscripts of the glyphosate review were sent to him, and that he read “parts of them” before the paper was published. When asked whether or not he made dozens of edits to the manuscript, Heydens said, “I don’t recall.”
“Although I’m glad the journal is now on record finding that they were misled when publishing these articles, a retraction is more than warranted for this situation,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. Donley was one of four scientists to send a letter to the editors of Critical Reviews in Toxicology last year asking for a retraction.
“Furthermore, the journal appears to be allowing the phrase ‘an independent review’ to remain in the title of the issue. There is nothing independent about this review by any stretch of the imagination.”
Reviews Updated with New Acknowledgments and Declaration of Interest Sections
Several of the authors issued apologies in the updated Declaration of Interest sections of three of the five review papers, including:
- Keith R. Solomon (has worked as consultant for Monsanto)
- David Brusick (has worked as consultant for Monsanto)
- Marilyn Aardema
- Larry Kier (has worked as consultant for Monsanto)
- David Kirkland (has worked as consultant for Monsanto)
- Gary Williams (has worked as consultant for Monsanto)
- John Acquavella (former Monsanto employee, has worked as consultant for Monsanto)
- David Garabrant
- Gary Marsh
- Tom Sorahan (former Monsanto employee, has worked as consultant for Monsanto)
- Douglas L. Weed (has worked as consultant for Monsanto)
The review article corrections can be viewed below:
Correction: Glyphosate epidemiology expert panel review: a weight of evidence systematic review of the relationship between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or multiple myeloma (Acquavella J, Garabrant D, Marsh G, Sorahan T, Weed DL.)
Correction: Genotoxicity Expert Panel review: weight of evidence evaluation of the genotoxicity of glyphosate, glyphosate-based formulations, and aminomethylphosphonic acid (Brusick D, Aardema M, Kier LD, Kirkland DJ, Williams G.)