Monsanto has been accused of ghostwriting scientific papers that led U.S. regulators to conclude an active ingredient in the company’s Roundup weed killer should not be classified as a carcinogen.
The Monsanto ghostwriting accusations were revealed in recently unsealed documents from the ongoing Roundup cancer litigation in Northern California. Last month, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria declared that despite numerous objections by Monsanto, hundreds of private company documents would be unsealed and made public.
Judge Chhabria threatened to impose sanctions against Monsanto if the company continued its extensive efforts to keep documents relevant to the litigation out of the public’s hands. “I have a problem with Monsanto, because … it is insisting that stuff be filed under seal that should not be filed under seal,” said Judge Chhabria at a February 27 hearing. He added that when documents are “relevant to the litigation, they shouldn’t be under seal, even … if Monsanto doesn’t like what they say.”
Monsanto is currently facing hundreds of claims filed by farmers, farm workers, gardeners, government workers, landscapers, and others who claim that exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lawsuits further allege that Monsanto concealed the health risks associated with Roundup. At one point, Monsanto used advertising materials that referred to the weed killer as being, “practically non-toxic” and “safer than table salt.”
In March of 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a report on glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup. The IARC glyphosate report concluded that the chemical is a Category 2A herbicide, which means it is a probable human carcinogen. The IARC report further concluded that the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic lymphocytic leukemia, B-cell lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
Roundup cancer attorneys say that as of today, there have been approximately 700 individual non-Hodgkin lymphoma claims filed against Monsanto, mostly in Missouri and California. It has been estimated that about 3,000 people have retained counsel in the litigation against Monsanto, with more and more people joining every day.
Monsanto Ghostwriting Accusations
The recently unsealed documents contain internal emails and email correspondences between Monsanto executives and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These emails suggest that Monsanto ghostwriting included research that was later signed by and attributed to academics.
Monsanto executive William F. Heydens wrote to other company officials in an email that they could essentially rubber stamp research on glyphosate by hiring academics to put their names on the papers that were actually part of the Monsanto ghostwriting efforts.
“We would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit and sign their names so to speak,” Mr. Heydens wrote. In the same email, Heydens cited a previous instance in which the company had already done this.
Monsanto Influence in Academia
Another telling email exchange involving Mr. Heydens concerns work with Dr. James Parry, a highly respected expert in genotoxicity. After reviewing published studies on glyphosate and Monsanto’s unpublished in-house genotoxicity studies in 1999, Dr. Parry concluded that the literature “suggests that the genotoxicity observed may be derived from the generation of oxidative damage in the presence of glyphosate.”
Sixteen years after this assessment was made, the IARC report found that glyphosate is genotoxic due to its ability to induce oxidative stress. At the time, Dr. Parry recommended further testing to determine glyphosate’s genotoxicity. Upon reading Dr. Parry’s report, other Monsanto employees asked if Dr. Parry had “ever worked with industry before” and “hoped that it didn’t cost too much.”
Mr. Heydens’ take on Dr. Parry’s position shows how Monsanto used its influence to get scientific determinations that favored the company. In an email to several of his colleagues, Heydens wrote:
“We want to find/develop someone who is comfortable with the genetox profile of glyphosate/Roundup and who can be influential with regulators and Scientific Outreach operations when genetox. issues arise. My read is that Parry is not currently such a person, and it would take quite some time and $$$/studies to get him there. We simply aren’t going to do the studies Parry suggests. Mark, do you think Parry can become a strong advocate without doing this work Parry [sic]? If not, we should seriously start looking for one or more other individuals to work with. Even if we think we can eventually bring Parry around closer to where we need him, we should be currently looking for a second/back-up genetox. supporter. We have not made much progress and are currently very vulnerable in this area. We have time to fix that, but only if we make this a high priority now.”
Monsanto issued a statement on the ghostwriting allegations, saying its “scientists did not ghostwrite the paper” that was referred to in the unsealed documents. The statement added that the paper that did appear “underwent the journal’s rigorous peer review process before it was published.”
According to the New York Times, the disclosures found in the unsealed documents have added increased scrutiny concerning the integrity of academic research that is financed by agrochemical companies. Last year, the New York Times conducted a review that showed how the agrochemical industry has manipulated academic research or misstated findings.
The review included a Monsanto-financed paper on glyphosate that appeared in Critical Reviews in Toxicology. According to the review, panel members for the paper were recruited by a consulting firm. Company emails show that Monsanto officials openly discussed and debated which scientists should be considered to help shape the project.