Roundup is the marquee product of Monsanto. The weed killer is used in home gardens and row crops alike, and is the most widely-used product of its kind in the world. However, according to The New York Times (03/14/17) research to determine the safety or lack thereof of Roundup was funded by the pesticide industry. And there has been increasing concerns over the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient that is a suspected carcinogen.
If that weren’t enough, it has been revealed through the unsealing of court documents that a now-retired operative within a federal agency tipped off Monsanto about an impending investigation, and promised to try and have the investigative report suppressed from the inside. The investigative report was never published.
Lawsuits asserting that Monsanto Roundup causes cancer are so numerous that lawsuits have been consolidated in multidistrict litigation (In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, US District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco). Plaintiffs assert their diagnoses of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is due to their exposure to glyphosate – this, after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an offshoot of the World Health Organization (WHO), made a determination that glyphosate is linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The WHO has its detractors: for example the European Food Safety Agency and the US-based Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have not aligned with the WHO on the issue of Monsanto Roundup causing cancer and – specifically – glyphosate. Those two agencies have played down the WHO concerns over cancer risk, while Monsanto continues to defend glyphosate.
And yet, according to court documents unsealed by US District Judge Vince Chhabria, there wasn’t unanimous agreement within the EPA about glyphosate. The New York Times reports that the Office of Research and Development – on office within the EPA – had some concerns with the level of ‘robustness’ reflected in an assessment undertaken by the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. It was recommended, in December 2015, that steps be taken to “strengthen” the “human health assessment” with regard to glyphosate.
But it’s unclear if that happened. What is known is that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) intended to investigate the suspected carcinogenic properties of glyphosate, announcing in the Federal Register in February, 2015 that the ATSDR would publish a toxicological profile of glyphosate by October of that year.
But no profile was ever published.
However, plaintiffs and their attorneys pursuing Monsanto lawsuits will note that documents unsealed in the MDL last month show that a proponent of the EPA appeared to be sympathetic to Monsanto. Jess Rowland, a former Deputy Division Director of the EPA, is alleged to have tipped off Monsanto ahead of time about the impending report from the World Health Organization.
Rowland, now retired, is identified by The New York Times as holding a senior position with the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, the office which produced the lukewarm report about glyphosate that the Office of Research and Development sought to have strengthened.
It was also revealed, within the Monsanto email traffic unsealed last month, that Rowland had promised Monsanto he would attempt to quash a planned review of glyphosate by the Department of Health and Human Services.
At the time, a Monsanto executive noted in an email that Rowland, the EPA official, had told him “If I can kill this, I should get a medal.”
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In a later statement, Monsanto denied any such activity, noting that all published papers would be vetted through a rigorous peer review process by the publishing journal before appearing.
Monsanto, in deference to Monsanto lawsuits, continues to stand by its product as safe.
“Glyphosate is not a carcinogen,” Monsanto said in a statement.
“The allegation that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans is inconsistent with decades of comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world. The plaintiffs have submitted isolated documents that are taken out of context.”