Corporate-Spun Science Should Not Be Guiding Policy

Internal Monsanto documents reveal a startling campaign to suppress science. Policymakers would be wise to adopt a more precautionary view.

As an invited expert to a European Parliament hearing last month, I joined scientists, regulators and others in what has become a global debate over the activities of the American seed and agrochemical giant, Monsanto, and the “science” surrounding glyphosate, the active ingredient in its popular Roundup herbicide.

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Glyphosate, which Monsanto brought to market in 1974, is the most widely used herbicide in the world, applied on farm fields that grow our food, as well as on parks, playgrounds, golf courses, and lawns and gardens. Residues of the weed killer are commonly found in our food and water. The company and chemical industry allies have long asserted its safety, but many independent scientists disagree.

Given the alarming evidence of scientific deceit now being revealed about Monsanto and glyphosate, it’s clear that deep scrutiny of this type of manipulation is required.

My presentation to parliament members, titled “Decades of Deception,” was not focused on the question of safety, but rather on the corporation’s long-running secretive campaign to manipulate the scientific record, to sway public opinion, and to influence regulatory assessments. The details of the efforts are laid out within internal Monsanto documents obtained through litigation and in the contents of government records made available through public records act requests. Despite all of this, Republicans in Congress — at the behest of the chemical industry — are now threatening U.S. funding for the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which has worked to highlight the potential cancer risks associated with glyphosate.

Internal records show Monsanto executives discussing multiple incidences of drafting and writing research papers that when published would appear to be authored by unbiased sources, a practice the company itself called “ghostwriting.” In one email, a Monsanto scientist suggested “we ghost-write” certain sections of a paper just as they had “handled” an earlier paper supporting glyphosate safety presented to regulators. A different scientist boasted that he “ghost-wrote” a separate paper that also backed glyphosate safety. Both papers were cited by the Environmental Protection Agency in a determination of no cancer connection to glyphosate. The documents show that a collection of papers finding glyphosate safe published in 2016 were also edited and manipulated by Monsanto, though the published versions declared otherwise. Those papers were desired to help influence European regulators, records show.


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The documents also reveal the company writing columns and presentations for academics in support of glyphosate safety that when published bore no mention of Monsanto’s involvement.

The efforts accelerated after a team of top scientists with IARC in March of 2015 reviewed years of independent, published, peer-reviewed literature and said the weight of evidence showed glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, with a particular link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The state of California followed up by classifying the chemical as a known carcinogen, and more than 3,000 people have sued Monsanto blaming Roundup for their cancers.

Many other health concerns have emerged in the independent research. One trial from the U.K. found that the chemical contributed to a higher risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Other studies have linked it to kidney disease, and an epidemiology study released on November 9 found an association between glyphosate and acute myeloid leukemia, though that paper found no tie to non-Hodgkin as IARC did.

Adding to the worries, in October the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine published the results of a study that tracked elderly residents in agriculture-rich San Bernardino County. The researchers said human exposure to glyphosate has increased approximately 500 percent since the mid-1990s and mean levels of glyphosate found in the urine of the study subjects increased more than 1,200 percent.

Monsanto and its industry allies have responded by shrugging off the concerns and working to promote the safety of glyphosate and question the findings of IARC, claiming the elite independent scientists were politically motivated and relying on junk science. At the same time the company is suing the state of California seeking to block warning labels on glyphosate products.

But Monsanto declarations of proven glyphosate safety are belied by what we see in the documents. For example, even though Monsanto officials expressed shock and outrage after the IARC classification, before IARC even met, officials wrote of known “vulnerability” in epidemiology and other types of research, and warned colleagues that IARC could classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. The company laid out a strategy before IARC met designed to “orchestrate outcry” at the expected classification.

More documents show Monsanto working with certain EPA officials to discourage a separate review of glyphosate by a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because the company feared “a domestic IARC.”

These tactics are not new, nor are they unique to any one industry. We’ve seen multiple examples over the years of how science can be spun, critics discredited, and evidence of harm suppressed by companies engaged in selling everything from tobacco to Teflon. Protecting corporate profits over public safety is a tried-and-true playbook for many powerful industries. But given the alarming evidence of scientific deceit now being revealed about Monsanto and glyphosate, it’s clear that deep scrutiny of this type of manipulation is required.

The evidence of deception has resonated so strongly across the Atlantic that European Parliament voted October 23 in favor of a five-year phase-out with the chemical fully banned in 2022. But on November 27, the European Union member states backed a five-year re-authorization for the chemical after more than a year of deadlock and a refusal to sign off on a proposed 15-year approval.

U.S. policymakers would be wise to adopt the more precautionary view we see in Europe. Instead of seeking to punish independent experts, they should punish — and work to prevent — corporate manipulation of science. And they should ensure that protection of public health takes precedence over protection of corporate profits.


Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist and author of “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.” A former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service, Gillam is now the research director for the consumer watchdog group U.S. Right to Know.

Top visual: Johannes Plenio/Unsplash
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75 comments / Join the Discussion

    Alain Pannetier arguments were so dismantled on twitter recently He threw a temper tantrum, blocked everyone, and decided to come here to continue calling everyone a shill behind there back. You know, like you do when science is on your side.

    Here is where Alain falsely says Bt is toxic to mammals and a health concern
    https://twitter.com/sense_strand/status/1072651655349501952

    Here is where Alain says pesticides use in France was better than the US.
    https://twitter.com/sense_strand/status/1077066979087855617?s=19

    Here is where Alain tries to defend Séralini underpowered 2012 study
    https://twitter.com/AlainPannetier/status/1080011420283097089?s=19

    .. and where he tried to discredit three EU studies
    https://twitter.com/niederhuth/status/1079995131019882496?s=19

    Each time he was shown wrong. Each time he resorted to ad hom and shill gambits, as he does here.

    He is right about one thing though. People are watching and want substance. His big glass ego thinks these incidents make him look good. They do not.

    Reply

    Wow Mary Mangan, Chad Niederhuth, Stephan Neidenbach. Quite a few rabid Monsanto trolls desperately attempting to poison the well here again.
    What’s highly meaningful is how desperately you’re trying to protect Monsanto.
    Thanks for proving the point that Monsanto have a troll program.
    And thanks for proving Monsanto see all that info coming out in the public eye as a threat to their business.

    Reply

    tihis article outlines what the author has found with Monsanto directly influencing studies.There is a more indirect and powerful way: controlling government itself. I have been in an academic fight with the University of Waterloo who has dIRECT connection with the federal governments of Canada and the United States.I have a letter of apology from theUS Surgeon General ,Dr.Jocelyn Elders (see http://www.cancerfraudbadbiotech.com where it is posted ) ou can see this time period .I had peer review from the Chair of the M.D.Anderson Cancer Center and my research may form the basis of modern cancer research theory : The Cell DEath Signal Gene Theory is now called Programed Cell Death/PCD.The point becomes when I reported the NIH fraud , PM Brian Mulroney was in a deal with Monsanto .I outlined how GMOs and pesticide companies must be held to a very high standard and be FULLY liable for any damage they may cause . See the Mulroney reply that he is AWARE of what is going on at Waterloo.Please note that Mulroney has now been exposed in the Paradise papers for tax evasion etc .ESSENTIALLY Waterloo LIED in writing and with INTENT, and I asked for a RICO investigation . resident Bill Clinton, a friend of Mulroney’s is alleged to have obstructed justice and caused the RICO investigation to be closed down! Bill Clinton receives 1/2 MILLION dollars for speaking engagements .He spoke TWICE at the University of Waterloo .Points to above article , I had peer reviewed research, I proved criminal fraud, aND I brought all of this before ALL the proper authorities .AND it wsa suppressed, justice was obstructed and everything was covered up because the legal authorities can be bought and paid for . Monsanto has a lot of money and a lot of politicians in their pockets. Don’t argue fake arguments with me, just answer two questions . 1 . Is research described in official Ministry of Health documents as being so bad it is SHIT (official documentation ) and 2. Is lying for money fraud? That is what happened at the University of Waterloo .You can see the FBI and RCMP papers on the website . So, is it logical that Monsanto can and does buy politicians and BAD research can promoted when there is evidence proving it is wrong ? The answer from my personal experiences is YES ! E.A.Greenhalgh MSc and HBSc

    Reply

    In fairness to Gillam in light of the comments, her article addresses Monsanto’s appalling modus operandi rather than glyphosate’s safety, as she indicates. However, I am concerned about the fact that the IARC deliberately deleted study results contradicting its final conclusion that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen – while citing those very same studies. Earlier drafts of the IARC include the studies’ actual results while the final version does not.

    This is described in the Reuters report https://www.reuters.com/article/us-who-iarc-glyphosate-specialreport/in-glyphosate-review-who-cancer-agency-edited-out-non-carcinogenic-findings-idUSKBN1CO251utm_source=34553&utm_medium=partner

    I look forward to an honest appraisal of this report, without simply accusing Reuters of being a Monsanto lapdog.

    Reply

    If you search the internet for SERALINI or PUSZTAI a different face on Monsantoäs own studies appears. The mice studies Monsanto carried out were only 3 months or shorter time, not allowing tumours to develop. Seralinis were much longer, showing tumours. It takes often decades to get cancer eating pesticide sprayed foods daily, which we do.

    Reply

    Sten, both serralini and pusztai have been thoroughly discredited. Try not being deceptive. If you are commenting. You should know this.

    Reply

    Corporate funded science is generally bad science that has been distorted by the profit motive. This is true of Monsanto, as well as the pharmaceutical industry and big food sponsored studies of nutrition. We need to question who is sponsoring research before it is accepted as scientific “truth.”

    Reply

    Absolutely, you are right! Industry funded research peddles the own product downplaying all negatives.
    ONLY RCTs (Random Controlled Studies) by INDEPENDENT researchers must become a minimum requirement for approving pesticides used on crops for human consumption. It is as if the regulators are acting useful idiots for the industry they were meant to regulate. A sham.

    Reply

    Poisons—imbibing what is unnatural to our natural bodies is the “wrench in the works.”
    We will find that this is the root cause of most chronic illness, including the deficiencies in our natural and most essential immune system. American business has traded what it so desperately needs (for health) for what it so desperately wants (for wealth). But still, the ignorant consumer is causing their own cancers, while paying the ACS to keep them blind. Why fight cancer when we can terminate the cause? Why?!

    Reply
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