Monsanto Was Its Own Ghostwriter for Some Safety Reviews
Monsanto Co. started an agricultural revolution with its “Roundup Ready” seeds, genetically modified to resist the effects of its blockbuster herbicide called Roundup. That ability to kill weeds while leaving desirable crops intact helped the company turn Roundup’s active ingredient, the chemical glyphosate, into one of the world’s most-used crop chemicals. When that heavy use raised health concerns, Monsanto noted that the herbicide’s safety had repeatedly been vetted by outsiders. But now there’s new evidence that Monsanto’s claims of rigorous scientific review are suspect.
Dozens of internal Monsanto emails, released on Aug. 1 by plaintiffs’ lawyers who are suing the company, reveal how Monsanto worked with an outside consulting firm to induce the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology to publish a purported “independent” review of Roundup’s health effects that appears to be anything but. The review, published along with four subpapers in a September 2016 special supplement, was aimed at rebutting the 2015 assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. That finding by the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization led California last month to list glyphosate as a known human carcinogen. It has also spurred more than 1,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts by plaintiffs who claim they contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure.
Monsanto disclosed that it paid Intertek Group Plc’s consulting unit to develop the review supplement, entitled “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate.” But that was the extent of Monsanto’s involvement, the main article said. “The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, Intertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company,” according to the review’s Declaration of Interest statement. “Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”
Monsanto’s internal emails tell a different story. The correspondence shows the company’s chief of regulatory science, William Heydens, and other Monsanto scientists were heavily involved in organizing, reviewing, and editing drafts submitted by the outside experts. At one point, Heydens even vetoed explicit requests by some of the panelists to tone down what one of them wrote was the review’s “inflammatory” criticisms of IARC.