Documents unsealed by a federal court earlier this week raise questions about the safety of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup.
Roundup (glyphosate) is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides. Roundup is used everywhere from commercial agriculture to home gardens to public parks. Monsanto claims Roundup is safe, but the documents in a case in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that assertion, the New York Times reports. An international panel claims Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.
Parker Waichman notes that exposure to Roundup has been associated with a range of health problems, including leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, respiratory distress, pulmonary edema, arrhythmias, renal failure, hand tremors, blurred vision, and loss of coordination.
Food safety researchers have found high levels of glyphosate residue in food products, including Cheerios, Oreos, Doritos, and Ritz Crackers. Food Democracy Now explains that the residue cannot be removed by washing and is not broken down by cooking or baking. Some researchers say probable harm to human health could begin at glyphosate levels as low 0.1 parts per billions (ppb).
Monsanto Attempted to Influence Research and Regulation
The documents unsealed include Monsanto’s internal emails and email exchanges between the chemical company and federal regulators. These records suggest that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was credited to academics. Documents also indicate that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had worked to quash a review of glyphosate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Judge Vince Chhabria unsealed the documents. Judge Chhabria is presiding over lawsuits brought by people who claim they developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of exposure to glyphosate. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, issued a determination that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, citing research linking it to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Court records in the California case show that Jess Rowland, deputy division director at the EPA, alerted Monsanto to the IARC determination months before the public announcement, according to the Times. This information gave Monsanto time to prepare a vigorous attack on the findings well before the announcement.
Internal Monsanto emails also say Rowland had promised to derail an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct its own review. In a 2015 email, Monsanto executive Dan Jenkins said Mr. Rowland, told him, “If I can kill this [HHS review], I should get a medal.” Another Jenkins email noted that Rowland was planning to retire and “could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.” In another unsealed email, Monsanto executive William F. Heydens told company officials they could ghostwrite research on glyphosate by hiring academics to put their names on papers that were actually written by Monsanto. Heydens cited a previous instance when the company had done this, the Times reports.
Glyphosate Health Risks
Roundup’s safety is still in dispute and Monsanto has vigorously defended glyphosate. Agencies, including the European Food Safety Agency and the EPA have disagreed with the IARC determination. But the court records reveal that others within the EPA wanted the agency to take steps to “strengthen” its “human health assessment,” according to the Times.
In the last two decades, Monsanto has developed genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton that are resistant to Roundup. When genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops were being introduced in the early 1990s, biotech companies touted numerous benefits. GMO crops could produce more nutritious food, resist climate stress, and reduce pesticide use. But, in fact, the characteristic most widely engineered into crops was the ability to withstand Roundup. With Roundup-resistant crops, farmers could spray a field with Roundup without concern for damaging the crop.
For Monsanto, the combination of engineered seeds and Roundup put the company in a strong position in the agriculture market. An estimated 220 million pounds of glyphosate was used in 2015 in the United States.
Response to the IARC Designation
In response to the IARC designation, France, The Netherlands, Sweden and Italy are debating whether to relicense Roundup. The French Minister of Ecology has called for a ban on glyphosate herbicides across the European Union. Colombia halted the use of glyphosate in its coca eradication program. Sri Lanka banned import of glyphosate products, the Huffington Post reports. The state of California is engaged in a legal battle over the state’s tentative decision to add glyphosate to the state’s list of cancer causing chemicals.
Legal Help for Those Harmed by Roundup
If you or someone you know has developed cancer or a health problem linked to Roundup exposure, consider seeking legal help. The attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP are available to provide a free, no obligation case evaluation. Contact the firm by filling out the online form or calling 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).