(Beyond Pesticides, August 11, 2017) On August 1, a second round of internal Monsanto documents became public, stirring up additional questions and speculation about Monsanto’s potential malfeasance — i.e., its efforts to hide information about impacts of its popular glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup. This follows on the heels of the March 2017 unsealing, by federal judge Vince Chhabria, of internal Monsanto documents — the “Monsanto Papers” — that evidenced questionable research practices by the company, inappropriate ties to a top EPA official, and possible “ghostwriting” of purportedly “independent” research studies.
This latest release, of more than 700 documents, came courtesy of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, one of many law firms representing thousands of families who claim that exposure to Roundup caused non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), a blood cancer, in their loved ones. Such litigation has been triggered, in part, by the 2015 finding of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (a branch of the U.N.’s World Health Organization) that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The plaintiffs allege that the combination of glyphosate and surfactants used in Monsanto’s Roundup products is even more toxic than glyphosate alone, and that Monsanto has sought to cover up that information. Monsanto has continued to deny publicly any connections between glyphosate, or its Roundup product, and cancer.
Monsanto has in fact aggressively defended glyphosate, and has fought to keep such records, garnered in the discovery phases of various litigation efforts, sealed and away from the public eye. Indeed, of this August 1 release, Monsanto says that, although “the horse is now out of the barn,” the litigants acted outside of a standing order of confidentiality, and the company will seek penalties on the law firm. Monsanto is known for A partner at the firm contradicts Monsanto’s claim, insisting that the company made a mistake in its failure to file a required motion “to seek continued protection” of the documents. Monsanto maintains that no such filing of motion was necessary.
This “dump” adds to the compendium of documents not only from the March unsealing, but also, in the vast collection that has come to be called “The Poison Papers.” A project of The Bioscience Resource Project (BRP) and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), The Poison Papers make publicly available more than 20,000 documents obtained through legal discovery in lawsuits against Dow, Monsanto, the EPA, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Air Force, and pulp and paper companies, among others. These papers were amassed largely by author and activist Carol Van Strum, who kept them in her rural Oregon barn for decades. BRP and CMD describe their project: “The Poison Papers represent a vast trove of rediscovered chemical industry and regulatory agency documents and correspondence stretching back to the 1920s. Taken as a whole, the papers show that both industry and regulators understood the extraordinary toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal this information from the public and the press.” In addition, the Poison Papers are just one part of the larger DocumentCloud, which contains over a million documents.
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman indicated that it released the documents at this moment because “they not only pertain to the ongoing litigation, but also, to larger issues of public health and safety, while shedding light on corporate influence over regulatory bodies.” The firm’s Brent Wisner said, “This is a look behind the curtain. . . . These [documents] show that Monsanto has deliberately been stopping studies that look bad for them, ghostwriting literature, and engaging in a whole host of corporate malfeasance. They [Monsanto] have been telling everybody that these products are safe because regulators have said they are safe, but it turns out that Monsanto has been in bed with U.S. regulators while misleading European regulators.” The firm also sent copies of the documents to authorities in Europe, EPA’s Office of the Inspector General, and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which Monsanto has sued for listing glyphosate as a known carcinogen.
Despite industry’s protest, the dangers of glyphosate-based herbicides continue to be of great concern. Monsanto’s representations about the safety of the compound are belied by contents of the newly released documents, which reveal internal conversations about Roundup’s safety. One Monsanto scientist wrote, in an internal email, “If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern.” A Monsanto executive said, in a 2003 email, “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen . . . we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.” And in 2002, another executive said, “What I’ve been hearing from you is that . . . glyphosate is OK, but the formulated product [and thus the surfactant] does the damage.”
Beyond Pesticides continues to call for an end to glyphosate use and urges EPA to suspend its uses, while advising consumers to take steps to protect themselves and the environment from exposure to this harmful chemical. As the most widely used herbicide in the world, individuals are regularly exposed to glyphosate through contaminated food, in their work lives, and through its use on lawns and landscapes, whether by individuals themselves or through proximity to those who use it. Its antibiotic properties cause damage to both human gut and soil microbiota.
There are multiple ways to protect yourself, your family, and the environment from glyphosate and other toxic pesticides, among which are:
- buy and consume organic foods
- stop using glyphosate-based herbicides for lawn and turf care, encourage others to do the same, and opt for non-toxic methods
- voice your concerns about glyphosate to your local home improvement and grocery stores, and to local nurseries or businesses that sell plants, and encourage them not to sell products containing or sprayed with glyphosate
- join other concerned residents in your community to work toward a resolution prohibiting toxic lawn care herbicides from being used in your town/city
- write letters and sign petitions to EPA, USDA, and elected officials, advocating against glyphosate use and for organic practices and products