Scientists Urge Retraction of Journal Article on Glyphosate’s Safety, Surreptitiously Written by Monsanto
(Beyond Pesticides, October 17, 2017) In a letter to the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology, scientists called for the retraction of a 2016 paper that refuted glyphosate’s cancer risks after it was learned that the paper was secretly edited and funded by Monsanto, manufacturer of glyphosate.
The paper in question, “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate,” is a review of the 2015 decision by an expert Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to designate glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s flagship product, Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A). However, a new report this summer discovered conflict of interests not revealed at publication. Contrary to the journal’s conflict-of-interest disclosure statement, Monsanto directly paid at least two of the scientists who authored the paper, and a Monsanto employee substantially edited and reviewed the article prior to publication, in clear contradiction to the disclosure statement.
The retraction-request letter highlights a range of failures involved in the published review:
- Failure to disclose that at least two panelists who authored the review worked as consultants for, and were directly paid by, Monsanto for their work on the paper.
- Failure to disclose that at least one Monsanto employee extensively edited the manuscript and was adamant about retaining inflammatory language critical of the IARC assessment — against some of the authors’ wishes. The disclosure falsely stated that no Monsanto employee reviewed the manuscript.
As a result, readers and reviewers of the cancer studies were led to believe that the paper was independently published, and that Monsanto had no influence on the content of the review. The letter notes, “[T]he false, inaccurate, and misleading statements…served an obvious and critical purpose. In light of the high-profile controversy over the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, driven in large part by Monsanto, the company understood that the scientific community would have legitimate doubts as to the independence of a Monsanto-funded review effort. Assuaging these doubts was critical to the success of Monsanto’s mission to discredit IARC’s determination. This was accomplished in the summary review … by misrepresentation and omission.”
In addition to asking for a retraction of the review article, the scientists have called for an in-depth investigation into the other four articles published in the same issue. Multiple internal emails from Monsanto indicated the pesticide maker’s willingness to ghostwrite or compile information for the authors of the reviews, dictate the scope of one of the reviews, and identify which scientists to engage or list as authors of the reviews.
The retraction and investigation request was sent to the journal’s editor-in-chief, the managing editor at the publisher, Taylor and Francis, and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which the publisher and the journal are both members.
Monsanto has been embroiled in controversy after its attempts to unduly influence and undermine scientific research that has found its product to be harmful to humans. It was recently revealed that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) copied dozens of pages from a Monsanto study in reaching its conclusion that glyphosate (Roundup) is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.” EFSA’s recommendation is supposed to provide an independent analysis for European Union (EU) member states, which are deciding whether to reapprove the chemical. In a similar case, the New York Times reported on Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators, which suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research on glyphosate (Roundup) that was later attributed to academics. There is now an investigation by the Inspector General for EPA into whether or not an EPA official engaged in collusion with Monsanto regarding the agency’s safety assessment of glyphosate. The collusion was uncovered in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by cancer victims that link their illness to glyphosate exposure.
The best way to avoid glyphosate and other harmful pesticides is to support organic practices in landscapes and agriculture and purchase organic food. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for organic management practices as a means to foster biodiversity, and research shows that organic land management does a better job of protecting biodiversity than its chemical-intensive counterparts. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and crops bioengineered with insecticides, responsible organic practices focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and ecological balance, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.
As evidence of the hazardous effects of glyphosate continues to mount, environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, are urging localities to ban or restrict the use of the chemical and other toxic synthetic pesticides.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity