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Daily News Blog

16
Aug

Independent Science Plus Industry Corruption Convince Jury that Monsanto’s Glyphosate/Roundup Causes Cancer; Take Action in Your Community

(Beyond Pesticides, August 16, 2018) The jury verdict last week awarding groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $289 million in compensatory and punitive damages because of the carcinogenic effect caused by the herbicide glyphosate/Roundup, which he used, brought to the forefront a long standing concern about inadequate regulation of hazardous pesticides and chemical industry corruption. In the case, the jury heard from numerous scientists and medical experts, including Christopher Portier, Ph.D., who has researched the toxicity and carcinogenicity of glyphosate.

One of the challenges in the court case was overcoming the lack of regulatory action on glyphosate, despite the overwhelming science indicating its adverse effects, including its connection to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Globally, food safety agencies have spent the past few years insisting that glyphosate is not carcinogenic. Health and environment advocates point to the 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) designation of glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” as the knell to which regulators, pesticide users, and the public should pay attention. The jury listened and considered the scientific facts. Glyphosate has perhaps been the subject of more controversy than any other pesticide in recent memory. Advocates in the scientific and environmental realms note the multiple risks its use represents, while industry and big agriculture sometimes minimize or deny those impacts, and even dismiss or distort the science.

Dr. Portier has worked tirelessly since 2015 to convince the world that the IARC is correct in its designation. As an expert on carcinogenicity, he participated in a working group of the U.N. World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) IARC assessment. His background includes a PhD in biostatistics, more than 30 years of research experience in the U.S. federal government, and tenure as a division chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The central argument he proffers is that world food safety agencies rely on research conducted by the pesticide industry, including glyphosate/Roundup’s manufacturer Monsanto, rather than conduct or commission independent scientific studies as the bases of their determinations. As Politico reports, Dr. Portier stated, during a hearing in the European Parliament this summer on the quality of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) glyphosate evaluation, “‘Agencies need to write their own reviews and not rely upon reviews written by industry. . . . As I’ve pointed out to all of my students over the years, he who writes the first draft sets the tone of the paper. Allowing industry to write their own reviews is certainly likely to bias the evaluation.’”

Dr. Portier has challenged multiple entities in the glyphosate controversy: Germany’s chief food regulators, who ruled that glyphosate is safe in the food supply, and the EFSA, which in 2015 deemed glyphosate to be unlikely to cause cancer in humans. In 2017 he intensively lobbied Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, as well as other senior commissioners, to revoke glyphosate’s license in the European Union.

Soon after the issuance of the IARC report, Dr. Portier began his campaign, in light of the EFSA ruling, to tout the IARC findings and push back against EFSA’s. That campaign has led to a fair amount of strife and drama among the various European entities involved in the controversy, and between IARC and EFSA, in particular. Dr. Portier’s efforts culminated in a missive from him and 96 scientists to the European Health Commissioner, citing their “deep concern” about EFSA’s glyphosate assessment. At one point, a number of NGOs alleged that EFSA had essentially used swaths of language — verbatim — from Monsanto’s “research” in its own published assessment. EFSA’s argument was that the language had been “peer reviewed.” (Monsanto was the creator and manufacturer of the ubiquitous, glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup. In 2018 the company was bought out by Bayer, which is retiring the Monsanto name because of its “baggage” in the public square.)

Meanwhile, several investigations, including one reported in Politico, led to claims that IARC had seen several studies that found no evidence of a link between glyphosate and cancer, but ignored them in its final report. Despite EFSA Executive Director Bernhard Url’s fervent wish for EFSA and IARC to meet and calm the conflict over which agency’s work is credible, IARC Director Christopher Wild has refused. Further, Monsanto lawyers have alleged that Dr. Portier had a conflict of interest when he was soliciting signatories to his letter to the European Health Commissioner. Politico reports that the company’s lawyers “have challenged Portier being used as a specialist in an ongoing court case between cancer patients and the pesticide maker, going after him for accepting roughly $160,000 in payments from the plaintiffs’ lawyers while he was holding discussions with regulatory agencies in both the U.S. and Europe about glyphosate. Portier and those who paid him note that all of Portier’s work conducted with IARC concluded before his services were retained by plaintiffs.”

For his part, Dr. Portier stands by his actions and has encouraged scientists from IARC and EFSA to put their heads together to determine how to align their methodologies for evaluating scientific data. He said in an interview with Politico, “I would not do anything differently [from what I’ve done]. EFSA has scientific shortfalls and flaws in the evaluation of glyphosate and they have yet to fix those scientific flaws.” He added that that IARC’s methods of evaluating data — especially epidemiological data — were far superior to those used by EFSA, which was part of the reason IARC concluded that glyphosate “probably causes cancer in humans.”

Across, the pond, the controversy over glyphosate’s potential carcinogenicity is showing up in courts in the U.S. California, which moved in 2017 to list the toxic herbicide as a “probable carcinogen” under its Proposition 65 law, saw that listing challenged in that same year by Monsanto in State Superior Court (which challenge Monsanto lost), and again early in 2018 in Federal Court in the Eastern District of California by the Attorneys General of 11 states, Monsanto, and the National Association of Wheat Growers. Meanwhile, U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) reported at the end of July 2018 that there are more than 450 lawsuits pending against Monsanto in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Those cases generally allege both that exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide caused them or loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cancer, and that Monsanto engaged in a cover-up of the risks of the toxic herbicide. USRTK also reports that thousands of other plaintiffs have litigated Monsanto in state courts; plaintiffs’ attorneys put that number at approximately 4,000.

Mr. Johnson’s first, and landmark, case in the U.S. accusing Monsanto’s Roundup of causing cancer came to trial in June 2018 in San Francisco County Superior Court. (Another is scheduled to come to trial in October in St. Louis.) Mr. Johnson, a 46-year-old father of three and former school groundskeeper in northern California, used Roundup regularly in the course of his job duties, was diagnosed with NHL at age 42, and is now terminally ill. Jurors in the case were given the go-ahead by Judge Curtis Karnow to consider not only scientific research on glyphosate, but also, evidence that Monsanto has engaged in deliberate and protracted cover-ups to keep the risks of exposures to glyphosate hidden from the public and regulators. The judge also opened the way for punitive damages to be levied against the company. Monsanto’s defense maintained that “there is no justification for any of the claims, and asserted there were decades of regulatory findings of safety and hundreds of research studies to back its defense. ‘Glyphosate is the most tested herbicide in history,’ Monsanto stated in its trial brief.”

Plaintiff’s attorneys used the IARC designation of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, as well as many of Dr. Portier’s arguments, in its evidentiary offerings. Certainly, Monsanto lawyered up to protect its $15 million-plus annual revenue stream from the sale of Roundup and the seeds that the company genetically engineers to tolerate the herbicide — never mind the years of financial investment in these products. This case is considered something of a bellwether on where this major controversy is headed. As research director of the U.S. Right to Know and reporter for The Guardian, Carey Gillam wrote before the trial, “If Johnson prevails, there could be many more years of costly litigation and hefty damage claims. If Monsanto successfully turns back the challenge, it could derail other cases and lift pressure on the firm.”

Beyond Pesticides, which has expressed grave concern about glyphosate for many years, applauded the outcome for Mr. Johnson and supports other plaintiffs and attorneys in pursuing their cases. It is critical that manufacturers of toxic pesticides be held accountable for the havoc they wreak on human and environmental health, and for any malfeasance in which they may have engaged. In a best-case scenario, that accountability will translate to broad recognition of the dangers of pesticides, and far-better regulation of these chemical compounds, and encourage the urgent need to shift to organic practices.

Beyond Pesticides urges communities to ban the use of glyphosate/Roundup in their communities and begin the transition to organic land management. If you want to take action in your community to ban glyphosate, use Beyond Pesticides’ factsheet and report to advance your effort: See our factsheet on glyphosate/Roundup, our report Glyphosate/Roundup Exposed, and coverage and background on the glyphosate/Roundup lawsuit. See Beyond Pesticides’ Lawns and Landscapes page.

See Carey Gillam’s talk on Monsanto’s corruption on glyphosate/Roundup at Beyond Pesticides’ 36th National Pesticide Forum. To get the real story on the undue influence of the chemical industry and the failure of regulators to act to protect health and the environment, watch this talk.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: https://www.politico.eu/article/glyphosate-carcinogenic-debate-christoper-portier-the-man-europes-food-watchdog-fears-the-most/

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