The Poison Business: The Monsanto Papers Reveal Media, Science, and Regulatory Collusion

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The Poison Business: The Monsanto Papers Reveal Media, Science, and Regulatory Collusion

Major tectonic shifts have occurred around the historically secretive multinational corporate structure of Monsanto, forcing transparency, furthering the public debate, and assisting lawsuits that expose the true nature of Monsanto’s toxic product and its multi-level collusion to hide the fact of its carcinogenicity.

The public and regulatory pushback against Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup® and its active ingredient glyphosate has slowly simmered for years and now appears to be hitting breakaway speeds. A large regulatory blow to Monsanto was the 2015 decision of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to give glyphosate a Group 2A designation of being “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The second blow came in June 2017 when California state’s health officials added glyphosate to the list of chemicals that can cause cancer under California’s Proposition 65

The number of consumer lawsuits currently pending against Monsanto in the US District Court in San Francisco has grown to over 100. These lawsuits were filed by people alleging that exposure to Roundup® herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks. These cases have been combined into multi-district litigation, while an additional 1,100 plaintiffs have made similar claims against Monsanto in state courts.

On March 13, 2017, US District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled — over Monsanto’s objections — that certain documents obtained by plaintiffs through discovery could be unsealed. These documents are being collectively referred to as The Monsanto Papers. Following the unsealing of the first wave of documents in March 2017, the headlines began flooding in. Evidence was shown, via email exchanges and documents, that Monsanto ghostwrote studies on Roundup® for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, these documents contained evidence that Jess Rowland, former deputy division director at the EPA who chaired the agency's Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), had an unusually close relationship with Monsanto. Under his watch in 2016, the CARC determined that glyphosate was "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” a conclusion that vastly differed from what the available research pointed to and what IARC concluded a year prior. 

The latest round of Monsanto Papers has now been released to the public. Shortly after, Forbes was forced to pull a popular piece titled On GMO Regulation, USDA Hits ‘The Cluelessness Trifecta’ due to the uncovered deep collusion between Monsanto and the article’s author Henry Miller. Did this longtime media mouthpiece for Monsanto and its products offer up his position and name to be used as a propaganda arm by the company? An email exchange between Monsanto executives states: 

Henry agreed to author an article on John will work with a team internally [within Monsanto] to provide a draft and Henry will edit/add to make it his own.

Prior to being a contributor at Forbes and many other media outlets, Miller served for 15 years at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), holding a number of appointments, including that of the medical reviewer for the first genetically engineered drug evaluated by the FDA and the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology.  Miller’s unethical tendencies as a media writer now call into question the credibility of his previous work within the US regulatory framework.

Perhaps the most damning piece of scientific evidence showing harm from genetically modified organisms (GMO) was published in September 2012 in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT). Known as The Séralini Study, it documented liver and kidney toxicity, hormonal disturbances, and an increasing trend of tumor formation in rats fed GMO corn treated with Roundup®. The study was a deathblow not only to Monsanto, but also to the entire agrochemical sector that utilizes this herbicide. But as Séralini and his team had their study published, emails show that the FCT Editor-in-Chief A. Wallace Hayes was offered a payment from Monsanto for “consulting services.” By early 2013, Hayes announced that former Monsanto scientist Richard E. Goodman would be in charge of biotechnology publications at the journal. Another Monsanto scientist, David Saltmiras, was then shown to be involved in coordinating the “third party” expert letter-to-the-editor campaign to get the Séralini study retracted. Between 2012 and 2013, reported the inconsistencies and questionable events surrounding the Séralini study’s retraction and wrote the following on the recent Monsanto Paper’s findings:

This confirms that we at GMWatch were right to question the arrival of Goodman on the editorial board. It also shows that we were right to criticize the non-transparency of the second round of review.

GMWatch goes further to point out: 

Back in 2012, GMWatch founder Jonathan Matthews exposed the industry links of the supposedly independent scientists who lobbied the journal editor to retract the Séralini paper. Now we have first-hand proof of Monsanto’s direct involvement.

In November 2013, the corporate mainstream media buzzed with the news of Hayes’ official announcement that the Séralini study was retracted from FCT. The study was published by another journal in 2015; however, the reputation of Séralini, his team, and their research findings was already falsely discredited in the mainstream public consciousness. 

Other emails among the Monsanto Papers show, in no uncertain terms, that their Roundup® formulation was not tested by Monsanto for possible carcinogenic properties. Monsanto’s Head Toxicologist Donna Farmer, PhD, when advising executives on public messaging about Roundup®, wrote:

…you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen ... we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.

Another Monsanto Paper’s email from Regulatory Affairs Lead at Monsanto Europe, Xavier Belvaux, corroborated:

We do not conduct sub-chronic, chronic or terotogenicity studies with our formulations.” 

Monsanto, outraged by the public release of these internal documents and emails, claims that it’s simply a collection of “some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad.” Those who have watched Monsanto’s historically duplicitous behavior might be wondering if Monsanto is allowing its widely unpopular herbicide to be publicly sacrificed as a distraction from the company’s other areas of future focus. One thing is certain: there appears to be no end in sight for the lawsuits piling up against Monsanto over its cancer-causing Roundup® product. 

Learn more about Roundup herbicide's toxicity on the database on the topic: Glyphosate-based formulations.

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