Monsanto has been twice accused of influencing studies on the safety of their herbicides this week. Bloomberg reported that emails released from inside the agribusiness industry giant showed that Monsanto officials had substantial influence over the content of so-called “independent” reviews of the cancer risk of Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide. Reuters also reported this week that Monsanto banned researchers from testing the volatility of their new formulation of dicamba, XtendiMax, a chemical whose drift is now linked to soybean damage around the country. These new findings will likely be a boon for the thousands of people pursuing Roundup cancer lawsuits or dicamba drift lawsuits.
Monsanto has routinely claimed that their flagship Roundup line of products do not cause cancer. Monsanto has been especially critical of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) after the IARC released a monograph showing that there was “limited evidence” that glyphosate could cause cancer, especially non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in humans.
On August 1, lawyers suing Monsanto over Roundup’s potential cancer risk released emails from inside Monsanto that show Monsanto officials worked with a consulting firm to influence a study on Roundup’s effects on health. According to the Bloomberg report on the emails, Monsanto’s chief of regulatory science, William Heydens, and other Monsanto scientists directly edited a scientific review of Roundup.
In one instance, Bloomberg writes, one of the expert panelists on the “independent” review, epidemiologist John Acquavella, objected to language in the review that criticized the IARC’s findings on glyphosate. Heydens claimed that the language was fine and Heyden’s revisions prevailed. Acquavella billed Monsanto for $20,700 for his work on the review. The declaration of interest statement issued with the scientific review said that Monsanto did not review manuscripts and did not directly contact panelists.
Monsanto claims that the company did only “cosmetic edits” to the review and that the science was not influenced by their involvement. Bloomberg reports that the release of the emails caused the editor and publisher of the journal where the review was published to begin an investigation into Monsanto’s influence on the content of the article.
A Reuters report this week provided more evidence of Monsanto’s apparent preference for control over research of their herbicides. Testimony from regulators and researchers and a Monsanto employee indicate that Monsanto banned scientists from testing certain properties of their new formulation of dicamba.
Dicamba is an herbicide previously only used to control weeds before or after the crop planting season. Because dicamba easily vaporizes — a chemical property called volatility — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency restricted its use to prevent it from spreading and affecting crops instead of weeds. In conjunction with their line of dicamba-resistant seeds, Monsanto developed a new version of dicamba, XtendiMax, purportedly with less volatility than classic dicamba formulations.
However, the Reuters report shows that Monsanto restricted scientists from testing the very property the company claimed to have changed. Though it is common for companies to limit certain aspects of testing proprietary products through contracts, the researchers interviewed by Reuters say that this is the first time that they encountered a company banning which properties of an herbicide could be tested.
Monsanto claimed that they banned the testing because they believed it to be unnecessary, with their Vice President of Global Strategy saying, “This product needed to get into the hands of growers.” Dicamba drift has now damaged at least 2.5 million acres of farmland, causing some to question whether the product is as reduced in volatility as Monsanto says.
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