Judge Vince Chhabria, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, unsealed several documents pertaining to an active ingredient in Monsanto’s widely used herbicide, Roundup. The documents included internal emails and email exchanges between the company and federal agencies, namely the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Certain documents showed that Monsanto had ghostwritten pertinent research that was then attributed to academics and later used by the EPA in their review of Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate.
Other documents revealed that Jess Rowland, deputy division director at the EPA, worked to put an end to an inquiry into glyphosate. The inquiry would have been carried out by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, documents suggested that there was a disagreement amongst the EPA staff regarding their own safety assessment of Roundup.
The initial mass tort litigation suit was brought by farmers and others claiming to have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after being exposed to glyphosate. The suit was grounded in research done two years prior by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which found the substance to be a probable carcinogen.
Despite the findings, Monsanto maintained that “Glyphosate is not a carcinogen,” according to a statement published in the New York Times. However, eyebrows have been raised in response to an email from William F. Heydens, a Monsanto executive, who suggested that the company could write up their own research and then pay academics to attach their names. This, he said, “would be keeping the cost down.”
The EPA and Monsanto
According to the unsealed documents, Rowland showed the IARC findings to Monsanto months before the lawsuit was filed when the company attempted to preemptively fight the claims through public relations. The emails showed Rowland to have been a key player. Dan Jenkins, a Monsanto Executive, wrote in an email to another colleague that Rowland said of his effort to quash the Department of Health and Human Services review: “If I can kill this, I should get a medal.” And another email from Jenkins stated that Rowland said he “could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.” What’s more is that, according to an article on Bloomberg.com, Rowland “oversaw a committee that found insufficient evidence” in an EPA review of glyphosate.
It should be noted that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) – the branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services meant to carry out the review that Rowland wanted to shut down – inevitably decided “to take direction from EPA,” according to a leaked memo that surfaced in court. Christi Dixon, a Monsanto spokeswoman, responded to the leaked memo saying, “our understanding of this comment is that EPA was concerned about ATSDR starting a duplicative safety analysis of glyphosate without realizing that EPA was already far along in its own comprehensive safety analysis.”
Speaking about the unsealed documents, Scott Partridge, Monsanto vice president of global strategy, said in a phone interview with Bloomberg.com that they merely represented “a natural flow of information” and not a conspiracy against American consumers. Partridge said that, before responding to further questions, he would have to read the emails pertaining to Rowland’s promise to quell the Health Department’s review.
Tim Litzenburg, one of the lawyers suing Monsanto, said these leaked documents could help consumers, regulatory agencies, physicians and scientists “see some of what Monsanto was actually engaging in behind the scenes, and how they have manipulated the scientific literature to date. That’s important to their decision-making, not just our lawsuits.”