Monsanto’s U.S. glyphosate safety lawsuits

From ToxicLeaks

History of Monsanto[edit | edit source]

Monsanto is a global agricultural company that operates 353 facilities in 69 countries, and whose corporate name has become synonymous with environmental and public health damage – ranging from its genetically modified seed products, to the production of agricultural chemicals including glyphosate.

Historically, Monsanto’s core business in agriculture spans more than a century, although prior to 1997 the United States firm also operated pharmaceutical and chemical business lines. Since then, Monsanto has remained an agricultural products enterprise. A $66 billion merger deal with life sciences and crop sciences giant Bayer remained pending in May 2017, but it too was met with protest in Europe. The companies have worked together before, collaborating in 1954 to, among other things, develop the highly toxic “Agent Orange” herbicide used during the Vietnam War before parting ways in the 1970s.

Even Bayer CEO Werner Baumann has conceded that the Monsanto “reputation” is a corporate liability. Monsanto’s Roundup Weed and Grass Killer, often used in conjunction with proprietary Monsanto seed products, and its glyphosate ingredients have long been suspected of causing damage to human health. A class-action lawsuit over glyphosate exposure implicated in cancer cases has resulted in new questions about Monsanto’s own Roundup® research findings and whether U.S. officials have covered up the risks.

Glyphosate product and uses[edit | edit source]

In 1974, Monsanto developed Roundup, an herbicide to control a range of weeds, grasses and broadleaf plants with glyphosate as its active ingredient. Most Roundup products today also include water and a surfactant. It has consistently been deemed safe for use as labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company says, although that designation involves a decades-old reversal. Glyphosate is under a 2017 product review; EPA’s approval amid charges of possible collusion is widely condemned.

In March 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans. In addition to its global prevalence in agriculture, glyphosate is used in forestry, urban and home applications, the IARC found. Exposure occurs from proximity to spraying, and the chemical has been found in the air, water and food sources.

Health effects and class action lawsuit[edit | edit source]

The IARC panel of 17 experts from 11 countries investigated peer-reviewed literature that included evidence to suggest glyphosate is linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Tests in mice also showed, among other things, a correlation with tumors formed in renal and pancreatic organ structures. Glyphosate also is suspected in often-fatal kidney disease in some 20,000 people in El Salvador, which banned its use in 2013 despite the lobbying power and corporate influence of Monsanto and its profit-driven allies. A similar question has been raised by medical researchers studying cases in Sri Lanka and in India. In the United States, more than 800 cancer patients are suing Monsanto for failing to warn users of any health risk linked to glyphosate use. An attorney representing about 500 of them expects 2,000 to 3,000 cancer patients to join the class action suit by the end of 2017, specifically holding Monsanto accountable because they invented Roundup, registered it with EPA, and held the patent – and market – for years.

Monsanto’s undue influence[edit | edit source]

Medical professionals, research scientists and legal experts question the relationship between EPA and Monsanto. The Center for Biological Diversity, citing a March 2017 New York Times account, questions the insider information shared between the chair of the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee on glyphosate, who was in regular contact with the company, and the influence on Monsanto messaging.

That includes advance notice before the IARC decision in 2015, which allowed for a public relations campaign to discredit the finding. Separately, more than 100 plaintiffs have filed a March 2017 lawsuit against the Osborn Barr public relations firm for promoting the company’s deceptive claims of safety.

A Monsanto executive emailed other company officials to suggest they hire academics to put their names on glyphosate research papers informed by Monsanto, citing a previous instance in 2000 where this was actually done. The referenced paper was in fact used in the pesticide program’s own cancer analysis. As always, Monsanto denies the allegations, arguing that the email sent by William Heydens was taken out of context and that the company’s research is rigorous, legitimate and peer-reviewed.

Opponents disagree. “Monsanto’s troubling influence and coordination with the pesticide office, combined with its utter disregard for established guidelines, completely discredits the pesticide office’s conclusion that glyphosate does not cause cancer,” said senior scientist Nathan Donley, a spokesman of the center. The unsealed records include the clear statement of then-EPA deputy division director Jess Rowland telling Monsanto that he’d run interference on a separate U.S. agency’s plans for a glyphosate review that ultimately never was completed. “If I can kill this, I should get a medal,” Rowland wrote.

Corporate human rights violations[edit | edit source]

What’s likely being killed, however, are the lives and lifestyles of glyphosate users across the globe. Indeed, there are those who believe Monsanto’s corporate conduct amounts to human rights violations. An International Monsanto Tribunal gathered at The Hague in April 2017 took testimony from Sri Lankan experts, a physician in Argentina, a farmer from Burkina Faso and witnesses from a dozen more nations who shared their expertise or experiences with the agrochemical giant. In a 60-page report, the panel of five judges called on the international community to hold Monsanto and corporations like it responsible for engaging in practices that have violated the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health, and the right of scientists to freely conduct indispensable research.