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A draft report issued this week by federal environmental regulators concludes that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s controversial weedkiller Roundup, does not pose a threat to human health or cause cancer.
The findings were released in a draft risk assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on December 18, flying in the face of recent findings by cancer specialists with the World Health Organization, as well as a number of other independent researchers. It also comes at a time when the EPA is under increased scrutiny for allegedly allowing Monsanto and other major corporations to influence its regulatory decisions.
“The draft human health risk assessment concludes that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” the EPA draft report states. “The Agency’s assessment found no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label.”
That conclusion is the opposite of the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which determined in March 2015 that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen. The IARC’s findings specifically linked Roundup to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The EPA assessment was originally supposed to come out the same year, but has been delayed for two years, and at one point was leaked and briefly posted online before the EPA hurriedly took it down. However, the conclusion was not only known before the draft report was released, the way in which the EPA came to those conclusions has been under scrutiny for at least six months.
In June, Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., inspector general for the EPA, announced that the agency is under investigation over its reviews of glyphosate and the side effects of Roundup. The investigation came after revelations that suggested at least one EPA staffer may have colluded with Monsanto to suppress or distort information on the herbicide’s safety.
The investigation came in response to information disclosed during the discovery process in Roundup lawsuits, including documents that suggested a former EPA official, Jess Rowland, reassured Monsanto that there would be no pesticide review for glyphosate.
Rowland reportedly even wrote that he “should get a medal” for protecting the company’s product. The documents also indicated that Monsanto had ghostwritten academic research articles indicating Roundup was safe and then paid other researchers to put their name on the bogus studies.
On August 1, a cache of internal memos and e-mails, referred to as the “Monsanto Papers”, were released to the public as part of the ongoing discovery process in Roundup lawsuits. The litigation involves cases filed by hundreds of farmers, landscapers, agricultural workers and other regular users of the weedkiller, alleging that the manufacturer failed to adequately warn about the potential cancer risks and importance of taking safety precautions while spraying the weedkiller.
In addition to documents showing Monsanto working with the EPA, and its own scientists raising concerns about whether glyphosate can cause cancer, the documents also indicated that Monsanto has edited and ghostwritten both supposedly independent research papers which heralded glyphosate’s safety, and meddled with the content of federal safety reviews.
Similar internal documents indicated that Monsanto also influenced findings by European regulators. Monsanto employees appear to have even written large portions of safety reviews for EU regulators, which also happen to declare that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
According to allegations raised in non-Hodgkins lymphoma lawsuits filed against Monsanto, plaintiffs claim that their cancer diagnosis may have been avoided if adequate warnings had been provided, and if Monsanto had not taken steps to falsify data and mislead about the safety of the weedkiller.
Given the similar questions of fact and law presented in lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established consolidated pretrial proceedings for all federal Roundup cases in October 2016, centralizing the claims before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California to reduce duplicative discovery, prevent conflicting rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
As part of the coordinated MDL proceedings, Judge Chhabria has previously determined that the Roundup litigation will be bifurcated, first addressing general causation about the link between the widely used weedkiller and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, before addressing case-specific issues about whether Roundup caused cancer for each individual plaintiff.
Following resolution of any motions to dismiss based on general causation, if a Roundup settlement or other resolution for the litigation is not reached during the first phase of discovery, it is expected that Judge Chhabria will establish a bellwether process, where a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the lawsuits.