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A group of European Parliament members have written a letter to the U.S. judge presiding over all Roundup cancer lawsuits, seeking access to certain documents and deposition transcripts involving claims that Monsanto falsified scientific studies and colluded with regulators to hide the health risks associated with their glyphosate-based weedkiller.
The letter (PDF) was sent to U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria by European legislators Bart Staes, Heidi Hautala, Benedek Javor and Michel Rivasi. The members of the European Parliament indicate that they have been closely watching the federal Roundup litigation proceedings, since European Union’s (EU) authorization for glyphosate will expire by December 31, 2017.
The law makers point out that they rely on scientists and scientific bodies to help them understand complex safety issues. However, contradictory conclusions about the link between Roundup and cancer have been reached by different scientific bodies, and documents uncovered during the U.S. litigation over Monsanto’s failure to warn consumers suggest that Monsanto may have heavily influenced decisions reached by regulatory agencies.
As a result, the European Parliament members are asking the U.S. judge to provide them with copies of the so-called “Monsanto Papers,” which link the company to the “ghostwriting” of studies about the safety of Roundup and it’s active ingredient, glyphosate. They are also asking for documents suggesting that Jess Rowlands, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), worked with the company to hide evidence of links between glyphosate and cancer.
“As EU legislators responsible for legislating in the interest of public health, and in order to have the most reliable, solid and independent opinions, we need to be sure that public institutions base their assessments as much as possible on independent science and publicly available reports, free from any political or economic interference,” wrote the Parliament members. “However, after preliminary investigations, strong doubts remain on the validity of the EU agencies’ assessments and we have strong reasons to believe that EFSA, in particular, has been too dependent on industry-based data and sealed scientific reports, notably from Monsanto, for their assessment of glyphosate.”
A copy of the letter was posted on the court docket for the Roundup MDL (multidistrict litigation) late last week, although it was sent on July 4. No response has yet been filed by the U.S. Court, or either party.
Litigation Over Roundup
Judge Chhabria is currently presiding over all lawsuits against Monsanto filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, each involving common allegations that farmers, landscapers and others regularly exposed to Roundup developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma or other cancers. Plaintiffs allege that they may have avoided the diagnosis if Monsanto had provided accurate warnings about the cancer risk, and safety recommendations that may have limited exposure to the herbicide.
Concerns about the safety of Roundup emerged after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate contained in the weedkiller as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.
Although Monsanto has continued to defend the safety of Roundup, calling the IARC findings junk science, experts worldwide have joined the debate over the widespread use of glyphosate-based herbicides, raising questions about why Monsanto marketed Roundup as safe and non-toxic, without providing warnings about the importance of safety precautions.
While some European regulators have raised doubts about the links between glyphosate and cancer, the EU’s letter came in response to information disclosed during the discovery process in the Roundup litigation, 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.
The letter from members of the European Parliament also outline concerns about the independence of their own regulators, indicating that Monsanto and the pesticide industry had advance access to a safety assessment of glyphosate conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2015, and even were able to edit the documents at the last minute.
“Our concerns about EFSA’s assessment have been further increased by news that former EPA-expert Jess Rowlands, the US expert exposed in the ‘Monsanto Papers’, in a possible collusion with Monsanto, actively intervened in EFSA’s glyphosate assessment,” the letter states. “He provided information which reassured EFSA in its decision to discard the conclusions of a key study (Kumar) showing cancer in mice exposed to glyphosate. Following the revelation, EFSA told the press and civil society that it had double-checked Rowlands’ information before they decided to disregard the Kumar-study as non-reliable. But when requested to prove this with documents on how they had actually performed these double-checks, EFSA had no documents to show.”
The investigations and discovery process in both the U.S. and the E.U. raise questions about both the integrity of two of the most influential environmental regulatory agencies on the planet, as well as the science being used to counter the IARC’s warning, which could have a huge impact on questions of whether glyphosate can actually cause cancer.
As part of the coordinated MDL proceedings, Judge Chhabri previously agreed to Monsanto’s proposal to bifurcate the federal Roundup litigation, first addressing the issues of general causation about the link between Roundup and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, before considering case-specific issues about whether Roundup caused the cancer claimed by individual plaintiffs.
Following the general causation phase, it is expected that Judge Chhabri will select a small group of representative cases to be prepared for a series of “bellwether” trials next year. While the outcomes of those early trial dates will not be binding on other plaintiffs, they will be closely watched to gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be presented throughout the litigation. However, it is possible that the first state court trials may begin well in advance of the federal bellwether trials.
If Monsanto fails to reach Roundup settlements or another resolution for the U.S. litigation, all cases centralized before Judge Chhabri may eventually be remanded back to the various different U.S. District Courts where they were originally filed for separate trial dates nationwide.