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Monsanto Used Industry Partners To Discredit Roundup Cancer Concerns: Internal Memo

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An internal memo from Monsanto appears to lay out how the company used industry partner groups, many presenting themselves as independent scientific organizations, to discredit international researchers who determined that exposure to the Roundup, and its active ingredient glyphosate, could increase the risk of cancer. 

The memo (PDF) was released by the consumer group U.S. Right To Know on May 31, and is a fact sheet describing Monsanto’s public relations plan to combat the determination by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

“Together these fact sheets provide a sense of the depth and breadth of the corporate attack on the IARC cancer experts in defense of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide,” U.S. Right To Know states in its press release.

The plan is dated February 23, 2015, which was before the IARC had even issued its determination, which came out about a month later.

It called on “industry partners,” such as Crop Life International, Sense About Science, and the Genetic Literacy Project, to advocate for Monsanto and glyphosate products. While these groups identify themselves publicly as being independent groups interested in promoting science and agriculture, the plan suggests that they are “industry partners” who work with Monsanto and other corporations to promote their interests.

In addition, the plan specifically calls for the agriculture industry to “Orchestrate Outcry with IARC Decision” through the use of social media and other platforms. It also calls on the groups to “provide cover” for regulatory agencies, noting that Monsanto’s regulatory division was concerned about how regulators would respond to the IARC’s determination.

“It is possible that IARC’s decision will impact future regulatory decision making,” the plan states. “Regulatory is not aware of a situation where a regulatory body took a different position than IARC.”

However, following the decision, and intense pressure and direct intervention by Monsanto, both European and U.S. regulators defended the widely used weedkiller, indicating that the agencies were unable to find evidence confirming that glyphosate was a cancer-causing agent.

Those decisions have come into question, due to the release of the “Monsanto Papers”, documents obtained during litigation which suggest Monsanto had undue influence over those decisions. The documents were revealed as part of the ongoing U.S. litigation against Monsanto by farmers, landscapers and other individuals who indicate they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma following exposure to Roundup.

The memos and emails suggest that the company has known that its herbicide might be dangerous for years, put out ghostwritten studies that were falsely portrayed as the work of independent scientists, and unduly influenced regulators in the U.S. and Europe to avoid any indication that Roundup is not safe. The company even went as far as writing some parts of the safety reviews for regulators, and asked them to squash government inquiries that they could not write themselves, some of the documents suggest.

While Monsanto attempted to dismiss the IARC report as “junk science,” and challenged the group’s validity and scientific methods at every turn, the Monsanto Papers reveal that the company’s own observer of the IARC’s review, Tom Sorahan, a professor at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., reported back that the IARC had done it right.

Roundup Cancer Litigation

The memo comes as thousands of Roundup lawsuits are pending nationwide; each involving similar allegations that Monsanto failed to adequately warn about the risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma associated with the widely used weed killer.

The first case is set to go before a jury in California on June 18, involving claims by a former groundskeeper, DeWayne Johnson, who indicates that he developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma following years of Roundup exposure.

The case was approved for an early trial date in California, due to Johnson’s grave health condition. While it is not considered an official “bellwether” trial, it will be closely watched as an early test case to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the Roundup litigation.

The memo’s release also comes as Bayer indicates it is close to finalizing a deal on the acquisition of Monsanto, which will include getting rid of the Monsanto name.

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