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GOP lawmakers recently attacked a respected World Health Organization (WHO) cancer research program, threatening to cut off funding for the group after a recent decision to issue warnings about the potential side effects of Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup, which has been linked to a risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers.
Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee sharply criticized the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at the hearing, accusing the independent, international group of experts of being anti-industry and of making unfounded claims regarding the potential health risks associated with Roundup, and it’s active ingredient, glyphosate.
The February 6 hearing was the latest attack on IARC, which has come under barrage by allies of Monsanto after its 2015 conclusions regarding Roundup cancer risks. The comments also come after a controversial decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which refuted the IARC’s findings, maintaining that glyphosate does not cause cancer.
However, the attacks come amid growing evidence that Monsanto has close ties with regulators, and has exercised undue influence over both U.S. and European regulators and government officials. Monsanto’s own internal records have revealed that the company was the ghostwriter for a number of studies claiming glyphosate was safe, secretly co-writing some safety reviews by regulators, and allegedly suppressing or re-writing safety reviews.
At the hearing, however, Republicans claimed that it was the IARC that lacks transparency and used poor science to try to scare the public regarding glyphosate safety. The testimony did not appear to explain why the IARC would want to do that, however, besides saying some members may have had some form of financial stake.
Committee Chair Lamar Smith, of Texas, criticized the IARC for allegedly “cherry-picking” data that was negative to Monsanto, and not using a study that indicated glyphosate carried no risk of cancer.
“The selective use of data and the lack of public disclosure raise questions about why IARC should receive any government funding in the future,” Smith said in his testimony (PDF).
The IARC and others respected research groups have previously explained that the study was not ready for publication and therefore, by longstanding IARC rules, could not be included in the group’s analysis.
Dr. Jennifer Sass, Senior Scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, defended the IARC and its findings, noting that the group’s methods and conclusions are widely respected by actual scientists worldwide.
“Because of its scientific excellence and its scientific and regulatory relevance, IARC enjoys overwhelming support from the global scientific and medical community,” she wrote in her testimony (PDF). “A few years ago, 124 scientists and health professionals from diverse scientific disciplines, from around the world coauthored a published account of the last forty years of IARC Monographs, noting the Programme’s role in identifying carcinogenic substances to inform policies and practices that prevent harm and save lives.”
She noted that not only had the IARC written letters to the committee explaining its methodology and its selection of studies, but she noted that more than 100 non-industry scientists across a number of scientific and medical disciplines, universities and institutes in the U.S. and across the world, had reviewed the IARC’s methodologies and its conclusions on glyphosate and found them to be sound.
Monsanto’s Influence Revealed By Ongoing Roundup Cancer Litigation
The hearing and recent EPA actions have led to further questions raised following the revelation of the “Monsanto Papers” which is the name given to a number of damning internal documents from Monsanto, which were revealed as part of the ongoing U.S. litigation against Monsanto by farmers, landscapers and other individuals who indicate they developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following Roundup exposure.
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.
Throughout the U.S., several thousand Roundup lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto by farmers, landscapers, agricultural workers and others regularly exposed to Roundup, alleging that they may have avoided a diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma or other cancer if warnings had been provided by Monsanto.
Since October 2016, all federal cases have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California.
As part of the coordinated litigation, it is expected that a small group of bellwether trials will be prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the cases. However, if Monsanto fails to reach Roundup settlements or another resolution for the failure to warn cases, hundreds of individual lawsuits may eventually be remanded back to the federal courts where they were originally filed for an separate trial dates.