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An environmental group is seeking information about communications between federal regulators and Monsanto, after a new formulation of the company’s Roundup weed killer was approved amid concerns about the risks associated with exposure to the glyphosate-based herbicide, indicating that there was no public input or discussion about the sudden regulatory decision.
The Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release on September 7, announcing that it has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for documents involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) communications with Monsanto over the fast-track approval of Roundup Xtend, which combines the controversial herbicides glyphosate and dicamba.
Glyphosate has been the active ingredient in Roundup for decades, but in 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen, linking Roundup to an increased risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Dicamba is a synthetic herbicide, which has been used for years by farmer’s nationwide to control weeds. However it was previously used only during certain times of years.
A recent dicamba class action lawsuit claims that Monsanto and BASF released a new dicamba-tolerant crop system last year, which resulted in widespread use and caused dicamba to drift over non-tolerant fields, causing millions in crop damage and yield loss.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Roundup Xtend will escalate the damage from dicamba, as well as continue widespread glyphosate exposure. It was developed to be sprayed on crops that are genetically engineered to be both “Roundup Ready” and dicamba resistant.
The group indicates that the new version of the controversial weedkiller was quietly approved under the obscure name “M1769 premix herbicide,” with no public notice or public comment. Last year, the EPA reportedly amended the name at Monsanto’s request to “Roundup XTend with VaporGrip Technology.”
“This herbicide is projected to become the most-used pesticide in agriculture, yet the EPA approved it with zero public input,” Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center, said in the press release. “It raises serious questions about the far-too-cozy relationship between the EPA and Monsanto. Any product that increases the use of a dangerous pesticide like dicamba is bad news for wildlife and human health.”
There has been growing concern over the relationship between Monsanto and the EPA in recent months, as internal memos and discovery have been released as part of Roundup lawsuits being pursued against the manufacturer by individual diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
On August 1, a cache of internal memos and e-mails, being referred to as the “Monsanto Papers”, were released to the public as part of the on-going litigation involving cases filed by hundreds of farmers, landscapers, agricultural workers and other regular users of the weedkiller, which alleges 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.
“Recent revelations paint a disturbing picture of potential collusion between Monsanto and EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs,” the Center’s press release states. “The EPA’s Office of Inspector General has opened an investigation into the matter following revelations that multiple high-ranking officials in the pesticide office were in direct communication with the agrochemical giant while trying to quash an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services into the safety of glyphosate.”
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.