In a historic first, a California Jury is now deliberating whether Monsanto's Roundup weed killer gave a school groundskeeper terminal cancer, after lawyers for both sides delivered their closing arguments on Tuesday.
Groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson is one of more than 5,000 plaintiffs across the United States who claim Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing herbicides, including the widely-used Roundup, cause cancer. His case, the first to go to trial, began in San Francisco’s Superior Court of California four weeks ago. -Reuters
On Tuesday, Johnson's attorney Brent Wisner urged jurors to hold Monsanto liable and slap them with a verdict that would "actually change the world" - after arguing that Monsanto knew about glyphosate's risks of cancer, but decided to ignore and bury the information.
Monsanto is a unit of Bayer AG following a $62.5 billion takeover by the German multinational conglomerate. Monsanto's attorneys deny the allegations and refuted expert testimony relied on by Johnson and others as unreliable, claiming it does not satisfy any scientific or legal requirements.
“The message of 40 years of scientific studies is clear: this cancer is not caused by glyphosate,” said George Lombardi, attorney for Monsanto.
In September, 2017 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that glyphosates were not likely carcinogenic to humans, based on a decades-long assessment. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO)'s cancer arm issued an opposite statement - warning that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans."
If Monsanto is found liable, the jury can tack on punitive damages on top of more than $39 million in compensatory damages demanded by Johnson.
Johnson’s case, filed in 2016, was fast-tracked for trial due to the severe state of his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system that he alleges was caused by Roundup and Ranger Pro, another Monsanto glyphosate herbicide. Johnson’s doctors said he is unlikely to live past 2020.
A former pest control manager for a California county school system, Johnson, 46, applied the weed killer up to 30 times per year. -Reuters
Johnson's case isn't part of the consolidated proceedings in Missouri, Delaware or California state court, where most of the cases are pending. It's also separate from a federal multidistrict litigation waiting to be heard by US District Judge Vance Chhabria of San Francisco - who allowed hundreds of Roundup lawsuits to proceed to trial after ruling that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to hear the cases despite calling a plaintiff's expert opinions "shaky."
Documents released in August of 2017 led to questions over Monsanto's efforts to influence the news media and scientific research and revealed internal debate over the safety of its highest-profile product, the weed killer Roundup.
As the New York Times noted last year, new internal emails, among other things, reveal ethical objections from former employees to "ghost writing" research studies that were pawned off as 'independent' analyses.
The documents underscore the lengths to which the agrochemical company goes to protect its image. Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015. Mr. Miller could not be reached for comment.
A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express discomfort with the process, writing in a 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, “I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication.” He also said of the way the company was trying to present the authorship: “We call that ghost writing and it is unethical.”
The newly disclosed emails also reveal internal discussions which cast some doubt over whether internal scientists actually believed in the company's external messaging that Roundup was, in fact, safe.
“If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern."
And, here's more:
The documents also show that a debate outside Monsanto about the relative safety of glyphosate and Roundup, which contains other chemicals, was also taking place within the company.
In a 2002 email, a Monsanto executive said, “What I’ve been hearing from you is that this continues to be the case with these studies — Glyphosate is O.K. but the formulated product (and thus the surfactant) does the damage.”
In a 2003 email, a different Monsanto executive tells others, “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.”
Not surprisingly, Monsanto's lawyers have argued that the comments above have simply been taken out of context...
Monsanto said it was outraged by the documents’ release by a law firm involved in the litigation.
“There is a standing confidentiality order that they violated,” said Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto. He said that while “you can’t unring a bell,” Monsanto would seek penalties on the firm.
“What you’re seeing are some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad,” Mr. Partridge said. “But the substance and the science are not affected by this.”
...you know, because the phrase, “we call that ghost writing and it is unethical," can be interpreted in so many different ways.
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For those who missed it, below is our note on similar revelations that came to light back in March 2017.
If we had a dime for every kooky, left-wing theory we've heard alleging some vast corporate conspiracy to exploit the treasures of the earth, destroy the environment and poison people with unknown carcinogens all while buying off politicians to cover their tracks, we would be rich. The problem, of course, is that sometimes the kooky conspiracy theories prove to be completely accurate.
Lets take the case of the $60 billion ag-chemicals powerhouse, Monsanto, and their controversial herbicide, Roundup as an example. For those who aren't familiar, Roundup Ready is Monsanto’s blockbuster weedkiller, credited with transforming U.S. agriculture, with a majority of farm production now using genetically modified seeds resistant to the chemical.
For years the company has assured farmers that their weed killing product was absolutely safe to use. As proof, Monsanto touted the approval of the chemical by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
That said, newly unsealed court documents released earlier today seemingly reveal a startling effort on the part of both Monsanto and the EPA to work in concert to kill and/or discredit independent, albeit inconvenient, cancer research conducted by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)....more on this later.
But, before we get into the competing studies, here is a brief look at the 'extensive' work that Monsanto and the EPA did prior to originally declaring Roundup safe for use (hint: not much). As the excerpt below reveals, the EPA effectively declared Roundup safe for use without even conducting tests on the actual formulation, but instead relying on industry research on just one of the product's active ingredients.
"EPA's minimal standards do not require human health data submissions related to the formulated product - here, Roundup. Instead, EPA regulations require only studies and data that relate to the active ingredient, which in the case of Roundup is glyphosate. As a result, the body of scientific literature EPA has reviewed is not only primarily provided by the industry, but it also only considers one part of the chemical ingredients that make up Roundup."
Meanwhile, if that's not enough for you, Donna Farmer, Monsanto's lead toxicologist, even admitted in her deposition that she "cannot say that Roundup does not cause cancer" because "[w]e [Monsanto] have not done the carcinogenicity studies with Roundup."
And just in case you're the super skeptical type, here is Farmer's actual email, from back in 2009, which seems pretty clear:
"you cannot say that Roundup does not cause cancer..we have not done carcinogenicity studies with "Roundup".
And while the revelations above are quite damning by themselves, this is where things get really interesting.
In early 2015, once it became clear that the World Health Organization's IARC was working on their own independent study of Roundup, Monsanto immediately launched their own efforts to preemptively discredit any results that might be deemed 'inconvenient'.
That said, Monsanto, the $60 billion behemoth, couldn't possibly afford the $250,000 bill that would come with conducting a legitimate scientific study led by accredited scientists. Instead, they decided to "ghost-write" key sections of their report themselves and plotted to then have the independent scientists just "sign their names so to speak."
"A less expensive/more palatable approach might be to involve experts only for the areas of contention, epidemiology and possibly MOA (depending on what comes out of the IARC meeting), and we ghost-write the Exposure Tox & Genetox sections...but we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak."
Finally, when all else fails, you call in those "special favors" in Washington D.C. that you've paid handsomely for over the years.
And that's where Jess Rowland, the EPA's Deputy Division Director for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and chair of the Agency's Cancer Assessment Review Committee, comes in to assure you that he's fully exploiting his role as the "chair of the CARC" to kill any potentially damaging research..."if I can kill this I should get a medal."
Nothing to see here folks!