UNSETTLED SCIENCE: Monsanto Loses Big In Landmark Roundup Cancer Trial
Monsanto “acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct,” Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos announced in court. The jury found Monsanto failed to warn Johnson of the health hazards of exposure also ruling that they were responsible for “negligent failure” and knew or should have known that their product was “dangerous”. Johnson, a 46-years-old father, developed a severe form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while working as a California school groundskeeper. His case was the frontrunner and bellwether for nearly 4,000 more plaintiffs who have claims pending against Monsanto and its herbicide product.
What was laid bare during the trial and its discovery period were years of corporate underhandedness. Using techniques right from Big Tobacco’s playbook to shield the true dangers of its products, Monsanto appears to now be facing a long road of legal challenges. In what could be called a display of legal karma, it was Monsanto who was ultimately responsible for its own demise in the recent case. The Guardian writes:
“Monsanto was undone by the words of its own scientists, the damning truth illuminated through the company’s emails, internal strategy reports and other communications.”
Brent Wisner, a lawyer for Johnson, in a statement said jurors for the first time had seen internal company documents “proving that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer.” He called on Monsanto to “put consumer safety first over profits.”
Published this month in the Journal of Public Health Policy, a paper titled Roundup litigation discovery documents: implications for health and journal ethics reviews the now historical court-released discovery documents obtained both from litigation against Monsanto and through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Robert F Kennedy, Jr., a member of Johnson’s legal team, stated during the post-verdict press conference:
“We’ve passed an inflection point where the science has now accumulated despite all the efforts by Monsanto to put their finger in the dyke and to hold back the science. We’ve reached that inflection point where the science is now too persuasive to deny. This…was the first time that Monsanto has ever had to defend its science in front of an American jury.”
For years organizations like the Organic Consumers Association, The Institute for Responsible Technology and many others have been there, at each step, to chronicle the evidence and growing body of science pointing to the many dangers of glyphosate and Roundup. Only to be called conspiracy theorists, climate-change deniers, anti-science and other astroturfing terms by mainstream media and academics, the recent verdict has done much to further legitimize such grassroots and consumer-minded outlets. How far has America come since the days of Big Tobacco’s scientific fraud, regulatory capture and media manipulation? From the tranche of evidence exposed in the recent San Francisco trial it appears that Big Tobacco’s playbook and underhanded techniques were alive and well working to insulate the dangers of glyphosate and Roundup.
An issue that was spotlighted in the trial was that although glyphosate was tested for its cancer-causing properties, although even that science is in question, Monsanto’s Roundup formulation had not been.
In an internal Monsanto email from December 2010, a Monsanto chemistry regulatory affairs manager noted that “with regards to the carcinogenicity of our formulations we don’t have such testing on them directly…”
As far back as 2002, an email from a Monsanto scientist conveyed the following to a colleague: “we are in pretty good shape with glyphosate but vulnerable with surfactants. What I’ve been hearing from you is that this continues to be the case with these studies – Glyphosate is OK but the formulated product (and thus the surfactant) does the damage.”
Other emails obtained in the discovery process show, in no uncertain terms, that the Roundup formulation was not tested by Monsanto for possible carcinogenic properties. Monsanto Toxicologist Donna Farmer, PhD, when advising executives on public messaging about Roundup, wrote:
“…you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.”
Another email from Regulatory Affairs Lead at Monsanto Europe, Xavier Belvaux, corroborated:
“We do not conduct sub-chronic, chronic or terotogenicity studies with our formulations.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was also implicated in the email discovery. “If I can kill this I should get a medal,” writes EPA’s Jess Rowland, a former deputy director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs who led the cancer review for Roundup. Rowland was writing to a Monsanto regulatory affairs manager who recounted the conversation in an email to his colleagues. The company was seeking Rowland’s help stopping an investigation of glyphosate by a separate office, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, that is part of the U.S. Health and Human Service Department.
The recent verdict is igniting a wider public discussion around what else Monsanto has hidden and suppressed. Regarding the company’s glyphosate formulations, science is showing evidence that endocrine disruption, liver cancer, and other ill-health conditions could be associated with its use. Due to the sheer magnitude of glyphosate that has been used over the decades, it is now ubiquitous in our environment, being found in our bodies and in the vaccine supply. What the future holds for Monsanto, now a unit of Bayer AG, is unclear. Calls for Home Depot and Lowes to remove Roundup from their shelves are currently underway. The American people and the greater global community have just witnessed a big win for scientific transparency, the integrity of the American legal process, and for humanity itself.