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For decades, gardeners, groundskeepers and farmers believed Roundup was safe to use without protective equipment. This glyphosate-based weed killer seemed like a miracle product, controlling overgrowth and protecting crops.
Yet, studies from nearly 20 years ago found a correlation between repeat exposure and the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). More recently, those who have been diagnosed with NHL have started pursuing manufacturer Monsanto, alleging the product played a significant role in their rapidly deteriorating condition. Monsanto has stood by research claiming the correlation is not as strong as it appears. As more and more of these claims go to trial, Monsanto’s own evidence appears as a series of doctored studies, ghostwritten scientific articles and biased press coverage.
In the 1970s, Monsanto introduced Roundup, an herbicide that kills off weeds without damaging crops. Directions suggested the product was safe for weekly – if not daily – application without the use of protective gear. Over the next few decades, it became the world’s most popular herbicide for its ease of use and supposed safety.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once classified Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, as a Group C chemical. This is a possible carcinogen to humans, based on studies showing a higher incidence of cancer in mice exposed to this substance. Classification changed in the early 1990s. The EPA re-examined its data to reclassify glyphosate as a Group E chemical, a lesser distinction reserved for substances that aren’t known to cause cancer in humans and animals. Around the same time, Monsanto introduced its Roundup Ready Seeds. Currently, the World Health Organization still classifies glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
Lawsuits Concerning Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Lawsuits addressed Monsanto’s questionable advertising as far back as the 1990s, but plaintiffs have only filed claims concerning its role in the development of NHL over the past few years:
- After a California farmer died from complications related to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015, his widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Monsanto and Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., alleging the company downplays glyphosate’s role in developing cancer symptoms. Particularly, the plaintiff questioned Monsanto’s claim that Roundup targets an enzyme not found in people or pets – even though the enzyme is present in human gut bacteria.
- Six individuals filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto, also regarding the company’s claims that Roundup only goes after enzymes found in plants.
- In 2019 alone, Monsanto paid out separate claims for $80 million and $289 million. In one case, the plaintiff developed NHL after years using Roundup. In the other, a groundskeeper regularly exposed to Roundup was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
- In May 2019, a court in Oakland, Calif., ruled in favor of the plaintiff, requiring Monsanto to pay a couple with cancer $2 billion, including $1 billion in punitive damages. The couple started using Roundup in the ‘70s and didn’t stop until a few years ago.
As of 2019, more than 13,000 individuals have filed similar lawsuits against Monsanto, claiming the company downplayed or outright obscured Roundup’s significant risks. Gordon v. Monsanto, filed in 2017 and encompassing 75 plaintiffs, is scheduled for August in St. Louis, where Monsanto’s headquarters is located. Of all pending claims, it’s the first group to go to trial. Others are being transferred to federal court in San Francisco. To settle the large number of pending cases, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has suggested mediation to Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer.
Claims have also extended over border into Canada. A claim against Monsanto and Bayer concerning an affected farmer in Saskatchewan reflects many of the arguments already heard in the United States.
At trial, Bayer continues to emphasize that no valid link exists between Roundup and cancer causation. Likely a result of pending litigation, Bayer – which acquired Monsanto in 2018 – saw its stock price drop as much as 40 percent.
Years of Deception
Recent court documents show a pattern of ghostwritten scientific articles released over the past 20 years, but Monsanto likely started its campaign in the ‘70s. At that point, they had Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories (IBT) conduct 30 studies concerning Roundup’s toxicity levels. Later, they used much of this data to sway the EPA’s classification.
In 1976, the FDA noticed some inconsistencies concerning IBT’s data and the EPA’s reports. An audit later found that IBT falsified significant portions of its data.
By the mid-‘90s, the New York Attorney General targeted Roundup’s advertising, which claimed the product was “safer than table salt” and “practically non-toxic” to mammals. As a result, Monsanto changed its advertising solely in the state of New York but continued to use these claims in other states.
At the recent group of trials, attorneys presented evidence that Monsanto intentionally hid glyphosate’s risks for years. Specifically, company communication indicated:
- Even though Monsanto knew the surfactants in Roundup made the product more toxic, the company never conducted epidemiology studies to evaluate its cancer risks.
- The company conducted a multi-million-dollar public relations campaign involving multiple press articles and ghostwritten scientific studies meant to discredit independent scientific research. Monsanto then rewarded the participating employees.
- Monsanto regularly worked with the EPA to ensure glyphosate appeared safe and, in 2015, even had the organization delay the chemical’s review by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
- Internal workers were given specific safety recommendations – particularly, wear full protective gear when applying glyphosate-based products – but these directions never made it to product packaging.
Inconsistencies regarding who authored scientific articles about glyphosate’s safety as an herbicide date back to 1999. Based on internal communication, Monsanto’s scientists worked to put together an article for a scientific journal, but the finished product listed Gary Williams, Robert Kroes and Ian Munro as authors – all independent scientists with no connection to Monsanto. The company aimed to make this research the definitive source on glyphosate’s safety – one Monsanto would reference as an independent study supporting their claims.
This paper was not an isolated incident; their campaign of ghostwriting scientific articles to contradict independent claims continued through the next two decades:
- A 2017 Agricultural Health Study (AHS) went through a rapid-fire peer review and was published close to when Monsanto was to face its current group of cases. Internal communication indicates the company considered an AHS study back in 2015.
- Williams – one of the scientists involved in the 2000 paper – allegedly reached out to Monsanto in 2015 regarding a similar arrangement, suggesting the company pay third-party, unaffiliated scientists to sign their names on the research.
- A company scientist put together a scientific paper about the effects of genetically engineered crops when consumed by animals and sought out a co-author or ghostwriter to get it published.
In the Press
Aside from skewed scientific research, Monsanto worked with the press to discredit multiple independent studies, including the 2015 research published by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Particularly, the company gave talking points and specific wording to a Reuters reporter, who then submitted her drafts to them for approval. The article, which claimed rats showed no adverse reaction when exposed to glyphosate at human-comparable rates, was then published in April 2017 as “New study on Monsanto weed killer to feed into crucial EU vote.”
In June 2017, the same reporter claimed “court documents” as a source when, in fact, Monsanto supplied the research. Later, paid Google ads promoted the same Reuters stories – also picked up by global news sources – in the San Francisco area.
Within their $17 million press campaign, Monsanto also published articles supposedly written by Stanford University’s Henry Miller through Forbes’ contributor platform. The company put together multiple Op Eds critical of IARC and sent them to scientists for possible publication.
As the largest target of Monsanto’s efforts, a 2015 IARC study found that glyphosate has potential to cause cancer in lab animals and damage human DNA cells. In turn, this may cause users exposed through skin contact or inhalation to develop NHL and could even result in chromosomal damage, leading to birth defects. IARC pulled its data from existing studies on occupational exposure in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
Aside from this research, other studies back these findings:
- According to a 2003 study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, U.S. farmworkers have a 60-percent greater chance of developing NHL.
- In 2008, a Swedish study published in International Journal of Cancer found that men exposed to glyphosate have twice the risk of developing NHL.
- In 2011, a study in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers noted a correlation between chances of developing NHL and the amount of Roundup used.
- In 2014, the Journal of Environmental & Analytical Toxicology published a study showing that chronically ill individuals have elevated levels of glyphosate in their urine, compared to the general population.
- In 2019, a study examining 300,000 farmworkers in the U.S., Norway, and France found that farmers who use certain glyphosate-based insecticides have a higher risk of developing NHL, particularly diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
Did you develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of Roundup usage, either on the job or at home? As more and more evidence against Monsanto’s decades-long effort to distort data and mislead the public comes to light, it’s time to hold the company responsible.