Lawyers in a high-profile lawsuit in California say U.S. agri-giant Monsanto asked the court to ignore relevant scientific data and discounted reliable studies as a way of covering up the health effects associated with glyphosate, the main ingredient in its flagship herbicide.
The accusations against Monsanto were filed to Judge Vince Chhabria of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, as he reviews all of the scientific evidence in a lawsuit brought by farmers who say Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup gave them cancer.
Chhabria’s decision on whether there is enough scientific evidence to find a link between cancer and glyphosate will determine whether the case warrants a full trial, potentially opening Monsanto up to having to pay millions of dollars in compensation.
“There is overwhelming evidence — whether it be the epidemiology, toxicology or mechanistic data — that exposure to glyphosate-based formulations causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” plaintiff lawyers told the court in a response to claims from Monsanto they had failed to prove any link between glyphosate and cancer.
“Monsanto has alternatively disparaged or praised the study, depending on how it affects the viability of its products” — Plaintiff lawyers
Developments in the case are being watched carefully in Europe, where experts are due to gather November 9 in Brussels to vote on a new European Commission proposal to renew glyphosate’s license for use in the EU for five years. France argues that glyphosate should be phased out, while Germany pitched extending glyphosate’s license for as little as three years despite numerous regulatory bodies saying the substance is safe.
Using guidance from eight scientific experts — including Christopher Portier, who contributed to a critical opinion from an arm of the World Health Organization on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate — the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the California case said Monsanto unjustly asked the court to “ignore dozens of positive findings” linking glyphosate to cancer.
They also argue that Monsanto relies way too heavily on one study “that was flawed from its inception,” according to a copy of the response filed with the court on October 27 and obtained by POLITICO.
That study — the Agricultural Health Study — looked at the effects of multiple pesticides, including glyphosate, on 89,000 farmers and their spouses in Iowa and North Carolina. It found that exposure to glyphosate was not associated with increased cancer incidence.
Plaintiffs told the judge, however, that the study’s value is “limited due to numerous design flaws.” The lawyers added: “Monsanto has alternatively disparaged or praised the study, depending on how it affects the viability of its products.”
A letter sent Tuesday to the Commission, the European Parliament and governments in the EU from Michael Baum, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, also points out that Beate Ritz, chair of the epidemiology department at the University of California, found that out of 32 epidemiology studies looking at the link between glyphosate and cancer, 28 showed a higher risk for people exposed to the substance.
Farmers are alleging that Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup gave them cancer | Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images
A spokesperson for Monsanto, in response to questions about the accusations, said the company would respond to the plaintiffs before all sides go to court on December 11. The spokesperson also pointed to the company’s original brief to the court, in which Monsanto argued the plaintiffs’ lawyers have failed to prove general causation between glyphosate and cancer.
That document, seen by POLITICO, says the Agricultural Health Study report criticized by plaintiff lawyers included data from the most highly exposed populations in the agriculture sector.
Although a decision in the case on whether there is enough scientific evidence to prove causality between glyphosate and cancer is not due until early next year, noise from the drama has attracted ample attention in Brussels. Court documents from the suit, which have become known as the Monsanto Papers, show a 2015 email from William F. Heydens, a Monsanto executive, in which he is cited telling other Monsanto officials to “ghostwrite” research on glyphosate by hiring academics to put their names on papers actually written by Monsanto.
Although Monsanto has said its scientists did not ghostwrite the paper in question, lawmakers in the socialist group in the Parliament have asked for an official EU inquiry into the influence Monsanto has exerted over the regulatory process for pesticides in the EU.