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Monsanto's internal communications show efforts to influence research on glyphosate

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

A California law firm has released several dozen internal documents that show that Monsanto influenced research on glyphosate, Roundup’s key ingredient.

The lawyers represent farmers who claimed in a lawsuit that exposure to Roundup caused them non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The documents posted Tuesday on the law firm's website include email and memos that contain more evidence that the company had ghostwritten research on the health effects of glyphosate. They build on other evidence a federal judge unsealed in March

“We’re hoping that by bringing the documents to the public’s awareness that they’ll be able to review them and researchers will be able to use them and hopefully, we’ll have a better knowledge of the science behind the product to make sure that people’s health is protected,” said Brent Wisner, a partner at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman.

In a series of emails that took place in 2015, former Monsanto consultant John Acquavella wrote, "We call that ghost writing and it is unethical" and "I can’t be a part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication." 

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy denies that the company influenced research on Roundup.

“There was no ghostwriting,” Partridge said. “Monsanto provided data and assisted with edits on technical issues. But the conclusions and opinions expressed in those papers are those of the authors.”

Partridge added that “there has never been a finding that glyphosate has caused cancer in the real world.” He referred to a 2013 paper by the U.S. Agricultural Health Study that showed no link between glyphosate and cancer among a large number of farmers. The study was not published but was reviewed by a member of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which concluded that glyphosate was a “probable carcinogen.”

Another batch of emails between various Monsanto personnel indicates how involved company officials were in defending the safety of Roundup. They sought retraction of a study by Gilles-Eric Seralini on the toxicity of glyphosate. Email revealed a close relationship between Monsanto scientist David Saltmiras and the editor of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, where the study was published.

Arthur Elkins, inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency, is also investigating possible illegal collusion between the EPA and Monsanto, which has been suggested in the internal communications. The EPA issued a report last fall that concluded that glyphosate isn’t likely to cause cancer.

Partridge called the law firm’s posting of the internal documents “unethical” and said the lawyers violated court orders in making them public. Baum Hedlund challenged the protection of the documents at the end of June and said that Monsanto’s lawyers missed a July 31 deadline to file a motion to keep the internal communications confidential. 

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.