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The Monsanto Empire Strikes Back: Defending Glyphosate in the Face of Evidence of its Carcinogenicity

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer released its findings indicating that glyphosate, the active chemical ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup, was “a likely carcinogen.” Since then, Monsanto, in a battle to protect its considerable profits as well as control over the world's seeds, has launched an all-out war aimed at discrediting those findings.

Recently, details of the Monsanto Empire's strategy have been revealed in a series of internal company email messages. Those emails have provided damning evidence supporting plaintiffs' allegations that Monsanto executives conspired with EPA officials to minimize and even dismiss the risks glyphosate poses to human health.

These emailed messages have been released in the course of the discovery process in a major lawsuit against Monsanto. They document how the company recruited its own “biostitutes” – supposedly “independent” scientists who were hired to lend their names and credibility to reports on the “safety” of glyphosate.

One of the emails, authored by Dr. William Heydens, a toxicologist working at Monsanto, suggested that the company simply write its own paper and have their hired “experts” sign off on it. The email said that Monsanto “would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak.” He added that Monsanto had done this with an previous paper, which was published in 2000. While that paper did acknowledge the company's contributions in bringing the data together, no-one at Monsanto was listed as a co-author.

In addition to revelations that Monsanto was authoring its own “research” on glyphosate safety, the emails also indicate a cozy relationship between the company and then-EPA Deputy Director Jess Rowland, described by a federal judge as “highly suspicious.” In 2015, Rowland was in charge of evaluating glyphosate's carcinogenicity. In one email, he bragged about shutting down another investigation into the dangers of Roundup: “If I can kill this I should get a medal.” In yet another email from September of that year, a Monsanto executive wrote that “Jess [Rowland] will be retiring from the EPA in 5 – 6 months and could be useful as we move forward with the ongoing glyphosate defense.”

Monsanto's skullduggery with the EPA appears to have paid off, for now. Last fall, despite strong scientific evidence to the contrary, the EPA published a report concluding that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” Monsanto has apparently been busy in Europe and at the United Nations as well. The European Food Safety Authority has decided that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans,” while the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization now says that “glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures.”

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