Roundup is popular herbicide sold in hardware stores throughout North America. It’s also used extensively in the agricultural industry. It’s made by agrichemical giant Monsanto. However, it has a dirty secret.
Just ask Christine Sheppard, who has had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the last 12 years. She now takes expensive medication every four hours to manage her extreme pain (1).
Sheppard, who ran a coffee farm in Hawaii, used Roundup for years one of more than 800 cancer patients currently suing Monsanto. That’s because researchers have found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
Sheppard and other plaintiffs argue that Monsanto never warned consumers about the risk of cancer and covered up studies that confirmed the correlation between their products and disease.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer first labeled glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in March 2015. Specifically, the report stated, “The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the USA, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001. In addition, there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals.” (2)
That was the tipping point that got the plaintiffs their day in court.
Taking Monsanto to Court
Timothy Litzenburg is the lawyer currently representing more than 500 of the plaintiffs. He argues that most of them didn’t know of the possible link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma until the report came out.
So why aren’t other companies that use glyphosate being sued?
Litzburg explains: “This is an oversimplistic answer, but Monsanto invented/discovered it, they held the patent for many years, they are the EPA registrant for glyphosate, and they continue to dominate the market. Furthermore, we are not alleging that our clients got cancer from glyphosate alone. We are suing because our clients got cancer from Roundup. … Roundup contains animal fats and other ingredients that increase the carcinogenicity of the glyphosate. Glyphosate alone is carcinogenic, but the addition of a surfactant has a ‘synergistic’ effect.”
Monsanto, of course, continues to deny the connection between glyphosate and cancer, stating “Glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup-brand formulated products with surfactants, all have a long history of safe use and do not pose any unreasonable risk to human health when used according to label directions.”
They insist that the IRAC’s report failed to “establish a link between glyphosate and an increase in cancer.” In their eyes, the lawsuits have no merit. Yet, they have gone above and beyond to defend their products.
William F. Heydens, a Monsanto executive, responded to the IARC’s report by sending an internal email to company toxicologist Donna Farmer with the subject line “RE: IARC planning”.
In the email, he suggested ghostwriting parts of an “overall plausibility paper” to save money. Also, he said a “less expensive/more palatable approach” could involve experts only for some of the less controversial parts of the report. Then, Monsanto would “ghost-write the Exposure Tox & Genetox sections.”
Trudo Lemmens, a University of Toronto professor who specializes in health law warns that ghostwriting is a common problem in studies and reviews because “It undermines the entire trust we have in the scientific basis of reports written by experts if we allow them to be ghostwritten and if scientists put their names on it.” For their part, Monsanto claims the email doesn’t prove anything and that “The paper and its conclusions are the work of the glyphosate expert panel. The paper also underwent (a) rigorous peer review process before it was published.”
To read the emails in question, click the links below:
- WILLIAM HEYDENS’ FEBRUARY 19, 2015 EMAIL(p. 220)
- WILLIAM HEYDENS ON ‘IARC FALLOUT’(p. 103)
- DAN JENKINS – “STRAIGHT TALK” FROM EPA OFFICIAL(p. 103)
- ” ‘IF I CAN KILL THIS I SHOULD GET A MEDAL’ “(p. 102)
- View the entire document withDocumentCloud
In the meantime, the plaintiffs continue to suffer from their illnesses and hope for justice. Sheppard and her husband had to sell their farm and make the move from Hawaii to California to get better access to cancer treatment.They’ve burned through their saving to pay her medical bills.
When Sheppard got too sick she and her husband had to sell their coffee farm and move from Hawaii to California to get better access to cancer treatment. They have also had to deplete her 401(k) to pay for medical bills.
As for her opinion on Monsanto, she says, “They didn’t take away my life, thank goodness, but they took away our dreams, our savings.”