Monsanto calls for investigation into WHO agency for ignoring scientific studies
Monsanto is fighting an assessment from the World Health Organization (WHO) that classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s non-selective herbicide Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
As a result, the state of California announced in June that Monsanto will be required to put a label on its products that warns customers if it contains cancer-causing chemicals.
So far, more than 900 people who have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the US have sued Monsanto, seeking compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death and personal injuries based on the WHO assessment, according to Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in the case.
However, St. Louis-based Monsanto is fighting back, arguing that the IARC was an “outlier” in finding a link between glyphosate and cancer.
In May, Charles William Jameson, a scientist who sat on the IARC’s Monograph working group that evaluated glyphosate, was questioned by lawyers representing Monsanto. According to his deposition, Jameson said that he never received nor consulted data from the two studies that found no link between glyphosate and cancer.
First, Monsanto argues that IARC did not consider a study from Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which concluded in 2015 that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.”
The agro-business giant also said IARC disregarded another study from German scientist Helmut Greim, who evaluated 14 separate carcinogenicity studies on rats and mice, and found that “glyphosate's carcinogenic potential is extremely low or non-existent.”
Jameson said he did not receive the data from the BfR study at all and only received Greim’s study when he arrived at the working group.
“I did not see the Greim paper until I got to the IARC meeting,” Jameson said in the deposition.
“There was a lot of discussion around the table about if this publication should be even looked at, because it was not received in the time identified in the announcement for submission of data that IARC had for this particular monograph meeting.”
Jameson said that the amount of data in the Greim study was “overwhelming” and they would not have been able to review it during the meeting. However, he agreed that the information in the study was “relevant to the question of whether glyphosate can cause cancer in animals.”
According to Politico, the IARC received data from the BfR a month before they began their assessment. They also claim that the IARC received the full set of data from Greim’s peer-reviewed study in February, a month before the working group made its conclusion.
The IARC told Politico that any data was not withheld from Jameson and all data it receives is distributed “via shared electronic resources, to which the entire Working Group has simultaneous access.”
Ivan Rusyn, another member of the IARC working group, said he did receive Greim’s study, but told the IARC in an email that the data “fell in a pretty wide gray zone,” since it did not contain certain data.
“This is an interesting polemical piece,” Rusyn told Politico. “It does not surprise me that when under pressure the industry can ‘muster’ a relevant publication that goes from submission to acceptance in as little as 7 weeks.”\
In response, Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of strategy, told Politico that there needs to be an external investigation into the IARC, which he said “was corrupted apparently with individuals who have an agenda.”
“When an organization such as IARC is given authority, with that comes a responsibility … to be objective, transparent, thorough and fair,” Partridge told Politico in an interview. “IARC has violated each and every one of those responsibilities and that should be troubling to anyone who is interested in preserving sound science.”
In a Thursday press release, Cal Dooley, the president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), said that the IARC working group “intentionally omitted” the data from the two studies.
“This information could have significantly influenced the findings of the Monograph working group, making it more likely that IARC would have concluded that glyphosate is safe, as has every other regulatory body that has evaluated the substance,” Dooley said.
Dooley also urged Congress to investigate the IARC, which he said, “suffers from a lack of transparency, conflicts of interest, and is beholden to the agenda of those seeking specific outcomes.”
Glyphosate's license for use in the European agriculture sector is set to expire by the end of 2017.