Glyphosate – Monsanto reaps what it sows in legal case

BY PETER EWART

Special to the News

It is an astounding settlement in California.  $289 million was awarded in damages to a school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, who argued that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused him to develop terminal lymphoma cancer covering 80% of his body in lesions.  Mr. Johnson applied the glyphosate herbicide up to 30 times a year and, on two occasions, was inadvertently doused with the product (1). 

In the trial proceedings leading up to the verdict, much damning evidence emerged.  Mr. Johnson’s lawyer argued that the Monsanto corporation knew of the carcinogenic dangers of glyphosate but chose to ignore and cover this information up.  For example, internal emails of the corporation show that Monsanto employees were asked to “ghost write” research studies for scientific publications claiming that glyphosate was safe and then present them as “independent” analysis.  All of this was despite the World Health Organization’s finding that the herbicide was “probably carcinogenic.”

In another incident, an academic who actively promoted the use of genetically modified crops asked Monsanto to draft an article for the Forbes website under his name.  After this revelation emerged, Forbes severed its arrangements with the academic, on the grounds that he had violated its conflict of interest policy.

One Monsanto executive recommended in an email that Monsanto hire academics who would agree to be a part of “ghost writing” by the corporations.  “They [the academics] would just edit & sign their names so to speak,” he said. 

Documents also came to light that a former editor of the journal “Food and Chemical Toxicology”, A. Wallace Hayes, had a contractual relationship with Monsanto.  In his capacity as editor, Hayes “retracted a key study damaging to Monsanto that found that Roundup, and genetically modified corn, could cause cancer and early death in rats” (2).  However, Hayes claims that, at that time, he was not under contract with Monsanto and was only paid after he left the journal.

Court records also show that a top US government E.P.A. official collaborated with Monsanto to stop a review of glyphosate.  “If I can kill this,” he said, “I should get a medal.”

Other damaging internal emails from Monsanto officials also came to light.  In one email a Monsanto scientist comments that “If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react – with serious concern.”  A Monsanto executive said in a 2002 email that glyphosate was okay but that other ingredients did “the damage.”  And in a 2003 email, another executive wrote: “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.”

For its part, Monsanto was said to be outraged that these internal documents came to light in the court case.  They were apparently released by another law firm involved in the proceedings.  One of the partners in the firm noted that “clearly Monsanto’s lawyers made a mistake.  They didn’t properly take action to preserve the confidentiality of these documents.”

Literally thousands of other court cases against Monsanto are pending in various courts and jurisdictions across the US.  Indeed, all over the world action of one kind or another is being taken.  In India, the Andhra Pradesh government is restricting the use of glyphosate in agriculture.  And in Britain, DIY, Britain’s biggest home improvement chain, is “considering dropping Monsanto’s Roundup line of weedkiller products amid growing concern over their use” (3).

As discussed in the previous article in PG Daily News, “Death from the sky in Northern BC,” glyphosate is used on a massive scale in forestry operations in the Central Interior region and other parts of the province with between 10,000 to 20,000 hectares of forest sprayed each year.  How long will this practice continue unabated especially as more damning information about this chemical comes to light?

Peter Ewart is a writer and columnist based in Prince George, BC.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

  1. “Mosanto slammed with $289 million verdict in historic ‘RoundUp’ Cancer lawsuit.” Zero Hedge.  August 8, 2018.
  2. Hakim, Danny. “Monsanto emails raise issue of influencing research on Roundup Weed Killer.” August 1, 2017.  New York Times.
  3. “Britain’s biggest home improvement chain may dump Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’ after cancer lawsuit.” August 13, 2018.