Laboratory data denying a causal connection between the herbicide Roundup and one San Francisco man’s cancer has been the focus of dispute in the Monsanto lawsuit that has now crossed into its third week.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos and the 16 person jury have heard from Monsanto scientists and lawyers as attorney Brent Wisner, representing California groundskeeper DeWayne Johnson, has argued that the agricultural bioengineering company used falsified research and failed to warn users of its herbicide’s carcinogenic impacts.

Monsanto Linked to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?

In his opening statement, Wisner described how Johnson had contacted Monsanto to ask if Roundup could be tied to Non-Hodgkin lymphoma both before and after his diagnosis of the disease which resulted in fluid-filled lesions covering 80 percent of his body. Those calls were not returned, and the information was not provided.

Johnson sued Monsanto in January 2016, claiming that Roundup caused his cancer and Monsanto did not disclose prior knowledge that herbicide was dangerous and carcinogenic.

Wisner says his client isn’t seeking a chemical ban on glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in Roundup, or products like Roundup. Instead, he is asking that the product bottle provide a warning that exposure to the herbicide may lead to conditions like his. The connection between the exposure and diagnosis is the point of contention currently being debated in court.

Glyphosate

Glyphosate is the most widely used agrochemical in history, and a key component of pest-management formula Roundup, which was introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s. In 1996, Monsanto engineered seeds that were “Roundup-ready” and resistant to the pesticide, and the two products grew exponentially in tandem for the years following. According to the US Geological Survey, more than 2.6 billion pounds of glyphosate were sprayed on agricultural land and residential yards in a twenty year period from 1992-2012.

US Geological Survey data on use of glyphosate in the United States.

This product is one of many making Monsanto’s business so financially buoyant, and so attractive to buyers like Bayer, who just finished the $63 million acquisition of Monsanto in June. Bayer announced that it plans to retire the company name Monsanto, of which many in the American public have grown suspicious.

In this case, Monsanto is being accused of developing untrustworthy toxicology research on glyphosate to clear the product for release in 1974, as well as promoting erroneous data more recently so to control their image.

Roundup advertisements at an agricultural event.

Has Monsanto Gathered Enough Evidence to Prove the Safety of Roundup?

One piece of evidence brought up by Wisner in court was an email written by Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer in 2003, in which she told a foreign distributor that the company had not gathered the necessary test data to declare that Roundup is not a carcinogen.

Wisner claims that the refusal to do so shows that Monsanto fears a link would be proven.

Monsanto attorney George Lombardi argued that Farmer’s comments were taken out of context, but defended that they were in fact true.

Lombardi argued that they aren’t required to do the testing since Roundup is a combination of glyphosate and other chemicals – something called a glyphosate formulation – rather than the one chemical alone. Because of the multiple variables and lack of specificity in the potential results, the Environmental Protection Agency had banned the testing, according to Lombardi.

Lombardi challenged Johnson’s case while on the stand, stating that the Non-Hodgkin lymphoma that Johnson is suffering from takes six years to develop. Johnson was exposed regularly for just two years before symptoms began.

“They don’t have the science to do it,” Lombardi said. “By the time Mr. Johnson’s symptoms became apparent, his cancer had been developing for years,” he said.

Glyphosate Studies Say Different Things

Although the EPA has prevented the case study testing of Roundup and other glyphosate formulations, they supported a National Cancer Institute cohort study completed in 2018 on glyphosate’s tie with cancerous tumors. This research found no tie between glyphosate use and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

This study aggregated data from the Agricultural Health Study and several federal agencies to look at long-term exposure. The results were rejected by the plaintiff and others who dispute the use of imputation in research results, which effectively estimated the cancer results of participants who dropped out of the study.

Additionally, the study did not permit those who already had cancer to participate, thereby using individuals who Wisner suggested had a “natural resistance” to the herbicide.

However, the conclusions were supported by Monsanto and Harvard cancer epidemiologist Lorelei Mucci, who testified in San Francisco to defend the conclusion that there was not substantial association proven by the limited evidence collected.

Mucci also denied Wisner’s accusation that her $100,000 paycheck from Monsanto had flawed or influenced her testimony.

Contrary to that study, however, is the World Health Organizations’ (WHO) stance on glyphosate. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is a WHO agency, published the conclusion of a year-long investigation into the link between cancer and glyphosate. That study, conducted by 17 scientists from 11 different countries, determined that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” and that there was strong evidence of a link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

EPA Collusion With Monsanto?

One of the more controversial pieces of evidence to come out so far during the case was apparent collusion between an EPA official and Monsanto to kill an EPA study of glyphosate. In one of the many documents released related to the trial, a telephone conversation that took place between a high-level Monsanto executive and an EPA official is documented.

In the conversation, the EPA official says to the Monsanto executive, “If I can kill this I should get a medal.” The EPA official was referring to an investigation that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, was looking to conduct into glyphosate and its potential adverse health effects.

The trial is expected to continue through August 10.

 

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