Last week, a federal judge unsealed court documents pertaining to a lawsuit brought against Monsanto by users of the company’s weedkiller Roundup who have since developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The documents contain internal emails and memos from Monsanto, spelling out the company’s strategy to manipulate the science around Roundup—including pressuring top EPA officials in charge of the agency’s cancer assessment of its active ingredient, glyphosate.
In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Internal emails from Monsanto the following month discuss strategies for dealing with the “fallout” of this damning determination. One suggestion from the company: talk to EPA to see what could help them “defend the situation.” One Monsanto employee recommended reaching out to Jess Rowland, a former official in the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, who formally chaired the agency’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee and thus oversaw the agency’s glyphosate assessment, who would give them “straight talk.”
The very next day, Rowland reportedly called a Monsanto employee “out of the blue” to reassure him that the EPA had enough to “sustain our conclusions.” Additionally, Rowland offered to contact someone in the Department of Health and Human Services, which was considering undertaking its own glyphosate assessment. Rowland brags that he “should get a medal” if he’s able to convince them to “kill” the idea. The Monsanto employee concludes: “It’s good to know they [the EPA] are going to actually make the effort now to coordinate due to our pressing.”
You heard that right: The EPA official overseeing the glyphosate cancer assessment contacted a Monsanto employee to reassure him that EPA had enough data to defend the company’s conclusions about glyphosate’s cancer potential. This implies that EPA worked to support a conclusion that favored industry—and strong-armed another agency into not conducting its own assessment.
This isn’t the only documented case of Rowland providing unsolicited information to Monsanto. According to another email, Rowland gave Monsanto a heads-up about the WHO’s classification of glyphosate a few days before it was officially released. Rowland learned this in a meeting with WHO and offered it to Monsanto during a call, even though the subject was not even on the agenda. Monsanto employees were shocked that he leaked this information, assuming it was embargoed, to which Rowland responded that he “was not told to keep the information embargoed.”
Rowland was placed on administrative leave in May 2016 and has since retired. This was shortly after the bizarre posting and then retracting of a draft of the glyphosate cancer assessment that was stamped “FINAL.” EPA said it was a mistake, but it didn’t stop Monsanto from broadcasting the assessment’s conclusions that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer.
Rowland’s actions are disgraceful and confirm our fears: that EPA is conducting its assessment with the pesticide industry’s—not the public’s—best interest in mind. It is no surprise that the EPA’s final draft released last fall gave glyphosate the lowest cancer classification: “Not Likely to be Carcinogenic to Humans.”
Also last week, the EPA released the Scientific Advisory Panel’s review of EPA’s glyphosate assessment. The panelists are split over its methodologies and conclusions. However, they made the startling conclusion that the EPA did not follow its own guidelines for undertaking cancer assessments.
Given these damning new documents and the Scientific Advisory’s Panel’s criticisms of the review, the EPA must reject its finding that glyphosate does not cause cancer. Instead, the agency must conduct a review using only publicly-available, peer-reviewed studies on whole Roundup formulations (not just the active ingredient glyphosate), follow their own cancer assessment guidelines, and, most importantly, not allow Monsanto to interfere in the process.