After a California jury found Monsanto culpable in Dewayne Johnson’s non-Hodgkin's lymphoma last month month, lawsuits against the company swelled from 5,200 to 8,000. People like Dewayne who were harmed by Roundup will likely see some justice in the months and years ahead, but their suffering could have been avoided if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had fulfilled its duty to serve the American people.
For years, Monsanto has used the playbook of the tobacco and fossil fuel industries: fabricate false data and wage smear campaigns to conceal the dangers of your product. With $15 billion in sales every year, they had the resources to spare.
Hundreds of internal Monsanto documents recently released by the University of California San Francisco reveal the deep and longstanding ties Monsanto had to many paid academics. They show that Monsanto paid them to run articles advantageous to the company in academic journals, helped internet trolls leave comments on news articles and social media posts, and sent threatening letters to career scientists who disagreed with them.
These tactics worked on the federal government too. Monsanto was in regular communication with several industry-favoring EPA staffers who appear to have influenced the agency’s decision in 2017 to declare that glyphosate posed no cancer risk. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was also known to hold friendly meetings with industry CEOs, hire chemical lobbyists to fill key roles in the agency, and deny bans on other dangerous pesticides dicamba and chlorpyrifos (a decision later overturned in another courtroom).
But EPA’s ruling stood in contrast to that of another agency: the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In 2015, they deemed glyphosate a probable carcinogen and governments with robust chemical safety mandates began passing laws to protect their citizens. France, Italy, and Germany (the home of Monsanto’s new parent company Bayer) announced they’d be phasing out the chemical. California recently decided to apply a warning label to the product.
Another federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration, has also found traces of glyphosate in all kinds of foods and drinks from cereal and honey, to beer and wine. Since the advent of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” seeds in 1996, glyphosate use has risen globally almost 15-fold. As a result, levels of glyphosate in our bodies are also increasing.
The Monsanto trial is simply the latest and starkest example of our broken chemical regulation process. For decades, companies like Monsanto have been allowed to pollute the system tasked with protecting our environment and public health. We must demand a better EPA, one that protects scientific integrity, enshrines the precautionary principle in its work, and keeps chemicals like glyphosate out of our food and bodies.