They’re going for a knockout and jackpot on a farm chemical, a corporation – and science
Guest essay by Paul Driessen
Legal and scientific ethics seem to have become irrelevant, as anti-chemical agitators, regulators and trial lawyers team up on numerous lawsuits against Monsanto. They’re seeking tens of billions of dollars in jackpot justice, by claiming a chemical in the company’s popular weed killer RoundUp causes cancer.
A key basis for the legal actions is a March 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer ruling that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen.” A previously little known agency in the World Health Organization (WHO), IARC has gained infamy in recent years – as critics slammed it for manipulating data and altering or deleting scientific conclusions to advance extreme anti-chemical policy agendas.
Although it is funded by US and European taxpayers – and is at the forefront of controversial policy, legal and regulatory actions – IARC insists that its deliberations, emails, draft reports and all other materials are its private property. Therefore, the agency claims, they are exempt from FOIA requests and even US congressional inquiries. IARC stonewalls all inquiries and advises its staff to talk to no one.
Its 2015 ruling became the primary justification for California listing glyphosate as carcinogenic under Proposition 65, a European Parliament vote to ban the chemical, and a European Commission committee proposal to give it only a five-year extension for further use in the EU. These actions, in turn, have given trial lawyers the ammo they need for their lawsuits – and other legal actions they are already preparing.
Glyphosate is an herbicide. It kills weeds. Used in conjunction with genetically modified RoundUp-Ready crops, it enables farmers to practice no-till farming – wherein a couple of soil spray treatments eliminate the need to till cropland to control weeds. That preserves soil structure and organisms, moisture, organic matter and nutrients; improves drainage and soil biodiversity; reduces erosion; and permits the high-yield farming humanity must practice if we are to feed Earth’s growing populations without having to plow under millions more acres of wildlife habitat. It also reduces labor and tractor fuel consumption.
Banning it just in Britain would cost the UK $1.2 billion a year in reduced crop yields and farm incomes.
Moreover, as UK science writer Matt Ridley points out, coffee is more carcinogenic than glyphosate. So are numerous other foods and beverages that we consume every day, adds cancer expert Bruce Ames. Of all dietary pesticides that humans ingest, 99.99% are natural, Ames notes; they are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves against fungi, viruses, insects and other predators.
Indeed, every other regulatory agency and reputable scientific body, going back some 40 years, have universally found that this RoundUp chemical does not cause cancer! The European Food Safety Authority, European Chemicals Agency, German Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), US Environmental Protection Agency and even other WHO experts have all studied glyphosate carefully. They have all said it is safe, non-carcinogenic or “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.”
And yet IARC villainizes glyphosate. In a way, that’s not surprising. Out of 900 chemicals the agency reviewed since it was formed, it found only one was not carcinogenic. Many other chemicals, and even GMO foods, may soon be branded the same way, especially now that America’s tort industry senses more jackpots from “cooperating closely” with IARC and putting more agency advisors on its payroll.
The latest tactic is to claim the chemical is being detected in some foods and in people’s urine. We can detect parts per trillion! (1 ppt is two teaspoons in 660 million gallons.) But where does actual riskbegin?
And how did IARC reach conclusions so completely different from nearly every other expert worldwide, whose studies confirmed glyphosate poses no cancer risk? That’s where this story gets really interesting.
IARC is linked inextricably to Linda Birnbaum’s National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, which gets millions in US taxpayer money. The NIEHS funds and works with Italy’s junk-science factory, the Ramazzini Institute, and is allied with radical elements in US and EU government agencies. One of the most prominent and recurrent names on the list is Dr. Christopher Portier.
According to investigative journalists David Zaruk (Risk-Monger) and Kate Kelland (Reuters), Portier worked for years with Birnbaum at the NIEHS. He has also been a principal US government liaison to IARC, was paid as its only “consulting expert” on the working group that demonized glyphosate as carcinogenic, and did so while also being paid by the US National Institutes for Health – and while simultaneously being paid by the rabidly anti-pesticide group Environmental Defense. Portier has also received over $160,000 as a consultant to law firms that are suing Monsanto and other companies!
Equally outrageous, Portier admitted that, before he was hired as an “expert” on IARC’s glyphosate panel, he “had not looked at” any of the scientific evidence and had no experience with the chemical. He signed his lucrative deal with the lawyers within a week of finishing his work on the panel – but later admitted that he had been working with them for two months: while he was consulting for IARC!
Portier, IARC and the predatory lawyers all worked diligently to keep these arrangements – and major conflicts of interest – a secret. As Ms. Kelland explained in another article, IARC was equally diligent in securing a “guilty verdict” on glyphosate – by ignoring or altering multiple studies and conclusions that exonerated the chemical. That scientific and prosecutorial misconduct was revealed when Kelland compared IARC’s draft and final report, and found numerous indefensible changes and deletions.
In multiple instances, she discovered, the IARC panel simply removed scientists’ conclusions that their studies had found no link between glyphosate and cancer in laboratory animals. In others, the panel inserted a brand new statistical analysis, “effectively reversing” a study’s original finding. Other times, it surreptitiously changed critical language after scientists had agreed to earlier language that made precisely the opposite point from what appeared in the final Monograph 112 report on glyphosate.
One animal pathology report relied on by the US EPA clearly and unequivocally stated that its authors “firmly” and “unanimously” agreed that glyphosate had not caused abnormal growths in mice they had studied. The published IARC monograph simply deleted the sentence.
Overall, Reuters found ten significant changes between the critical draft chapter on animal studies and IARC’s final published monograph. Every one of them either deleted key statements that the Monsanto chemical did not cause tumors, replaced them with assertions that it did cause tumors, or (six times) claimed IARC “was not able to evaluate” a study because of “limited experimental data” included in it.
In addition, IARC panelist Charles Jameson said another study was excluded because “the amount of data in the tables was overwhelming,” and possibly because it may have been submitted an hour late. Dr. Jameson also claimed he didn’t know when, why or by whom any of the changes had been made.
Zaruk’s meticulous and eye-opening analysis of IARC’s swampy, shoddy, deceptive practices, collusion with anti-chemical zealots, blatant conflicts of interest – and six reasons why agency director Christopher Wild should be fired – is must reading for anyone concerned about cancer research and scientific integrity. His discussion of “hazard” versus “risk” assessment is particularly enlightening and valuable.
Many would call this saga blatant corruption, manipulation and fraud. All funded by our tax dollars! It is uncomfortably similar to what we have seen over the years with IPCC and other work on climate change.
The lawyers hope that years of anti-chemical activism, carefully stoked public fears, doctored studies and silencing or marginalizing of contrary voices will bring them a huge jury jackpot – akin to what their brethren recently received in an absurd talcum-powder-causes-cancer case (which was also based on IARC pseudo-science), before the suspect evidence, verdict and award were tossed out on appeal.
It’s likely that the EU and WHO will do little or nothing about this cesspool. Thankfully, the US Congress, particularly Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Lamar Smith (R-TX), is digging into it. We can only hope that they and their committees will issue and, more importantly, enforce subpoenas. If Portier and other IARC staffers, panelists and hired guns refuse to comply, Chaffetz and Smith (and judges in the Monsanto cases) should arrest and jail them, until they open their mouths, books and deliberations.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of books and articles on energy and environmental policy.