U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said evidence against the former Monsanto Co, which Bayer bought last year, supported the $5.27 million in compensatory damages that a jury awarded Edwin Hardeman. He also said the jury acted reasonably in awarding punitive damages.
Agriculture conglomerate Monsanto has started contacting journalists, politicians and activists it was keeping tabs on and documenting via “watch lists," its parent company Bayer announced this week.
After three huge damage awards by Bay Area juries to cancer victims exposed to Monsanto Co. herbicides, a judge has partially granted the company's request to move the next group of federal trials out of California.
Honey bees exposed to levels of glyphosate commonly found in the environment had decreased amounts of microbiota in their gut—which leaves them prone to early death, according to a study released today.
Honey bees' health is directly tied to the helpful organisms in their gut. These "microbiota" help the bees' metabolism, weight gain and immune system. The new findings go against previous claims that glyphosate — the active ingredient in Bayer's Monsanto Roundup weedkiller — does not harm wildlife, and offers another possible clue as to why honey bee colonies are dying at an increased rate.
"Gut microbiota is involved in nutrition for bees, helping break down components of cell walls in pollen grains and protecting against different pathogens," Nancy Moran, senior author of the study and evolutionary biologist at the University of Texas, told EHN.
She and colleagues published the study today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The researchers collected hundreds of honey bees from a single hive and exposed some of them to levels of glyphosate commonly found in the environment, and then returned them to the hive. After three days, the total gut bacteria already decreased in the treated bees. When treated bees were exposed to a harmful pathogen, they were more likely to die if they had the reduced microbiota in their gut.
They repeated the experiment with other hives and bees and saw the same impacts.
More pollinator problems
The colored markings were used to track individual bees during the study. (Credit: Vivian Abagiu, The University of Texas at Austin)
It was previously thought that glyphosate was harmless to bees since it targets an enzyme usually found only in plants and microorganisms—however, bee gut bacteria contain that same enzyme, Moran said. "It's true the bee itself has no molecular targets from glyphosate but its gut bacteria do have targets," she said. "It's similar to humans taking antibiotics where there can be trouble if you upset the normal microbiota."
She said honey bees are relatives to bumble bees and share similar gut microbiota. So, glyphosate is bad for bumble bees as well.
The experiment is concerning as the value of insect pollination to U.S. farming is about $16 billion a year, and honey bee colonies — and pollinators in general — are in trouble.
A third of our food relies on pollinators, and while honey bees are one of many species that pollinate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about a 30 percent overwinter colony loss annually for honey bees over the past decade.
Over the past year, the Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit working with beekeepers, research labs and universities to better understand honey bee declines in the U.S., estimated beekeepers lost 40 percent of their managed colonies.
The culprits for the colony collapses are unclear: Researchers have previously pointed to diseases, parasites, habitat loss, pesticides, and a combination of all of these stressors.
Latest Monsanto woe
Glyphosate is the world's most heavily used herbicide. More than 3.5 billion pounds have been applied in the U.S. alone over the past four decades—two-thirds of which were applied over the past decade, according to a 2016 study.
Moran said the new study isn't enough evidence to say if glyphosate is having population level impacts on the honey bees, "but there really is a lot of [glyphosate] in both agricultural and urban areas," she said.
"At the moment, there are no guidelines that you should avoid spraying glyphosate on or near bees, since it's considered completely innocuous," she added.
The study is the latest blow to Monsanto's popular weedkiller. The company was ordered to pay a $289 million award last month to a former groundskeeper with terminal cancer who said Roundup exposure gave him the illness. The company is now fighting that ruling.
However, the agribusiness is facing an estimated 8,000 similar lawsuits.
Carey Gillam and Nathan Donley: A story behind the Monsanto cancer trial — journal sits on retraction
Consumers and journalists around the world were stunned earlier this month when Monsanto, after being forced in a court of law for the first time to defend the safety of its popular weed killer Roundup, was found liable for the terminal cancer of California groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson.
The unanimous 12-member jury found that Mr. Johnson's exposure to Monsanto's weedkiller was a "substantial" contributing factor to his disease and that there was "clear and convincing" evidence that Monsanto acted with "malice or oppression" because the risks were evident and Monsanto failed to warn of those known risks.
Aside from dueling expert testimony on both sides, the jury was provided with internal company emails and work plans indicating that Monsanto had been corrupting the scientific record by ghostwriting literature asserting safety.
As the jury's decision sets in, and thousands of additional plaintiffs who have filed similar suits wait for their day in court, it is worth taking time to understand exactly what "ghostwriting" by Monsanto means, how it has influenced, and still is influencing, material found in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
We offer this example:
When the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology (CRT) published a series of papers reviewing the carcinogenic potential of weed-killing agent glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, in September 2016, the findings were so significant that they were widely reported by media outlets around the world.
The papers, published in a special issue of CRT entitled "An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate," directly contradicted the findings of the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in 2015 found glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen. The authors of the 2016 review found that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people.
The findings were critical to Monsanto – the company was facing doubts by European regulators about allowing glyphosate to remain on the market. As well, Monsanto was facing a growing mass of lawsuits claiming its weed killer caused people to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Sixteen scientists from "four independent panels" signed their names to the published work, declaring to readers that their conclusions were free of Monsanto's intervention. Underscoring the supposed independence of the work, the declaration of interest section stated: "Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel's manuscripts prior to submission to the journal."
It has since become evident that these papers were anything but independent. Internal Monsanto documents forced into the public spotlight through litigation show that the papers were conceptualized from the outset as a deceptive strategy for Monsanto. One of Monsanto's top scientists not only reviewed the manuscripts but had a hand in drafting and editing them. The finished papers were aimed directly at discrediting IARC's classification.
In one internal email, Monsanto's chief of regulatory science, William Heydens, told the organizer of the panel: "I have gone through the entire document and indicated what I think should stay, what can go, and in a couple spots I did a little editing."
The internal documents show that Heydens even argued over statements that he wanted included but that author John Acquavella deemed "inflammatory" and "not necessary" criticisms of IARC. Draft documents show Heydens' edits contradicted Acquavella's edits even though Heydens was not supposed to have even reviewed the papers. Heydens went so far as to state: "I would ignore John's comment" and "I don't see a reason for deleting the text that John did below."
Other edits show Heydens attempting to control the tone of the manuscript, stating: "The deleted statement below has nothing to do with IARC criticism and should be put back in, John over-stepped the bounds here" and "I can live with deleting the text below, assuming that exposure text above … is added back in." He also argued for putting a deleted phrase back in because it gave "clarity about IARC's approach." "This is not inflammatory, it is descriptive," he wrote.
The importance of the papers to Monsanto as a tool to counter IARC's classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was laid out in a confidential document dated May 11, 2015, naming several of the scientists who could be used as authors to give the papers credibility. The internal documents speak of "ghost-writing" strategies aimed at using non-company scientists as authors to lend credibility to the findings.
When placed under oath in a deposition, Heydens acknowledged that the manuscripts were sent to him and he read "parts of some of them," prior to their submission to the journal. He said he did not "recall" whether or not he made the 28 edits that plaintiffs' attorneys counted in the internal records.
All of this was among the evidence presented to jurors in San Francisco Superior Court as they considered Johnson's claims. But the evidence of ghostwriting and misconduct have far broader implications than one lawsuit.
No action has been taken
How many ghostwritten papers declaring pesticide safety are littering the scientific literature? And given the evidence of misconduct in this instance, why are these papers still in publication? Why has there been no retraction, no clarification, no correction to the obviously deceptive disclosure?
Last August, after the documents gained media attention CRT editor Roger McClellan said the "serious accusations" deserved "careful investigation," and he and CRT publisher Taylor & Francis would take "appropriate action."
Shortly thereafter the Center for Biological Diversity and three other national environmental-health organizations sent a letter to CRT and Taylor & Francis detailing the ethical misconduct and formally asking for a retraction. It's been more than a year since this investigation was begun and, despite multiple follow-up requests by the organizations, no action has been taken.
With Taylor & Francis's own policy being to issue a retraction for misconduct "when there has been an infringement of publishing ethics," the case for retraction couldn't be more clear.
Monsanto's fingerprints are all over this "independent" review, as laid out in Monsanto's own internal documents.
Taylor & Francis must determine the standards to which it is willing to hold scientists who publish in its journals – if not for the reputation of the journals themselves, then for the sake of scientific integrity itself and the public's right to the truth.
Nathan Donley, Ph.D, is a former cancer researcher who now works as senior scientist in the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program.
"The series finally brought to light that we're not the only ones being impacted, that this is a serious problem across the board, and that the industry should be held accountable."
We all have a role to play in ridding our shelves of unhealthy products that are more likely to end up harming low-income families.
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