Documents released yesterday in a lawsuit against Monsanto have resulted in new questions about the company’s efforts to influence the news media and scientific research and revealed internal debate over the safety of its highest-profile product, the weed killer Roundup.
As the New York Times notes today, new internal emails, among other things, reveal ethical objections from former employees to “ghost writing” research studies that were pawned off as ‘independent’ analyses.
The documents underscore the lengths to which the agrochemical company goes to protect its image. Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015. Mr. Miller could not be reached for comment.
A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express discomfort with the process, writing in a 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, “I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication.” He also said of the way the company was trying to present the authorship: “We call that ghost writing and it is unethical.”
The newly disclosed emails also reveal internal discussions which cast some doubt over whether internal scientists actually believed in the company’s external messaging that Roundup was, in fact, safe.
“If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern.”
And, here’s more:
The documents also show that a debate outside Monsanto about the relative safety of glyphosate and Roundup, which contains other chemicals, was also taking place within the company.
In a 2002 email, a Monsanto executive said, “What I’ve been hearing from you is that this continues to be the case with these studies — Glyphosate is O.K. but the formulated product (and thus the surfactant) does the damage.”
In a 2003 email, a different Monsanto executive tells others, “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.”
Not surprisingly, Monsanto’s lawyers have argued that the comments above have simply been taken out of context…
Monsanto said it was outraged by the documents’ release by a law firm involved in the litigation.
“There is a standing confidentiality order that they violated,” said Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto. He said that while “you can’t unring a bell,” Monsanto would seek penalties on the firm.
“What you’re seeing are some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad,” Mr. Partridge said. “But the substance and the science are not affected by this.”
…you know, because the phrase, “we call that ghost writing and it is unethical,” can be interpreted in so many different ways.