Editor’s desk: Monsanto under the lens

In our latest story, reporter Rene Ebersole takes a comprehensive look at the controversy over glyphosate, the key ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, which is manufactured by Monsanto and is the subject of numerous lawsuits. In the story, published with The Nation, Ebersole lays out Monsanto’s spin campaign, which enlisted scientists and regulators to ensure that the world’s most widely used herbicide remained free of any links to cancer. But she also found that the company may be having a tobacco moment, as its effort to obfuscate comes under greater scrutiny.

The suits and resulting controversy stem from 2015, when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) ruled that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. More than 200 people have sued Monsanto in a federal case now centralized in California; more than 1,000 people have filed similar suits in other states. In contrast to the IARC, regulatory agencies in the United States and other countries have not made similar cancer determinations, and Monsanto insists the cancer claims are groundless.

Ebersole — mining a string of documents and emails that have been released in the suit and in FOIA’d documents released by US Right to Know — describes how Monsanto sought to curry favor and influence federal agencies like the EPA. She shows how the company had a direct say in the published work of some scientists, without ever disclosing that influence. She reveals how the company sought to undermine evidence of glyphosate’s links to cancer. And she shows how the company and its network went after scientists who questioned its conclusions.

Although glyphosate has been much in the news recently, as the European Union considers renewing the license for the herbicide, Ebersole pulls all the strands together. The story appeared in The Nation’s food issue just as a new book on the subject, by Carey Gillam, the research director for US Right to Know, was published: Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.

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Sam Fromartz
The Food & Environment Reporting Network