“If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I’d react – with serious concern.” These are the words written by an internal Monsanto scientist in 2001 regarding one of the company’s top-selling products.
A growing body of research has shown increased concern over glyphosate and its effects on the human body. And now, a set of documents released during an ongoing Monsanto trial has shed light on the company’s efforts to influence research into Roundup and the chemicals it contains.
An article in the New York Times discloses names, and the company is predictably furious and has vowed to take action. “There is a standing confidentiality order that they violated,” according to Monsanto’s VP of global strategy. “What you’re seeing are some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad but the substance and the science are not affected by this.”
Contained within the documents are a number of occasions that Monsanto asserts amount to nothing more than a mere misunderstanding of terms. Misunderstandings that occur when a well-known academic and proponent of genetically-modified crops named Henry I. Miller asked Monsanto to draft an article for him on the topic, and an extraordinarily similar article later appeared on Forbes’s website under his byline.
Or a misunderstanding that arose when a former employee turned Monsanto-funded researcher was so sure that what the company was asking him to was unethical that he actually wrote an email to a Monsanto executive and informed them of such. In 2015, John Acquavella wrote “I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication,” and went on to state that “we call that ghost-writing and it is unethical.” Mr. Acquavella would later walk back his claims.
A lawyer at the firm that released the documents says that the release was entirely Monsanto’s doing. He states that the corporation failed to file the motions that were necessary to continue keeping the documents confidential and, as such, the firm was fully within their rights to release the documents to the public. “Clearly Monsanto’s lawyers made a mistake,” he says. “They didn’t properly take action to preserve the confidentiality of these documents” and “now the world gets to see these documents that would otherwise remain secret.”
The debate over the legality of the release of the document trove will no doubt continue. In the meantime, however, the world can take a closer look into the inner workings of a corporation that appears to go to great lengths to camouflage its attempts to influence the public discourse on its products.