Policy & Science Integrity

For almost a decade the policy debate around glyphosate has been characterized by a multitude of scandals which can be summarized as bad governance: a lack of transparency, flawed authorization procedures both in the EU and in the USA, lousy corporate science, ghostwriting scientific studies, conflicts of interests, intimidation, lobby-, and smear campaigns against independent scientists, journalists and institutions. And of course litigations.

It all started when in March 2015 the International Agency for Research against Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans". That was the start of an open conflict between IARC and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Germany's Federal Risk Assessment Institute (BfR) who published their conclusions in November 2015, over their opposite assessments.

The authors of the IARC opinion are named, and the institute has a strict and transparent conflict of interest policy in place. The BfR and EFSA assessments, on the other hand, were carried out by anonymous public officials, and it was not possible to assess their independence. In 2017, a scandal broke when it became clear that major sections of the EU assessment report were copy-pasted directly from the industry's original application by BfR and EFSA officials.

And in June 2021 a new scientific analysis found that only two out of 53 industry Genotoxicity studies provided to EU authorities to prove glyphosate's safety, can be assessed as scientifically 'reliable' and most of them do not meet basic international scientific standards, as set by OECD guidelines. This was once more a finger on a sore spot: national regulators and EU authorities alike do not seem to scrutinize when looking at the quality of the industry's own studies. At the same time, they dismissed almost all publicly peer-reviewed scientific studies.

IARC's assessment was the basis for a series of litigations against Monsanto over glyphosate by thousands of cancer patients in the US. Those trials led to the publication of 'the Monsanto Papers', a treasure of internal documents slowly released since March 2017, as part of these US lawsuits. Monsanto had to turn over millions of pages of its internal records, including documents regarding the company's ghostwriting and how Monsanto actively subverted science, both in the company's practices and the way it abuses science's moral authority to push for its interests, or as in the case with IARC set up campaigns to discredit it's scientific integrity.

The Monsanto Papers led to hearings in the European Parliament and in February 2018, following the controversial 5-year glyphosate renewal in 2017, the creation of the Special Committee on the Union's authorization procedure for pesticides (PEST) with the aim to assess the EU's pesticide authorization procedure. The report approved by a large majority in January 2019 had over a hundred recommendations to improve the way the EU deals with pesticides.