The Monsanto Papers scandal was a major controversy that exposed how Monsanto, the multinational agrochemical and biotech company, had manipulated scientific research to downplay the risks of glyphosate, the active ingredient in its flagship herbicide Roundup. The scandal unfolded over several years and involved a series of revelations that exposed the extent of Monsanto's influence on scientific research and regulatory decision-making, including at the European level.
The chronology of the scandal can be traced back to 2015, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialised agency of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, based on a review of existing scientific data. The IARC's decision contradicted the position of regulatory agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which had deemed glyphosate to be safe for human use.
Following the IARC's decision, a group of lawyers representing cancer victims filed lawsuits against Monsanto, claiming that the company’s weed killer caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Over a period of several years, a mechanism within the US legal system known as the Discovery Procedure allowed lawyers to gain access to millions of pages of internal records from Monsanto. These documents included emails, text messages, company reports, and other materials that provided insight into the properties of glyphosate and its potential harm. This collection of documents is now commonly referred to as the Monsanto Papers and is available for public access.
The lawsuits filed against Monsanto in the US yielded a wealth of evidence that shed light on the company's efforts to influence scientific research and regulatory decision-making related to glyphosate. Upon analysing the documents, it became apparent that Monsanto had engaged in several dubious practices to shape the scientific debate around glyphosate. One significant discovery was the company's practice of ghostwriting academic papers, under the names of seemingly independent scientists, designed to appear as independent research. These studies were then used to defend the safety of glyphosate, and some were even cited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as informing its glyphosate cancer reviews. One notable case is the paper authored by Williams, Munroe, and Kroes in 2000, in which Monsanto had direct involvement. Several press articles published by scientist Henry Miller in Forbes were revealed to have been ghostwritten by Monsanto employees.
In her book about the Monsanto Papers, journalist Carey Gillam revealed how the company attempted to impede a US government toxicity review of Roundup products, had cosy relationships with certain regulators, and developed strategies to discredit independent scientists and journalists who raised concerns about the herbicide's safety.
CEO, HEAL, GLOBAL 2000, PAN GERMANY. The Glyphosate Story so far: Controversy over Science, Lawsuits and Dodgy Lobbying Tactics.
Corporate europe : What the Monsanto Papers tell us about corporate science
Corporate europe : Summary of Monsanto papers, what these documents tell us
US right to know : Monsanto papers
The Guardian : How Monsanto manipulates journalists and academics, Carey Gillam
Foodwatch (NL) : Meer over Monsanto, More over Monsanto
HEAL: webinar with Carey Gillam on the Monsanto Papers
ABC News : video on the Monsanto Papers