Desperate to keep its Roundup weed killer on the market, Monsanto secretly funded two academic studies predicting “very severe impacts” on farming and the environment if glyphosate were banned.
While the research was used by the National Farmers’ Union and others to successfully lobby against a European glyphosate ban, The Guardian reports that the source of funding was not disclosed when either was published.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto Roundup weed killer, the most popular herbicide in the world. But in March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, after its independent review linked occupational exposure to an increased risk of cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its various subtypes.
The Monsanto-funded studies were published in 2010 and 2014 by researchers at ADAS, an agricultural and environmental consultancy in the United Kingdom. They concluded “the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment”, including a 20% reduction in wheat and rapeseed production and a 25% increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2017, the ADAS research helped convince European Union regulators to renew glyphosate’s marketing license for five years – despite a petition signed by more than 1.29 million citizens calling for a ban.
The true source of the ADAS funding was revealed by a German campaign transparency group called LobbyControl. Late last year, the same group also reported that two pro-glyphosate studies conducted in Germany and published in 2011 and 2015 also received partial funding from Monsanto. But as was the case with the ADAS studies, the funding was never declared.
“This is an unacceptable form of opaque lobbying,” Ulrich Müller at LobbyControl told The Guardian. “Citizens, media and decision-makers should know who pays for studies on subjects of public interest. The studies also used very high figures for the benefits of glyphosate and for possible losses in case of a ban. These extreme figures were then used to spin the debate.”
Bayer AG acquired U.S.-based Monsanto in June 2018. A company spokesperson told The Guardian that it is Bayer’s policy to always disclose funding of third-party research, asserting that the “lack of reference to the funding of these studies does not meet Bayer’s principles.”
Because of its Monsanto acquisition, Bayer is now defending more than 43,000 Roundup lawsuits in U.S. courts that blame glyphosate for causing cancer. The first three cases only went to trial after the merger, and all have concluded with multimillion-dollar verdicts in favor of plaintiffs. Allegations that Monsanto secretly funded and ghostwrote favorable glyphosate studies were key issues in each of those cases.
Although Bayer continues to insist glyphosate is safe, the company is participating in court-ordered mediation to resolve the massive Roundup litigation. In fact, recent reports suggest the company is inching closer to a Monsanto Roundup settlement, possibly in the neighborhood of $10 billion.