Product Liability

Monsanto's unethical ghost-writing practices revealed in emails between executives

September 26, 2019

In a series of internal emails obtained by lawyers representing plaintiffs in the Roundup® litigation, a Monsanto executive reveals the ongoing practice of ghostwriting scientific research papers to sway the public opinion of Roundup and its safety.

I am sure most of you are aware of the ongoing legal battle that has been mounted against Monsanto, the maker of Roundup®. Just in case you aren’t, here is a quick recap to bring you up to speed:

Over 18,000 cases have been filed against Monsanto based on allegations that the use of Roundup® is directly linked to their development of varying types of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. With such a large number of plaintiffs, the cases were brought together into one Multi-District-Litigation (MDL). In doing so, the plaintiffs can pool their resources while still being able to make sure each plaintiff’s damages are addressed.

It is standard practice to choose one or more cases in the MDL to bring to trial as bellwether trials. In the Monsanto litigation, Edwin Hardeman was the first of the bellwether trials followed by Alva and Alberta Pilliod. All three of the trials resulted in Monsanto being found liable for the damages suffered by the plaintiffs due to a lack of proper warning about the health risks of using Roundup®. Since the last bellwether trial in May, both parties have begun mediated discussions in hopes of reaching a settlement.

During the ongoing legal battle, internal emails sent between Monsanto executives have been made public. Some of the content is shocking and extremely damning. One of the emails recorded a conversation where Monsanto executives share their desire to “beat the shit out of” a Moms Across America Group. This comes after the group of mothers contacted Monsanto because of the mothers’ concern about the potential danger of Roundup®. You can read more about it here.

The emails released have been dubbed “The Monsanto Papers” and I recommend reading through some of them if you have a chance. They shed light on the little concern that Monsanto has for public health and for the consumers that use their product.

Emails reveal Monsanto ghost-wrote research papers

One of the more appalling trends in the Monsanto Papers is the use of ghostwriting as common practice to covertly further Monsanto’s agenda. Ghostwriting is, in its most simplistic form, when someone writes something and someone else takes credit for the work. For instance, it is common practice in the music industry to have people you have never heard of write songs and sell them to the famous artists you love and admire.

While this may be commonplace in Hollywood, it doesn’t bother many people because the stakes are fairly low. Does it really matter if Katy Perry actually kissed a girl and liked it? Or does it matter if Jay Z had 99 problems but…well, let's just say none of them involved a conflict with a woman? In the end, the fact that a song is ghostwritten rarely obscures the content of the music or the overall meaning.

When it comes to Monsanto’s use of ghost writing, it isn’t as insignificant. They aren’t just ghost-writing a top ten radio hit. Rather, they are behind “expert” academic research on the carcinogenic nature of the most widespread herbicide in the world. Their efforts are focused on academic research articles that justify the ongoing use and safety of glyphosate, the main active ingredient of Roundup®, as a means of pushing against independent research that revealed the potential safety risks from exposure to Roundup®.

Research finds that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen

For some context, in March of 2015, the International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) came out with a report that held concerns of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” These concerns came after research and study into how glyphosate formulas (i.e. Roundup®) and “pure” glyphosate have interacted historically in “real-world exposure” as well as through lab-controlled experiments. Their findings, at a minimum, should have been enough to force Monsanto to consider adding more warnings to their products, if not suspend sales, until there was further information gathered. If you want to learn more about the IRAC findings, you can read about it here.

Unfortunately, that is not the decision they made. Instead of looking to put the safety of consumers as a priority, they opted to value their profitability over everything and risk the lives of consumers across the world. Their course of action was to ghostwrite articles that were published under the names of expert scientists to disprove what the IARC had found in their research.

After the release of the IARC research, an email shows William Heydens, the Product Safety Assessment Strategy Lead at Monsanto, talking to his team about a “manuscript to be initiated by [Monsanto] as ghostwriters.” He goes on to say, “it was noted that this would be more powerful if authored by non-Monsanto scientists.”

Monsanto understands that if they published a response under their name, it would rightfully be received as biased research and unreliable. But if they wrote it and published it under someone else’s name, who isn’t attached to Monsanto, it would have more sway over public opinion and keep Roundup® profitable. Doing so would be able to counter any research that questioned the safety of Roundup®.

As Monsanto’s research and writing continued, one of the researchers voiced his disagreement and concern when he realized Monsanto’s agenda of concealing who had done the research. In an email between Heydens and John Acquavella, a former employee and academic scholar, Heydens states that he thought they would not be able to list Acquavella as an author of the paper because “of [his] prior employment at Monsanto.” Acquavella replies poignantly,“I don’t think that will be okay with my panelists. We call that ghost writing and it is unethical.”

Clearly showing his concern about Heydens’ comments, Acquavella’s next email included a guideline of “honest/ethical authorship” developed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Within the guidelines he forwards, Acquavella highlights one point in particular: “All persons designated as authors should qualify for authorship, and all those who qualify should be listed.” In failing to uphold these guidelines, Monsanto would be crossing ethical boundaries.

Despite warnings of its unethical nature, Monsanto continues to ghostwrite scientific research

Acquavella, one of the primary authors of the research, saw how unethical it was that he wouldn’t get listed as an author. While Heydens quickly retracts what he says and agrees with Acquavella, the warning ultimately left Monsanto unchanged. Only a few months later, Heydens writes an email to a different researcher and asks him about a section of the paper that Heydens had written personally. He asks, “and then comes the question of who should be the ultimate author – you or Gary? I was thinking you for the Introduction chapter,” which Heydens already stated he had written, “and Gary for the Summary chapter, but I am totally open to your suggestions.”

The disregard for accurate authorship, especially following Acquavella’s warning only two months prior, shows the deep deception and dishonesty that Heydens and the Monsanto corporation use to further their profits. It isn’t about the possible deaths and suffering that Roundup® may cause people, it is first and foremost about the profit of the company. For Monsanto, and many big corporations for that matter, the end justifies all means. Profit first and all collateral death, disease, suffering, and real-life effects on people are second.

This is only a small glimpse into the seemingly endless collection of internal emails that have surfaced due to the ongoing litigation. They allow us to look past the façade of Monsanto’s exterior and reveal the disturbing reality of public manipulation and unethical practices that drives their success. Monsanto must be held accountable for their deception as well as the death and suffering they have inadvertently caused to countless Roundup® users.

If you want a more expansive timeline of all the legal aspects of the ongoing litigation, Carey Gillam has done a wonderful job of tracking the trial and keeping the public informed. And in case you're interested in reading more of the Monsanto Papers released, you can access them all here. Or if you resonate with our concerns, share this article with your friends. We think that more people should be made aware of the common practices of Monsanto and the dangers of using Roundup®.

Finally, If you were one of the thousands of people exposed to Roundup®, who have since been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma or other cancer, you may still be able to take action against Monsanto. Fill out the intake form here for a free review of your claim. We encourage you to act soon as time may be limited. We’re here to help.

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