(Originally published in Beyond the Rows)
Recently, in the context of personal injury litigation filed against Monsanto, plaintiffs’ attorneys have cherry picked a single email – out of more than 10 million pages of documents produced – to allege that Monsanto scientists ghostwrote “Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans,” a paper on glyphosate safety by internationally recognized experts Gary M. Williams, Robert Kroes and Ian C. Munro published in Regulatory Toxicology & Pharmacology in 2000.
These allegations are false. Monsanto scientists did not ghostwrite the paper. The paper and its conclusions are the work of Dr. Williams, Dr. Kroes and Dr. Munro. The paper also underwent the journal’s rigorous peer review process before it was published.
Because plaintiffs’ attorneys are taking a single comment in a single email out of context to attempt to mischaracterize the role of a Monsanto scientist, Dr. William Heydens, who earned his PhD. in Toxicology from the University of Michigan in 1984, we are setting the record straight and taking the unusual step of publicly disclosing some of his sworn and transcribed testimony from a deposition regarding his involvement with the Williams et al (2000) paper.
Consistent with standard practices for academic and scientific peer-reviewed publications, the contributions of Dr. Heydens and other Monsanto experts were fully and publicly listed in the “Acknowledgements” section of the Williams et al (2000) paper, which stated,
“[We] thank the toxicologists and other scientists at Monsanto who made significant contributions to the development of the exposure assessments and through many other discussions. The authors were given complete access to toxicological information contained in the great number of laboratory studies and archival material at Monsanto in St. Louis, Missouri, and elsewhere. Key personnel at Monsanto who provided scientific support were William F. Heydens, Donna R. Farmer, Marian S. Bleeke, Stephen J. Wrattens, and Katherine H. Carr.”
Although 15 years later Dr. Heydens referred to such fully acknowledged contributions as ghostwriting, he described his actual role in the Williams et al paper under oath as follows:
“I made some minor editorial contributions to that 2000 paper that do not mount to the level of a substantial contribution or an intellectual contribution and, thus, I was only recognized in the acknowledgements and not as an author, and that was appropriate for the situation.”
He further clarified,
“It was things like editing relatively minor things, editing for formatting, just for clarity, really just for overall readability to make it easier for people to read in a more organized fashion.”
The authors of the Williams et al (2000) paper are internationally recognized experts in the fields of toxicology, genotoxicity and carcinogenicity. Their paper synthesized a vast amount of scientific data on glyphosate developed from the 1970’s through 2000. Based on this vast data set and the overwhelming weight of evidence, the authors wrote,
“It is concluded that, under present and expected conditions of new use, there is no potential for Roundup herbicide to pose a health risk to humans.”
The conclusion of Williams et al (2000) is consistent with the findings of regulatory authorities around the world, a branch of the World Health Organization that analyses pesticide residues, and one of the largest databases ever compiled on an agricultural product. To be clear: No regulatory body in the world considers glyphosate to be a carcinogen.
Plucking a single email out of 10 million pages doesn’t change this fact.
Science is always a collaborative process. Our scientists often exchange ideas with, provide information to, and collaborate with third-party experts. As a company built on sound science, these collaborations are critical to our ability to deliver new tools and innovations for farmers, and they are governed by the highest principles of integrity and transparency.