A brief investigation by officials at New York Medical College concluded that there is “no evidence” that a 2000 paper on the safety of glyphosate was ghostwritten by Monsanto employees.
The paper was published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, and concluded that reviews had shown no harmful or carcinogenic effects from exposure to Monsanto’s popular “Roundup” herbicide, in which glyphosate is the key ingredient. The paper’s lead author, pathologist Gary Williams, was mentioned in documents revealed last week as part of a lawsuit by people who allegedly developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from exposure to glyphosate in Roundup.
Documents released from a federal court in California suggested Williams had put his name on the paper after it was partially ghostwritten by Monsanto employees.
The documents, which included internal emails from 2015, show that Monsanto executives planned to work with academic and independent scientists to promote the message that glyphosate does not cause cancer. The emails even suggested company officials should ghostwrite parts of peer-reviewed scientific papers.
After NYMC learned of the documents, a spokesperson said the school would investigate whether Williams had breached ethics standards, ultimately concluding there was no evidence that he had.
Monsanto efforts to defend their product began after a 2015 report from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concluded that glyphosate was “probably” a carcinogen. The report sparked widespread public concern.
Since then, several regulatory bodies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency and the EU’s European Chemicals Agency have declared glyphosate to be safe.
Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto, said the discussions in the emails were part of a normal process in which Monsanto scientists often work with independent scientists to allow access to research data and other information used by Monsanto.
“There was nothing secret or hidden or underhanded here. What I regret is the unfortunate use of the words ‘ghostwriting.’ That’s an inappropriate way to refer to the collaborative scientific engagement that went on here,” he said.
Genetic toxicologist David Kirkland, who was also mentioned in the Monsanto email, co-authored a paper last year with Williams, reviewing the IARC determination. It concluded the research did not indicate any risk of genetic toxicity from glyphosate exposure. Kirkland said definitively, speaking to ScienceInsider, that the paper had not been ghostwritten.
“I’ve been in the field for 35 years. I’ve got a global reputation. I’m not about to try and compromise that by signing up to a paper that has been ghostwritten by someone else,” said Kirkland.