The Environmental Protection Agency official who was in charge of evaluating the cancer risk of Monsanto Co.’s Roundup allegedly bragged to a company executive that he deserved a medal if he could kill another agency’s investigation into the herbicide’s key chemical.
The boast was made during an April 2015 phone conversation, according to farmers and others who say they’ve been sickened by the weed killer. After leaving his job as a manager in the EPA’s pesticide division last year, Jess Rowland has become a central figure in more than 20 lawsuits in the U.S. accusing the company of failing to warn consumers and regulators of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicide can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“If I can kill this I should get a medal,” Rowland told a Monsanto regulatory affairs manager who recounted the conversation in an email to his colleagues, according to a court filing made public Tuesday. The company was seeking Rowland’s help stopping an investigation of glyphosate by a separate office, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, that is part of the U.S. Health and Human Service Department, according to the filing.
A federal judge overseeing the glyphosate litigation in San Francisco said last month he’s inclined to order Rowland to submit to questioning by lawyers for the plaintiffs, who contend he had a "highly suspicious" relationship with Monsanto. Rowland oversaw a committee that found insufficient evidence to conclude glyphosate causes cancer and quit last year shortly after his report was leaked to the press.
Monsanto vice president of global strategy Scott Partridge said in a phone interview that it would be "remarkable" if Monsanto could manipulate the EPA under the Obama administration. The unsealed emails represent "a natural flow of information" between the company and the EPA, Partridge said. "It’s not an effort to manipulate the system."
Asked about emails specifically describing Monsanto working with Rowland to kill the glyphosate investigation by the toxic substances agency, Partridge said he would review the messages and respond at a later date.
The company also issued a statement defending its use of glyphosate.
“The allegation that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans is inconsistent with decades of comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world,’ Monsanto said.
The company on March 10 lost a court bid to keep glyphosate off California’s public list of cancer-causing chemicals. A state judge rejected Monsanto’s arguments that the chemical shouldn’t be added to a list created by a voter-approved ballot initiative that requires explicit warnings for consumer products containing substances that may cause cancer or birth defects.