Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Conspiracy theories behind attack on Roundup

They can't fault the scientific tests

For years, scientists at Monsanto Co. worked closely with outside researchers on studies that concluded its Roundup weedkiller was safe.

That collaboration is now one of the biggest liabilities for the world’s most widely used herbicide and its new owner, Bayer AG, which faces mounting lawsuits alleging a cancer link to Roundup.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are putting Monsanto’s ties to the scientific community at the center of a series of high-stakes suits against Bayer. Since the German company acquired Monsanto last June, two juries in California have sided with plaintiffs who have lymphoma and blamed the herbicide for their disease. Bayer’s shares have fallen roughly 35% since the first verdict.

In both cases, plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that Monsanto’s influence on outside studies of Roundup’s active ingredient tainted the safety research. The attorneys obtained certain Monsanto emails showing outside scientists asking the company’s scientists to review their manuscript drafts, and Monsanto scientists suggesting edits.

Gary Kitahata, a member of a jury that ordered Bayer to pay $289.2 million to a former California groundskeeper with non- Hodgkin lymphoma last August, said Monsanto’s interaction with outside researchers played an important role in jurors’ deliberations. He recalled being struck by emails allegedly dealing with “things like ghostwriting, influencing scientific studies that were done.” A judge later cut the award, which Bayer is appealing, to $78.5 million.

Last month, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $80.3 million to another man with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who had used Roundup, a verdict Bayer also plans to challenge. Another trial is under way in Oakland, involving two more of the 11,200 U.S. farmers, landscapers and others who have filed suit, threatening product-liability costs at Bayer for years to come.

Bayer said hundreds of studies and regulatory decisions across the globe show the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is safe and isn’t carcinogenic. Regulators in the U.S. and abroad have continued to approve its use, in some cases after having gone back and taken another look at research criticized by plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“Plaintiff lawyers have cherry-picked isolated emails out of more than 20 million pages of documents produced during discovery to attempt to distort the scientific record and Monsanto’s role,” Bayer said. A spokesman said the documents at issue relate only to secondary reviews of past research, not to the original science. He added that the outside scientists have stood by their conclusions.

In the U.S., Roundup has become almost as fundamental to farming as tractors. American farmers use it or other glyphosate-based herbicides on the vast majority of their corn, soybean and cotton acres, making it a factor in American agriculture’s steadily rising productivity.

Monsanto developed the chemical decades ago and later introduced crops genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with it, driving what is now a more than $9 billion seed business for Bayer.

Annual sales of glyphosate herbicides, including by rivals, total around $5 billion, according to Sanford C. Bernstein.

Growing resistance

Despite their regulatory acceptance, the herbicides have faced growing resistance, especially since a 2015 decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization unit, classifying glyphosate as likely having the potential to cause cancer in humans. In January, a French court banned a Roundup product with the ingredient, even though it had a European Union seal of approval.

Costco Wholesale Corp. recently pulled Roundup herbicides from its stores, said an executive of the retailer. Certain cities in California, Florida, Minnesota and elsewhere have barred glyphosate weedkillers on municipal property.

Other farm-state lawmakers have defended the herbicides.

The attack on Monsanto’s role in research that deems Roundup safe is led by Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman PC, a firm representing more than 1,400 plaintiffs. It has selectively released hundreds of company emails obtained through discovery and put many of them on its website.

“These documents provide evidence that Monsanto’s been actively engaged in manipulating the science regarding glyphosate’s carcinogenicity,” said Michael Baum, the law firm’s managing partner.

One document cited by plaintiffs’ attorneys is a 2000 email that Monsanto’s Hugh Grant, later CEO, sent following the publication of a paper upholding Roundup’s safety.

“This is very good work, well done to the team,” he wrote to Monsanto scientists.

They weren’t the paper’s authors. Outside scientists were. An acknowledgments section cited Monsanto researchers as having provided scientific support. They had reviewed the text and data, according to internal Monsanto communications. Mr. Grant, who has retired, declined to comment, Bayer said.

Bayer said collaboration with outside scientists is important for purposes such as testing safety and efficacy, and it provides properly disclosed compensation, adding that this pay isn’t given to influence their scientific opinions.

Helmut Greim, a retired toxicology professor at the Technical University of Munich who has worked with Monsanto, said, “There is this perception that industry is evil and that whoever is involved with them is at least equally evil.” He added: “If the industry asks a scientist to help, I see it as my duty to do so. But one shouldn’t let oneself be influenced.”

Some regulators say when a research paper discloses industry funding, they take into account the possibility of corporate influence on the findings.

“We generally are a bit more suspicious,” said Bjorn Hansen, executive director of the European Chemicals Agency.

The chemicals agency and the European Food Safety Authority both re-examined glyphosate studies questioned by plaintiffs’ attorneys and let stand their approvals. The agencies said they look at the raw data in research, so that the kind of study the attorneys question—a review of past research— generally doesn’t carry much weight.

Health Canada also recently took a second look at studies on which it had based its approval of glyphosate herbicides, after critics raised concerns about Monsanto’s role in research. The Canadian agency assigned a separate group of its scientists to go over the studies. Their review didn’t change its conclusion.

Bayer says Roundup has been proven safe, but two U.S. juries have found otherwise.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently doing a periodic review of the glyphosate science, ahead of a decision expected soon on extending glyphosate’s longstanding U.S. approval. The EPA’s most recent review of glyphosate’s potential human risk, in late 2017, continued to find the chemical unlikely to cause cancer in humans.

Corporate support

Scientific research in industry and academia has become more entwined over the years, scientists say, as corporations have become a more important funding source.

Since 2007, U.S. federal government spending on basic scientific research has plateaued at around $38 billion annually, according to data from the National Science Foundation. Corporate funding has roughly doubled in that time, to about $27 billion.

For researchers with fewer options allowing them to be fully independent, “to some extent, they have to play by the industry’s rules,” said Sharon Batt, an adjunct bioethics professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A 1998 review of 70 articles on the safety of a hypertension medication found that authors who produced conclusions supporting its use were nearly twice as likely as neutral or critical authors to have financial relationships with manufacturers. The review, on drugs called calcium-channel antagonists, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A 2003 analysis of studies on industry-sponsored biomedical research found corporate- funded studies were more than 3½ times as likely to show results favorable to companies as were studies with no industry funding. The analysis appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In 2002, researcher Susan Monheit was writing an article on glyphosate herbicides used against aquatic weeds and sent a draft to a Monsanto regulatory-affairs official for fact checking. The official forwarded it to Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer, according to emails that the Baum Hedlund law firm obtained in discovery and that The Wall Street Journal reviewed.

Ms. Farmer told the official the paper needed organizational work. “During one editing I had basically re-written the thing—then decided that was not a good thing to do so I tried to just correct the inaccuracies,” she wrote to the official, Martin Lemon.

In an interview, Ms. Monheit, who worked at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said Mr. Lemon passed along Monsanto’s suggestions by telephone and she followed some of them, such as deleting references to old information. “I certainly didn’t want to use data that was out of date,” she said, but “I was wary of having Monsanto influence the article.”

Noxious Times

When her article was published in a weed-control newsletter called Noxious Times, concluding the chemical posed minimal risk to wildlife, a note described it as the product of a review of previously published research and consultations with pesticide chemists and eco-toxicologists. The note didn’t name Monsanto.

Bayer didn’t make the employees available for interviews.

In the late 2000s, Monsanto financed a study done partly by Pamela Mink, then an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University, reviewing past research on glyphosate’s safety. Shown a draft, Monsanto’s Ms. Farmer suggested some edits, mostly to the introduction, and circulated the draft to fellow company scientists, according to documents produced in the litigation and reviewed by the Journal.

One of the Monsanto scientists, Daniel Goldstein, added his own suggestions. “There are a couple places where I read the sentences several times, and I just can’t gather what the underlying message is,” he emailed Ms. Farmer.

The two suggested deleting redundant phrases, asked for math to be double-checked and corrected names.

When the paper was published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology in June 2012, some of the critiqued passages didn’t appear, while others were rephrased and expanded. Brian Stekloff, a lawyer representing Bayer, said in court last month that Ms. Farmer moved around words in the introduction and added context about Roundup products that outside scientists would not have had.

The final paper was significantly different from the draft but had the same conclusion, which was that the researchers had found no pattern showing glyphosate exposure caused cancer in humans.

Its authors were listed as Dr. Mink and three other researchers who, like her, were affiliated with science consultancy Exponent Inc. The paper said one of the authors had been a paid consultant to Monsanto. “Final decisions regarding the content of the manuscript were made solely by the four authors,” it said.

Dr. Mink didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Dr. Greim, the retired Munich toxicology professor, said Monsanto approached him in 2013 about helping it publish some unpublished internal research it earlier submitted to regulatory bodies.

He said Monsanto officials sent him a draft of a report. “I told them, ‘That’s not how it’s done, you need a lot more information’” to support the conclusions, Dr. Greim said. He said he went back and forth with company scientists for months, asking them to add details such as the number of animals and organs studied, and changing the presentation of the results, until he felt the paper was satisfactory.

Monsanto accepted all of his suggestions, Dr. Greim said, and “there were a lot of passages I ended up writing.” He said he was paid €3,000, or about $3,400, for his work.

When the paper was published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology in 2015—finding no link between the Roundup ingredient and cancer—Dr. Greim appeared as lead author. A “declaration of interest” section said that he had been paid by Monsanto and that his three co-authors had connections to the glyphosate business, including one who was employed by Monsanto.

In an internal Monsanto memo released by Baum Hedlund, a Monsanto scientist listed among his accomplishments “ghost wrote cancer review paper Greim et al. (2015).”

Dr. Greim, who has sat on various German and EU scientific advisory committees, said he didn’t care what was said internally because that wasn’t what happened.

Bayer attorney Mr. Stekloff, speaking generally, said in court last month that there were instances of “dumb emails” and “bad language” among the many company documents produced in the case, but “the overall record demonstrates that this was a company committed to testing and committed to science.”


Ocean Power Generating Systems—Going Nowhere Fast

The number of companies that hoped in vain (some still do) to harness ocean power for “free energy” is steadily increasing.

One of the latest outfits not doing so well is Ocean Power Technologies, Inc. (OPT) of Monroe Township, NJ, USA.

According to its website (  ), it “is a pioneer in renewable wave-energy technology that converts ocean wave energy into electricity” and they have several patents to prove it.

Indeed, OPT was founded more than twenty years ago. In 2007, its shares on the NASDAQ stock exchange, adjusted for several stock share consolidations since (1[new]-for-10[old] shares), traded in the neighborhood of $4,000 per share. Right now you can get them for about $3 a piece, clearly, a hot investment.

Let’s look at the range of basic ideas to harness ocean power

Power From Wave Energy

That’s probably the most common attempt for power generation from the oceans. After all, there are nearly always and everywhere small (0.5 m) waves to be found at any shore. A variety of stationary (firmly placed in the on the bottom) and floating designs have been proposed. For example, the floating Pelamis Wave Power idea of sizable, partially water-filled, elongated tanks would create internal swapping back and forth of the water (like your kid making waves in the bathtub) and would drive an internal turbine. It didn’t work out and the company folded.

The OPT idea also has floating devices, in the shape of bottom-anchored buoys. Their technical specifications do not actually give details on how the wave energy is to be converted to electricity.

Another, stationary concept was thought of by the SeWave wave farm project in NĂ­panin, Faroe Islands. The (rising) water was to compress a fixed airspace in the rock onshore that would drive an air turbine. It was to be in place by 2010. It has not been heard of since.

The same idea, actually built in 2000, was the Islay LIMPET, then claimed to be the world’s first commercial wave power device. It has been decommissioned since.

Power From Salinity Gradients (Osmosis)

That idea relies on the long-recognized concept of osmosis, which is the natural process of salinity equilibration between water of low salinity (freshwater) and high salinity (saltwater). It requires both, in similar quantities and a semi-permeable membrane that allows water molecules to pass through, but not the salt-ions. It was tested in a pilot plant in Norway several years ago. It may work well in a laboratory setting with clean water but not so with actual ocean water. The tiny membrane pores get readily plugged with other materials and the system was not found to be commercially viable.

Power From Tidal Currents

In 2016, with considerable fanfare, the Cape Sharp Tidal (CST) company launched its “long-awaited” underwater test turbine in the Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada, has among the largest tidal sea level changes in the world and, for that reason also nearby strong tidal currents. The project built a large underwater turbine that was to convert the tidal in-and-out flows to electric power.

The euphoria didn’t last long. In late 2018, CST, co-owned by Nova Scotia’s Emera Inc. (EI), and the Irish company OpenHydro Ltd. (OH), a subsidiary of the French co. Naval Energies, (NE), have hit the end of the road. Both CST and OH filed for bankruptcy.

It didn’t surprise me. The large underwater turbine, placed somewhat offshore where the bay is approximately 500 m or more wide, could not possibly deliver the anticipated power. The current had plenty of room to flow around the “obstacle” of the turbine without creating much power.

Power from the Tides

There are a few well known tidal power plants that actually work. They are in Canada, France, South Korea, and the UK. All have large barriers that allow the incoming tide to raise the water level behind them and drive regular water turbines at low tide. They operate essentially in the same way as any dam that uses the energy of the different water levels in the upside reservoir and the lower release point.

Still, such systems also have their limitations and other problems. One limitation is the nearly constant change in the tides. To begin with, the time windows around the high (to fill the reservoir) and low tides (to generate power by emptying it), where the most energy can be had, is quite short. Then, such structures interfere with other activities, like marine traffic to a harbor and a healthy range for fish to seek forage or to spawn. In addition, the occasional humpback whaleand possibly other “flotsam and jetsam” can cause problems.

In Summary Then

Ocean power is not easy to harness. So far, only a few tidal power plants exist that actually produce a reasonable amount of electric power—at predictable intervals. All attempts at getting constant power generation from waves and currents have failed to deliver anything close to the promises. Of course, wind power generating systems are not much different.

The reasons have been known for a long time.

As stated on a UK government site in 2006:

The main problem with wave power is that the sea is a very harsh, unforgiving environment. An economically-viable wave power machine will need to generate power over a wide range of wave sizes, as well as being able to withstand the largest and most severe storms and other potential problems such as algae, barnacles and corrosion.

But don’t give up on your “free ocean energy” dreams yet—there are still plenty of tax dollars to be had to foster them.


Canadian officials decide not to sue oil companies over environmental costs

Officials from Vancouver Island and coastal British Columbia communities in Canada met over the weekend to debate whether to sue oil and gas companies to help offset the cost of cleaning up damage from floods and wildfire.

David Screech, the mayor of View Royal B.C., notified his Twitter followers Sunday that the measure was defeated.

“The motion was soundly defeated just now at our conference. No lawsuits,” he wrote in response to questions from people concerned about what such a measure might mean for the industry. Screech’s office confirmed to The Daily Caller News Foundation that the measure was defeated.

Canadian taxpayers spent roughly $350-million on programs designed to fight B.C. wildfires in 2018. Fire suppression measures cost more than $568 million in 2017, according to media reports.

B.C.’s auditor general said in a 2018 report that costs associated with man-made global warming across Canada could reach between $21 and $43 billion annually over 30 years.

One Canadian official who previously supported such measures is now reversing course. “Since we passed the original motion, I have had some second thoughts,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said in an April 4 interview on CBC. “I think there might be more prudent and more timely approaches.”

She cited reports suggesting Canada is experiencing a higher rate of global warming than many other countries.

SEE ALSO: Yellow Vests And Rubber Boot Cowboys: Inside Canada’s Pro-Pipeline Convoy

Helps added: “Time is running out and fighting lawsuits is probably not the best way to spend our time when we’ve got a planet to save.” Her newfound opposition to climate lawsuits stands in stark contrast to many of her American counterparts who are seeking climate lawsuits of their own.

New York City officials sued ExxonMobil and others in January 2018 for damages wrought by natural disasters.

U.S. District Judge John Keenan ultimately dismissed the lawsuit in July 2018, arguing that litigating such an action “for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S government.”

It’s the third such lawsuit brought against oil companies Exxon, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips.

A U.S. District Court judge in Northern California struck down identical lawsuits in 2018 brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland.

Opponents of the litigation frequently criticize the trial attorneys behind the litigation, claiming that the lawsuits are nothing more than a get-rich scheme.


Pocahontas unveils her plan for the 640 million acres controlled by the federal government

Warren’s “plan for public lands,” released Monday, includes banning coal, natural gas, and oil production, and making all national parks free to visit. Warren’s goal is to tackle climate change while spurring economic development on federal lands.

“It is wrong to prioritize corporate profits over the health and safety of our local communities,” Warren wrote in a Medium post announcing her plan. Warren says she wants to “make public lands part of the climate solution – not the problem.”

“That’s why on my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that says no more drilling — a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling offshore and on public lands,” she wrote.

That’s a complete one-eighty from the Trump administration’s agenda of promoting natural resource development. Warren also set a goal of getting 10 percent of U.S. electricity generation from renewable energy on public lands and waters.

“My administration will make it a priority to expedite leases and incentivize development in existing designated areas, and share royalties from renewable generation with states and local communities to help promote economic development and reduce local dependence on fossil fuel revenues,” Warren wrote.

Conservatives were critical of Warren’s plan to halt all new fossil fuel production, saying it would endanger hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“Declaring war on western states where energy production makes up a lot of the economy is probably not a great idea when you represent a state that has to import natural gas from Russia to get through the winter,” said Dan Kish, a senior distinguished fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.

Fossil fuel production on federal lands and waters supports 676,000 jobs and $134 billion in economic output, according to Interior Department figures. Some Native American tribes also subsist off revenues from coal gas and oil production.

“‘Banned in Boston’ is going to take on a whole new meaning to the men and women who keep the lights on in this country,” Kish told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.


Leftist industry spokesman in Australia is dubious about electric cars

Kim Carr, Bill Shorten’s industry spokesman, last year warned that electric vehicles posed serious ­social ­issues and would require a one-third expansion in electricity ­production.

Senator Carr, who has a long history of supporting the domestic auto industry dominated by traditional carmakers Ford, Holden and Toyota, urged a Senate committee to consider “the reality versus the mythology” of electric vehicles, just six months before standing alongside Mr Shorten to launch Labor’s signature electric car policy.

The left-wing powerbroker has also strongly argued against “pumping up the tyres” of imported electric vehicles, batting away calls from the Electric Vehicle Council last year for up to $7000 worth of subsidies for every EV sold.

Senator Carr, who will head Labor’s electric vehicle-led bid to rejuvenate Australia’s car industry, last year expressed scepticism over the suitability of the cars outside major cities, and questioned whether they could be used as “batteries on wheels” — as claimed by advocates — to manage peaks in energy use.

The Victorian senator told the Senate’s electric vehicle inquiry, chaired by independent senator Tim Storer, that the high cost of electric vehicles would put them beyond everyday drivers. “The electrification issue does pose really serious social (issues). There’s an in-built demographic question there about people who can afford the Tesla, versus some of these smaller vehicles,” he told the committee last September.

“And if you’re away from a ­regional centre of any size then the capacity to actually use these vehicles is somewhat limited. So I think that needs to be clear when we’re talking about the reality versus the mythology.”

Senator Carr tackled the head of the Fast Cities consortium during the inquiry, questioning his suggestion that electric vehicles would stabilise the energy network without the need for a one-third expansion in energy output. “What evidence do you have for this?” he asked Fast Cities head of corporate development Paul Fox. “No one else is telling us that this is going to be able to be done without an expansion in the capacity of the grid.”

Senator Carr said more batteries were “not the answer to our ­energy problems”, declaring: “If you put a one-third increase in ­demand on the energy system, we’re going to actually need to ­increase our generation capacity.”

He said yesterday he stood by his comments, arguing regulatory changes were needed before electric car batteries could be used to feed back energy into the grid to ensure car warranties were not voided. “We have to change the regulations, we have to change the building codes,” he said. “This is one of the theories that is constantly put forward, but it needs to be put into context with the regulatory changes that are required.”

He said the government had offered “no policy direction” on the introduction of electric vehicles, which Labor wants to increase to 50 per cent of new vehicles sold by 2030. The government estimates they will make up 25 per cent to ­­50 per cent of new car sales by 2030.

Labor plans to offer assistance to electric vehicle carmakers in Australia through its proposed $1 billion advanced manufacturing fund. “I would like to see us make electric cars in Australia because Australians are top-class manufacturers when you have a government who supports them,” Mr Shorten said last week.

Senator Carr’s comments came as a photograph emerged on social media of Josh Frydenberg’s ­election campaign vehicle, a plug-in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander.

The Treasurer is a big supporter of rechargeable cars, declaring last year there would be a million on Australian roads, up from about 8500, by 2030.

The Senate’s electric vehicle inquiry found electric vehicle uptake in Australia lagged behind comparable countries due to “a relative absence of overarching policy direction” from the government.

“In the committee’s view, widespread use of EVs in the Australian transportation fleet would deliver significant economic, environmental and health benefits to Australian consumers and society,” the inquiry found.

“It would also create new opportunities for Australian industry.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Coalition was concerned that Labor’s plan to cut carbon emissions from transport would hit everyday voters.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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