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Eduardo Neaves was a healthy and happy twelve-year-old, the son of migrant farm workers. But after swimming in a canal in Coral Gables, Florida, he became a “total quadriplegic.” The canal was contaminated with four times the recommended-use level of Roundup, a herbicide produced by The Monsanto Company. Toxicologists were not surprised by the central nervous system damage that still afflicts the boy five years after the incident but were unable to prove a connection between Roundup and the paralysis in court.

But whether Roundup can cause damage to the central nervous system may never be known. Although Monsanto’s original neurotoxicity studies were ruled invalid by the EPA because of “extensive gaps in the raw data supporting study findings and conclusions,” there is no requirement that a new study be made. However, Roundup is far more dangerous than the public has been led to believe. Records of pesticide poisoning compiled over the last five years by California’s Department of Agriculture show that among some 200 pesticides widely used in the state, Roundup has been linked to the greatest numbers of eye, skin, and internal injuries. The EPA’s own Pesticide Incident Monitoring System (which was dissolved by the Reagan administration) recorded more than 100 cases of Roundup poisoning in 1980. Despite its own findings, the EPA concluded the weed killer is “not a primary skin irritant, and is only minimally irritating to the eye.” That judgment was based solely on data provided by Monsanto.

Dr. Ruth Shearer, a genetic toxicologist, charged that Monsanto’s claims about the safety of the product are dishonest because they are based on phony studies on cancer and birth defects performed by the now defunct Industrial Bio-Test lab (IBT). Once the nation’s leading generator of health effects studies for companies whose chemical products require government approval, IBT was found to have conducted shoddy tests and falsified results. Monsanto was IBT’s biggest customer, according to court documents, and was reported to be one of four chemical companies that knew of IBT’s fraudulent testing practices. One IBT executive, Paul L. Wright, was employed by Monsanto before and after his tenure at the testing lab. It was during Wright’s stay at IBT that the lab performed tests involving Roundup’s connection to mutation in mice and tumors in rabbits. Wright was convicted of fraudulent testing in 1983. (The IBT story was the top “censored” story of 1982.) Despite the known hazards, the danger is compounded by the variety of new uses for which the herbicide is being promoted. It is applied to citrus and grape groves in California, soybeans in the Middle West, Christmas trees in Maine, coffee beans in Brazil, as well as crops grown for vitamins and spices, house plants, and government forests in the Pacific Northwest.  In fact, Roundup is the world’s most popular brand-name herbicide. It is easily Monsanto’s most important product, the first herbicide to reach annual sales of $1 billion. It is marketed in 120 countries and accounts for more than half of Monsanto’s foreign sales.

Given Roundup’s fraudulent approval; its significant health and environmental hazards; and that it is the most widely used brand-name herbicide in the world, the issue deserves significant media attention. At the very least, Monsanto should be required to redo the studies that are now known to be invalid.


THE PROGRESSIVE, July 1987, “Weed Killer,” by Anthony L. Kimery, pp 20-21.