Farm Progress

“In the course of the Committee’s oversight of EPA’s review of glyphosate, the Committee has obtained documents and information that appears to contradict your responses to questions posed by members of the Committee," Chairman Smith’s letter said. 

Forrest Laws

November 4, 2016

4 Min Read

What did Gina McCarthy know, and when did she know it? And if the EPA administrator didn’t know, why didn’t she?

While it may not rise to the level of Watergate yet, an inquiry by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is trying to determine what role EPA employees may have played in drafting the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s glyphosate monograph.

The monograph said the widely-used active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The finding, which was released in March 2015, has since been roundly criticized by a number of governmental agencies and groups of scientists.

In a letter to McCarthy signed by Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the Committee cited the EPA administrator’s testimony during a June 22 hearing in which she was questioned about EPA’s review of glyphosate. The hearing followed EPA’s posting and subsequent withdrawal of a paper that said glyphosate was not likely to cause cancer in early May.

“In the course of the Committee’s oversight of EPA’s review of glyphosate, the Committee has obtained documents and information that appears to contradict your responses to questions posed by members of the Committee," Chairman Smith’s letter said.

Delay of SAP

“In light of these contradictions, recent actions taken by EPA to further delay the Scientific Advisory Panel review for glyphosate do not instill confidence that EPA will fairly assess glyphosate based on sound science.” (The letter was referring to an announcement by EPA it has delayed the Panel’s scheduled meeting in late October indefinitely.)

Tough questioning of administration officials is not uncommon, especially in an election year, but the Science, Space and Technology Committee letter was especially pointed in the questions raised about McCarthy’s June 22 testimony.

One of those concerned Ms. McCarthy’s response to a question in the June 22 hearing that no EPA employees were involved in the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s work on the glyphosate monograph.

Committee staff members and EPA officials later found documents indicating three EPA employees had varying roles in the drafting of the IARC glyphosate report

“Your response (during the June 22 hearing) reflected an understanding that no EPA official was involved in the IARC review of the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, which was the entire focus of the study,” Chairman Smith’s letter says.

Talking points

“However, you failed to answer the question as to why (Matthew) Martin was included on an email alluding to his work on the IARC glyphosate study. Rep. Loudermilk displayed another email communication in which Mr. Martin was copied that contained talking points on how to answer questions on the findings of the IARC glyphosate study.”

Ms. McCarthy asked to clarify her statement and then said Martin was “involved in the review for glyphosate, but he didn’t participate in the issues relative to its carcinogenicity. That was an entirely separate part of the study.”

Chairman Smith’s letter said that during the questioning by Rep. Loudermilk, Administrator McCarthy “appear(s) to have provided misleading and contradictory statements with regards to Mr. Martin’s involvement” in the study.

The letter continues in that vein, citing the participation of Martin and the EPA’s Peter Egehy in the glyphosate study’s email exchanges and other documents. It also questions ties between Christopher Portier, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, who participated in the IARC study and Jim Jones, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Portier wrote a letter to the European Food Safety Authority after the latter issued a statement critical of the IARC’s statement glyphosate was probably carcinogenic to humans. In it, he said the EFSA report “weakens the strength of the IARC monograph program to stimulate change in how some of these agents are reviewed and addressed.”

Inability to perform

Chairman Smith said his committee’s inquiry has turned up other documents outlining EPA employees involvement in the IARC study at a time when the agency was supposedly conducting an objective review of glyphosate.

“What is most unfortunate about this matter is that this is just another example of EPA’s inability to perform the most basic of its statutory functions,” the letter states. “Throughout the course of this administration, the EPA has been laser focused on its regulatory agenda, promulgating some of the most complex and wide-reaching rules under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

“From the complete disregard for the environment seen by the EPA’s failure to warn in Flint, Mich., to other incidents the EPA fails at the most basic of tasks,” it said. “The agency’s review of glyphosate is little different than these examples. The Committee implores you to take control of this matter and determine why your staff failed you and failed to correct matters as necessary to ensure that the agency’s decisions are based solely on sound science.”

In the letter, Chairman Smith also requested transcribed interviews with Martin, Egehy and Jones and other current and former EPA employees.

To read the text of the letter, visit

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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