The EPA and Betsy Ross

Monsanto Trial Roundup

I’ve read plenty of stories about the corruption of the US government, but always held on to the hope that things weren’t really so bad. After all, Betsy Ross happily quilted a team banner that has stood proudly for over two centuries. I presume this happy story to be true, but upon further research for this particular blog entry, it seems that “evidence is not sufficient” to confirm that she actually sewed our stars and stripes. Oh for goodness sake. If even Betsy Ross sewing our flag is based on fraudulent data, I don’t know what to believe anymore.

In completely predictable news, the shady EPA just released a decision that reaffirms their position that glyphosate is non-carcinogenic. It reads so similarly to the Bayer lawyers’ trial arguments that I presume that they may have even wrote it for the EPA. And I’m not exaggerating.

The timing of this EPA announcement is extremely interesting. Last week, the Plaintiff rested their case on Tuesday. Somehow, Monsanto managed to postpone the beginning of their defense testimony until the following Monday, giving them an insanely long time to line up all of their arguments. This unwarranted delay seemed oddly irregular. In retrospect, the Monsanto attorney’s stalling tactic makes perfect sense. They wanted to be sure to squeeze in a current EPA reaffirmation on their position on the non-carcinogenicity of glyphosate before closing arguments.

As we know, last Friday’s Bayer shareholders meeting hosted rightfully-frustrated investors who showered the executive team with complaints and criticisms on their handling of the Monsanto acquisition. We are starting to see a few fallouts following the meeting. For those who know bonds, you will appreciate that there is fresh re-evaluation of Bayer’s credit rating. In fact, their bonds may be entering the territory of “junk bond” status. Junk bonds are those that offer a high interest rate because they are a relatively risky investment due to underlying instability of the company who issued the bonds.

On to the trial.

TRIAL

We are having some good times on our side of the gallery – the Miller Group has loud, jovial voices that carry far with merriment. Humor is big on the plaintiff side of the gallery! After all, it’s good to keep some humor just to cope with the extremely grave issue at hand. The Bayer/Monsanto side is mute and scary serious. The clerk reminds us to use whispers when court is in session.

Today, the attorney matchup is Monsanto attorney Kelly Evans vs Brent Wisner. Evans tends to be a bit more engaging than Ismail, so the changeup is welcomed.

Dr. Phalen is Monsanto’s response to Dr. Sawyer, who is the Plaintiff’s expert in exposure toxicology. Similar to Dr. Bello, this is Phalen’s first experience in court. He is a specialist in Industrial Hygiene and Safety, meaning he goes into the workplace and homes to assess exposures to toxins. His undergraduate degree is from Cal State Fullerton and his PhD is from UCLA.

To provide an example of his work, Phalen tells us about a field investigation in an LA high rise in which a man was experiencing tingling and numbness while at work. After further investigation, it turned out that the problem was not from an exposure in the building, but rather from the water that his wife bottled for him for the workday. The water came back POSITIVE for arsenic. The wife was trying to kill him.

Of course, I’m thinking about how arsenic is also in Roundup, and how much I would love for the jury to hear that irony.

In a brief Voir Dire, Bruin Alum Wisner comments that UCLA is one of the best schools in the world.

The Direct and Cross Examination

Monsanto must have put this guy Phalen on the slate as a delay tactic while waiting for the EPA decision, because my takeaway of the overall testimony is that Phalen is unprepared for a rigorous cross-examination. No need for us to use up a ton of time writing and reading, so I’ll cut to the highlights.

Tidbits from the Direct

Roundup is 2% glyphosate, 2% surfactant, and approximately 96% water. The rest is trace impurities like formaldehyde. Evans and Phalen don’t mention arsenic, but in a bid to brown-nose the health seekers, do comment that a totally organic apple from Whole Foods would also have trace amounts of natural formaldehyde.

Phalen claims that Glyphosate does not readily absorb through the skin – skin repels water and glyphosate. Surfactants can change absorption, but there is no reason to think that is the case with Roundup (GG: I mean, for goodness sake, what a disgrace to his UCLA grad school program to claim such ridiculousness). He claims that when glyphosate is absorbed, it is rapidly eliminated from the body in urine.

Remember the cadaver skin cooking and freezing that essentially turned skin samples into impenetrable leather? Phalen thinks that damaging the cadaver skin by cooking and freezing it would actually increase absorption rates, not halt them entirely.  (!!!)

Phalen toured the Pilliod’s property, and the jury sees pictures of it. Phalen photographs a remaining Roundup bottle, specifically handling it with no glove. Evans points this out, and Phalen says that it wasn’t necessary to wear gloves because Roundup has such low toxicity. After all, “There’s been a full evaluation that’s been done. The EPA has evaluated…and so I’m confident that there is no hazard there.”

Highlights from the Cross

Wisner is harsher on Phalen than on Bello, making some of it difficult to watch for we empathetic people in the audience. I wonder how on earth I can possibly feel sorry for the expert witness for such a horrible company, who is either 1) really bad at his day job and can’t understand the science of glyphosate or 2) has just sold his soul. Ultimately, I’m glad Wisner went into aggressive mode.

Wisner opens his cross examination by asking Phalen if he would like to consider working for Monsanto in the future, and Phalen says yes if the topic is in his area of expertise. I never fail to be surprised that academics are willing to team with such a flagrantly corrupt organization.

Phalen says “Mon-SAWN-to” instead of the correct “Mon-SAN-to.” When he responds to Wisner’s questions, Phalen seems to be trying to correct Wisner’s pronunciation. Phalen’s lawyers should really have their expert witness pronounce the company name properly.

Wisner questions Phalen on the exposure studies that used cooked cadaver skin. Wisner points out that the skin was heated to 140 F degrees and then frozen. Phalen says that the skin was only heated for 45 seconds, which shouldn’t be considered cooking the skin. Wisner asks why absorption levels decreased so dramatically when Monsanto started using the laboratory DTL for their testing (where they cooked skin). Phalen pauses for a while, looks at his lawyers, and says he is confused on the question. Clearly, they made leathery skin that didn’t absorb the glyphosate!

In a very long debate, Wisner successfully argues that dermally absorbed glyphosate is excreted in a larger amount through feces than urine. To prove his point, Wisner shows Phalen an internal Monsanto email from 2008: “The movement of glyphosate in the blood flow from dermal contact is different to that through oral or intravenous exposure. The little data have suggested that the excretion is significantly more through the feces than the urine.” Phalen argues that he can’t comment on the email because he doesn’t know the context.

Wisner argues that studies show that 20% of glyphosate actually stay in the skin after dermal exposure. Phalen disagrees. Wisner pulls out another internal Monsanto email in which a scientist says: “We know now five to 20 percent of the dose could be stored in the skin.” Phalen once again questions the context of the email and wonders how others on the email responded to the assertion. Wisner says: “Well, let’s look at the response since you wanted to look at it.” Phalen responds: “I don’t want to look at it.” And the entire courtroom breaks into laughter.

Wisner closes out the cross and Phalen looks like he might come across the stand and choke Wisner. I kind of wonder if anyone ever HAS tried to choke Wisner. I have a feeling Phalen may not have the opportunity make appearances in future trials. Call off his cash cow.

Final Notes

AOJ will cover Wednesday’s testimony of epidemiologist Dr. Mucci!  

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