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High Stakes Dispute Over Roundup Weed Killer

Jury finds glyphosate causes cancer.

by | Nov 10, 2023 | Articles, Law, Opinion

Since its development as an integral part of genetically modified organism (GMO) cropping, glyphosate – the active weed-killing ingredient in Roundup – has attracted controversy over whether it causes human disease, particularly non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Previous jury verdicts have been split, with some finding liability and others not. Bayer, the successor to Monsanto (which developed glyphosate), settled some 125,000 cases for $10.9 million in 2020 without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing or toxicity. The recent California case of Dennis v. Monsanto Company may be a game-changer, awarding plaintiff Mike Dennis a stunning $332 million for non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) he claims was caused by Roundup.

Verdict Condemns Monsanto

The verdict is huge because, after reviewing the evidence, the jury determined that Monsanto had breached its obligations to consumers, awarding $325 million in punitive charges on top of $7 million in compensatory damages. This indicated the jury found wrongdoing on a larger scale than mere neglect or understandable error and believed Monsanto had deliberately obscured the risks to the public. The Jury Verdict form signed Oct. 31 suggested that Monsanto knew or should have known Roundup can cause NHL when used as expected; that the company failed to adequately warn of the dangers; that scientific and medical knowledge generally accepts that Roundup risks causing NHL; and that lack of warnings was a substantial factor causing the plaintiff’s illness.

GettyImages-1149114311 Roundup

(Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The economic stakes are astronomical: The use of glyphosate in Roundup for GMO crops has created a multibillion-dollar industry in agriculture and chemical production. If glyphosate is not dangerous, the risks to efficient agriculture and corporate profits of banning it are economically devastating. On the other hand, if glyphosate is indeed carcinogenic, the damage already done to the ecosystem and soils may be unfathomable and irreversible.

The EPA Supports Glyphosate

Glyphosate has been controversial for decades. In March 2015, the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized the chemical as a “probable human carcinogen” based on evidence of cancer in humans and animal experiments, concluding there was “strong evidence” of genotoxicity.

American regulatory agencies, though quick to embrace International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conclusions about carbon dioxide and anthropomorphic climate change, have balked at such denigrations of what seems to be America’s favorite corporate product. Despite the IARC’s determination and tens of thousands of lawsuits by people alleging harms from glyphosate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains that people can keep safely ingesting it:

“Glyphosate products used according to label directions do not result in risks to children or adults … The Agency concluded that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans … EPA does not agree with IARC’s conclusion that glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ … Due to its widespread use, trace amounts of glyphosate residues may be found in various fresh fruits, vegetables, cereals, and other food and beverage commodities. However, these trace amounts are not of concern for the consumer.”

On June 17, 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit “vacated the human health portion of the glyphosate ID.” EPA stated that it is creating a new standard that will still approve glyphosate:

“The ID included interim risk mitigation measures in the form of label changes, including labeling to manage spray drift and herbicide resistance. It concluded that the benefits of glyphosate outweigh the potential ecological risks when glyphosate is used in accordance with the labels … EPA’s underlying scientific findings regarding glyphosate, including its finding that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans, remain the same. In accordance with the court’s decision, the Agency intends to revisit and better explain its evaluation of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate and to consider whether to do so for other aspects of its human health analysis.”

FDA Roundup Testing

Criticized for not testing foods for the chemical, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began doing so in 2016. That agency found glyphosate residues in 59% of corn and soybean samples, below what the EPA set as acceptable levels of exposure. With the herbicide now prevalent in ever more US crops, the Dennis lawsuit once again has people wondering if they’re being exposed to a deadly chemical and, if so, why America’s regulatory agencies don’t seem to care.

Bayer strongly challenged the Dennis verdict, claiming reversible error by the court. That same court just issued a permanent injunction banning California from requiring glyphosate products to be labeled with consumer warnings. As the Dennis appeal makes its way through California’s legal system, glyphosate will still be widely sprayed on American soils and crops, as both a desiccant and a chemical adjunct to “Roundup Ready” GMOs. As to whether this is good or evil, the jury is still out.

Read More From John Klar

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