Jurors in California have ordered Monsanto, the company who created the herbicide Roundup, to pay over $2 billion in damages to a couple who alleged they both developed non-Hodgkin Lymphoma after decades of spraying Roundup on their property. This is the third trial to find Monsanto liable for cancer related to Roundup, or specifically glyphosate, its active ingredient. R. Brent Wisner, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the eye-popping judgment was designed to “send a message” and declared the case a bellwether of things to come.
A Worldwide Issue
There are approximately 13,400 more plaintiffs in queue. Things don’t look good for Bayer, who purchased Monsanto in 2018. Concerns about glyphosate are not confined to the United States either: the European Parliament recently voted to oppose to renewal of glyphosate for households in 2018 and for agriculture in 2020, citing health concerns. Worldwide, people think glyphosate causes cancer.
Are they right?
The science is unclear. The EPA, Health Canada, and the European Food Safety Authority all state that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer. However, the World Health Organization begs to differ, saying glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” These conflicting opinions are based in scientific studies, and each side considers the other’s data biased and flawed. But a recent meta-analysis published February in ScienceDirect, “Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides and Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma,” found a “compelling link” between glyphosate-based herbicides and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. It does seem Roundup is dangerous, or at least questionable.
Why keep it on the shelves?
The problem is, glyphosate-based herbicides are essential to traditional agriculture in the United States. Farmers buy seeds that are “Roundup Ready,” meaning genetically modified to be unaffected by glyphosate. Fields are then blanket-sprayed– weeds die, crops remain unaffected. Roundup is so pervasive that a recent U.S. Geological Survey study of 38 states found glyphosate in the majority of rivers and streams and roughly 70 percent of rainfall samples. Natural alternatives to Roundup (like vinegar or salt water) are less desirable because they burn weeds and crops alike, i.e., they must be selectively applied. That works OK for a backyard garden, but the United States produces more than 177 million acres of corn and soybeans. Try taking a spray bottle to that.
Still. Whether or not Roundup withers away, the greater meaning of these cases is that they exist at all. Once upon a time, the chemical industry was thought to be benevolent. But thanks to everything from tragic medical side effects to holes in the ozone layer, that view is no more. You can see it in the rise of organic foods, alternative medicine, solar panels and wind turbines. People want a world that is more natural, healthy, and safe.
And if Monsanto’s woes are any indication, they are willing to sue to get it. It takes little imagination to see where we might be heading. Beware, Big Chem. This fight is just getting started.
Article by Molly Fuscher