In the first of many pending lawsuits to go to trial, a jury in San Francisco concluded on Aug. 10 that the plaintiff had developed cancer from exposure to Roundup, Monsanto’s widely used herbicide, and ordered the company to pay US$289 million in damages.
The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, had used Roundup in his job as groundskeeper in a California school district. He later developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The jury awarded Johnson $39 million in compensatory damages to cover pain, suffering and medical bills due to negligence by Monsanto, plus an additional $250 million in punitive damages.
Richard G. “Bugs” Stevens, Professor at the School of Medicine in the University of Connecticut looks at what could happen next.
- the jury wanted to punish Monsanto because members believed the company deliberately withheld from the public scientific knowledge that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was a cancer danger.
Stevens says the plaintiffs case was largely based on:
- a widely criticized 2015 statement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate was a “probable human carcinogen”
The classification of 2A means that there is credible evidence, but it does not reach the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He says the IARC is a highly credible body, but the future is up in the air, as it were. Further research and evidence may allay fears, or it may confirm them. The case will be appealed, and there are plenty more cases in the queue.
Bernard Stewart, Professor of Paediatrics, Cancer and related disorders, Epidemiology, Biochemistry and Cell Biology at UNSW, says Council workers spraying the weed-killer glyphosate in playgrounds won’t hurt your children.
He says the IARC work was done on people using glyphosate occupationally. So the story may be different for the council workers. He says soil microbes degrade glyphosate in a matter of days. It doesn’t accumulate the way some pesticides do.
On the other hand traces of glyphosate have been found in Germans beers. This stimulated the German Brewers Association to issue a statement emphasising that state-of-the-art analytical methods can be used to identify minimal and entirely harmless trace quantities just about everywhere, including organic foods.
Wikipedia has a lot of information, but says it needs updating.
SafeWork NSW helpfully tells us:
If you use these chemicals, obtain the latest information and conduct a risk assessment on their use. Use the hierarchy of control to develop safe work methods and avoid exposure.
And listen to the AVPMA.
- The APVMA conducted a weight-of-evidence evaluation that included a commissioned review of the IARC monograph regarding glyphosate by the Department of Health, and risk assessments undertaken by regulatory agencies in other countries and expert international bodies.
The APVMA concluded that the use of glyphosate in Australia does not pose a cancer risk to humans, and that products containing glyphosate are safe to use as per the label instructions.
There are currently no scientific grounds to place glyphosate under formal reconsideration and the APVMA will continue to monitor any new information, reports or studies that indicate that this position should be revised.(Emphasis added)
Health Canada, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority (NZ EPA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) have all recently assessed glyphosate and concluded that glyphosate does not pose a cancer risk to humans.
That seems clear, but on the TV and radio experts were saying – while we really don’t know, best avoid the use of glyphosate, or if you really have to use it, tog up and be careful.
I get the impression that Dewayne Johnson got the undiluted glyphosate on his skin, which would not be advisable. If so it raises the question as to whether sloppy work practices rather than the chemical was the real villain. We’ll watch with interest while lawyers make hay. For what it’s worth, on limited information my bet is that Monsanto will win this particular one.
Monsanto is one of the most hated companies around the world:
According to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article: “In a Harris Poll measuring the ‘reputation quotient’ of major companies, Monsanto ranked third-lowest, above BP and Bank of America and just behind Halliburton.
There is an annual march against Monsanto:
It was taken over by the German giant Bayer in 2016, for a record-breaking $66 billion.
What were the Germans thinking?
Profits, that’s what:
- The tie-up, which will give the new company control of more than 25% of the world’s supply of seeds and pesticides, comes amid a wave of mergers in the agriculture sector.
Falling crop prices have seen farmers cutting back on buying seeds and agricultural chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides, leading to lower profits for suppliers.
The industry has been fighting back in order to save business costs.
Rivals including Dow Chemical, DuPont and Syngenta have all announced tie-ups recently, although some have yet to be cleared by regulators.
Bayer paid a 45% premium to the previously undisturbed share price. Head honcho Werner Baumann:
- said the takeover would bring benefits across the board and deliver “substantial value to shareholders, our customers, employees and society at large”.
Just capitalism at work. Not sure it’s what Joseph Schumpeter had in mid when he talked about “creative destruction”.