A jury has ordered agribusiness behemoth Monsanto to pay more than $2 billion to a couple who claim the company’s Roundup weed killer caused their cancers.
Alva and Alberta Pilliod both contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma because of their use of the glyphosate-based herbicide, the jury ruled. They were each awarded $1 billion in punitive damages in addition to a combined $55 million in compensatory damages.
Monsanto keeps losing in court.
This is the third recent courtroom loss for Monsanto in California since August that involved claims that Roundup causes cancer.
Last August, a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million to Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma after spraying Roundup weed killer for two and a half years. Notably, the jury found that Monsanto “acted with malice, oppression, and fraud.” A judge later reduced the award to $78 million.
In March of this year, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $80 million to 70-year-old Edwin Hardeman, who claims his cancer was caused by his extensive use of Roundup. Hardeman had used Roundup on his 56-acre property for more than two decades, according to his lawsuit.
Hardeman’s trial may be more significant than Johnson’s case, reports the Associated Press:
U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria is overseeing hundreds of Roundup lawsuits and has deemed Hardeman’s case and two others “bellwether trials.”
The outcome of such cases can help attorneys decide whether to keep fighting similar lawsuits or settle them. Legal experts said verdicts in favor of Hardeman and the other test plaintiffs would give their attorneys a strong bargaining position in any settlement talks for the remaining cases before Chhabria. (source)
Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, apparently disagrees with Chhabria. On Monday, the company said it would appeal the verdict:
“The verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances.” (source)
Bayer (Monsanto) and the EPA continue to claim Roundup is safe.
Naturally, Bayer (Monsanto) claims that Roundup is safe. The company often appeals to government “authority” on the matter, citing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) stance on their product:
The company noted that none of the California verdicts has been considered by an appeals court and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers the weed killer safe.
The EPA reaffirmed its position in April, saying that the active ingredient glyphosate found in the weed killer posed “no risks of concern” for people exposed to it by any means — on farms, in yards and along roadsides, or as residue left on food crops. (source)
If you are aware of Monsanto’s powerful influence on the government, you are probably not surprised that the FDA continues to defend the company and its toxic products. As the law firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, and Goldman (one of the firms that represented the Pilliods) explains in the article Monsanto Government Influence Has Fueled Unrivaled Corporate Power:
It has been said that there is something of a revolving door between Monsanto and regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the European Food Safety Authority and some food regulatory agencies within the United Nations.
Monsanto has been known to open its doors to former government employees. It is not uncommon for retired legislators to go work as lobbyists for Monsanto after leaving the public sector, nor is it uncommon to see former regulators going to work for Monsanto after spending years at an agency charged with policing companies like Monsanto. Lastly, former Monsanto employees have been known to make the switch to the public sector, where they are supposed to be relied upon to police their former employer.
Michael Taylor is a great example of Monsanto’s revolving door of influence in government. Once a Monsanto attorney, Taylor left the company to work for the FDA. According to Jeffrey M. Smith, who wrote a book on Monsanto, Taylor didn’t just fill a vacant position at FDA, the government agency actually created a new position for him: Deputy Commissioner of Policy. In his new post, Taylor became the FDA official with the most influence on GM food regulation, one of the touchstones of Monsanto’s business. In effect, Taylor became a wolf in the henhouse, regulating his former employer.
After his stint at FDA, Taylor went right back into the open arms of his former employer, this time as Monsanto’s vice president of public policy. In 2009, he returned to government as a senior advisor to the FDA commissioner, a post he held for less than a year. In 2010, Taylor was appointed to a newly created position at FDA: Deputy Commissioner of Foods, a position he held until 2016.
Taylor is far from the only person to seamlessly move between Monsanto and the public sector. (source)
In 2017, internal emails released as part of a lawsuit against the company showed how Monsanto recruited outside scientists to co-author reports defending the safety of glyphosate:
Monsanto executive William Heydens proposed that the company “ghost-write” one paper. In an email, Heydens wrote that “we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak.” Heydens wrote that this is how Monsanto had “handled” an earlier paper on glyphosate’s safety.
That earlier paper, published in 2000, acknowledges Monsanto’s help in assembling the data, but does not list any Monsanto employees as co-authors.
The emails also offer hints of a friendly relationship between Monsanto and a senior regulator at the Environmental Protection Agency, Jess Rowland. The EPA was already doing its own assessment of glyphosate’s health risks, but after the U.N. report appeared, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention apparently was considering launching its own study.
In late April, 2015, Rowland called a regulatory expert at Monsanto, Daniel Jenkins, to ask who at the CDC was working on the glyphosate study. Jenkins reported on the conversation in an email to his colleagues. He wrote that Rowland “told me no coordination is going on and he wanted to establish some saying ‘If I can kill this I should get a medal.” (source)
Rowland also chaired the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), which authored a report on glyphosate, according to an article posted by the law firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, and Goldman. “In May of 2016, the EPA “accidentally” leaked the CARC report, which found that there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude glyphosate is carcinogenic. Just days after the CARC report was leaked, Rowland left his post at EPA under mysterious circumstances,” the article states.
Many experts disagree with Monsanto’s claim that Roundup is safe.
In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. That announcement came after a report was published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in a British medical journal. The agency cited numerous studies in which occupational exposure to glyphosate was linked to “increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma”.
“The data from all available studies combined show a statistically significant association between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposure to glyphosate,” the WHO concluded.
An analysis published in February 2019 found that glyphosate raises the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma in those exposed to it by 41%. Researchers from the University of Washington conducted a meta-analysis that included the most recent update of the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) cohort published in 2018 along with five case-control studies. “All of the meta-analyses conducted to date, including our own, consistently report the same key finding: exposure to GBHs (glyphosate-based herbicides) are associated with an increased risk of NHL,” the authors wrote in a study published in the journal Mutation Research.
“This research provides the most up-to-date analysis of glyphosate and its link with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, incorporating a 2018 study of more than 54,000 people who work as licensed pesticide applicators,” said study co-author Rachel Shaffer, a UW doctoral student in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences.
“Our analysis focused on providing the best possible answer to the question of whether or not glyphosate is carcinogenic,” said senior author Lianne Sheppard, a professor in the UW departments of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences and Biostatistics. “As a result of this research, I am even more convinced that it is.”
Glyphosate is not the only dangerous ingredient in Roundup.
While glyphosate alone certainly appears to be a carcinogen, it isn’t the only ingredient in Roundup that is problematic. Last year, US government researchers (I know, this shocked me too) admitted they uncovered evidence that some weedkilling products (including Roundup) are potentially more toxic to human cells than their active ingredient (glyphosate) is by itself. The US National Toxicology Program (NTP) has been conducting research on herbicide formulations made with glyphosate, but that also include other chemicals, The Guardian reports:
While regulators have previously required extensive testing of glyphosate in isolation, government scientists have not fully examined the toxicity of the more complex products sold to consumers, farmers and others.
Mike DeVito, acting chief of the National Toxicology Program Laboratory, told the Guardian the agency’s work is ongoing but its early findings are clear on one key point. “We see the formulations are much more toxic. The formulations were killing the cells. The glyphosate really didn’t do it,” DeVito said.
A summary of the NTP work stated that glyphosate formulations decreased human cell “viability”, disrupting cell membranes. Cell viability was “significantly altered” by the formulations, it stated.
One problem government scientists have run into is corporate secrecy about the ingredients mixed with glyphosate in their products. Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests show uncertainty within the EPA over Roundup formulations and how those formulations have changed over the last three decades.
That confusion has continued with the NTP testing.
“We don’t know what the formulation is. That is confidential business information,” DeVito said. NTP scientists sourced some samples from store shelves, picking up products the EPA told them were the top sellers, he said. (source)
Is Monsanto hiding evidence that Roundup can cause health problems?
How much does Monsanto itself know about the toxicity of its products? Court documents provide hints:
It is not clear how much Monsanto itself knows about the toxicity of the full formulations it sells. But internal company emails dating back 16 years, which emerged in a court case last year, offer a glimpse into the company’s view. In one 2003 internal company email, a Monsanto scientist stated: “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement. The testing on the formulations are not anywhere near the level of the active ingredient.” Another internal email, written in 2010, said: “With regards to the carcinogenicity of our formulations we don’t have such testing on them directly.” And an internal Monsanto email from 2002 stated: “Glyphosate is OK but the formulated product … does the damage.” (source)
Evidence from the three recent trials revealed that the company, in fact, is quite aware that their product is toxic. Here is a summary of that evidence, from U.S. Right to Know:
Monsanto never conducted epidemiology studies for Roundup and its other formulations made with the active ingredient glyphosate to evaluate the cancer risks for users.
Monsanto was aware that the surfactants in Roundup were much more toxic than glyphosate alone.
Monsanto spent millions of dollars on covert public relations campaigns to finance ghostwritten studies and articles aimed at discrediting independent scientists whose work found dangers with Monsanto’s herbicides.
When the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sought to evaluate glyphosate toxicity in 2015, Monsanto engaged the assistance of EPA officials to delay that review.
Monsanto enjoyed a close relationship with certain officials within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who have repeatedly backed Monsanto’s assertions about the safety of its glyphosate products.
The company internally had worker safety recommendations that called for wearing a full range of protective gear when applying glyphosate herbicides, but did not warn the public to do the same. (source)
For more on the history of Monsanto’s denial that their product may cause cancer, links to related studies, and trial updates, please see Monsanto Roundup Cancer Lawsuit FAQ and U.S. Right to Know’s Monsanto Papers.
Bayer’s legal woes and other troubles are just beginning.
The three California trials were the first of an estimated 13,000 plaintiffs with pending lawsuits against Monsanto across the country to go to trial. Since Bayer acquired Monsanto for $66 billion in 2018, the company has lost 44% of its stock value. Monsanto kept secret lists of critics of its pesticides, Bayer recently admitted.
Count me among the people who will not be disappointed if these legal challenges eventually put the company out of business.
To see our Monsanto archives, please click here: Monsanto coverage
What do you think?
Will Monsanto/Bayer continue to lose court cases? Do you think glyphosate causes cancer? Will the government continue to protect Monsanto, or will the truth eventually make that impossible?
Article posted with permission from Dagny Taggart
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