Editorial: Glyphosate put on trial

We hope jurors will put the facts on trial, not Monsanto.

Published on August 30, 2018 8:30AM

A California jury has awarded $289 million to a man who says he got non-Hodgkin lymphoma because of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. The case is one of many blaming the weed killer for health problems, despite many studies that have found no direct link to illnesses.

Reed Saxon/Associated Press File

A California jury has awarded $289 million to a man who says he got non-Hodgkin lymphoma because of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. The case is one of many blaming the weed killer for health problems, despite many studies that have found no direct link to illnesses.

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A California jury earlier this month awarded $289 million to a groundskeeper who claimed Monsanto’s Roundup gave him non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The state Superior Court jury agreed that Roundup contributed to Johnson’s cancer and Monsanto should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard.

The jury’s finding is at odds with what the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory and research agencies have concluded about glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

The European Union’s Glyphosate Task Force said evaluations done over the past 40 years consistently confirmed glyphosate “poses no unacceptable risk to humans, animals or the environment.”

The European Food Safety Agency and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have each said glyphosate probably doesn’t cause cancer. The German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment in 2014 declared glyphosate non-carcinogenic.

Glyphosate has been reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency many times since its introduction in 1985. In December the EPA released a draft risk assessment that said glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. And lest anyone suggest the EPA is mouthing Trump administration talking points, the agency came to that conclusion in 2016 while Barack Obama was president.

The National Institute of Health has been conducting an ongoing study of farm health since 1993. In May the NIH released an update of previous studies of 54,251 licensed pesticide applicators in North Carolina and Iowa, 82 percent of which used glyphosate.

“In this large, prospective cohort study, no association was apparent between glyphosate and any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies overall, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma and its subtypes,” it said.

The plaintiff’s lawyers introduced studies that show a link. But the most prominent is the classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015.

IARC classifies substances on a scale of 1 to 4. Glyphosate is classified in Group 2(a), which means “there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.”

IARC says “limited evidence” means a positive association has been observed, but other explanations have not been ruled out.”

Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto since the IARC’s decision. Law firms are eagerly soliciting additional plaintiffs to join.

In June, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria allowed hundreds of cases to proceed in federal court after finding a reasonable jury could conclude a connection between glyphosate and cancer.

Chhabria all but conceded the difficulty jurors and judges will have sorting out the claims.

“I have a difficult time understanding how an epidemiologist could conclude … that glyphosate is in fact causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma in human beings,” he said. “But I also question whether anyone could legitimately conclude that glyphosate is not causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma in human beings.”

We hope jurors will put the facts on trial, not Monsanto. Now a subsidiary of Bayer, Monsanto is not a sympathetic defendant.

Farmers who depend on glyphosate will be following these trials with interest.



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