For the second time in a year, a jury has ruled that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer was a factor in causing a man’s cancer.
On Tuesday, a jury in San Francisco found that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer played a significant role in contributing to 70-year old Edwin Hardeman’s cancer. Hardeman used Roundup on his 56-acre Sonoma County property for decades before he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. The unanimous verdict concluded a trial that may determine the future of thousands of similar lawsuits filed against biotechnology giant Monsanto.
CBS News reports that U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria controversially split Hardeman’s trial into two phases, with the first phase exclusively focused on scientific facts. Judge Chhabria chose to ignore evidence of apparent corporate misbehavior by Monsanto representatives because he said it was a “distraction” from the scientific question of whether Roundup causes cancer.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has been the subject of significant studies by scientific bodies all over the world. Organizations like the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have ruled that glyphosate does not cause cancer, while the World Health Organization (WHO) has ruled that it is indeed a carcinogen. Monsanto claims that studies have proven glyphosate to be safe.
In the second phase of Hardeman’s trial, Judge Chhabria asked jurors to decide whether Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing the man’s cancer. Hardeman’s lawyers called the judge’s decision to exclude evidence relating to corporate misconduct “unfair,” because the scientific evidence was connected to Monsanto’s attempts to manipulate, misrepresent, and intimidate scientists.
Judge Chhabria’s decision may have been influenced by a 2018 ruling from a California jury which found that Monsanto’s Roundup contributed to cancer in DeWayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper. In that case, evidence of corporate misconduct played a key role in the jury’s decision. In August 2018, Johnson was awarded $289 million after a jury found that Monsanto failed to notify him and other consumers of the danger’s of Roundup. The verdict in that case was later reduced to $78 million and is on appeal.
Bayer, the current owner of Monsanto, continues to deny allegations that Roundup, or glyphosate, is a cause of cancer. Despite these claims, a variety of studies have called attention to issues surrounding the product, including causing harm to bees.
In September 2018, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin published a study claiming the popular chemical glyphosate was responsible for harming special gut bacteria in honey bees. The study, “Glyphosate perturbs the gut microbiota of honey bees,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and points to exposure to glyphosate as disrupting the gut bacteria, ultimately making bees more susceptible to illness. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide RoundUp.
In September 2017, the EPA released an assessment of glyphosate risks and concluded the chemical is not a likely carcinogen to humans. The EPA’s decision conflicts with a March 2015 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that found that glyphosate “probably” contributes to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in humans and classified it as a ‘Group 2A’ carcinogen.
The IARC report was published in The Lancet Oncology and detailed evaluations of organophosphate pesticides and herbicides. The report concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The evidence for this conclusion was pulled from studies of exposure to the chemical in the US, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001. The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.”
Shortly after the IARC review, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent agency funded by the European Union, shot back with their own study, claiming glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.” Those studies were followed by research from experts with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO released a statement claiming glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans” exposed to it through food. The WHO co-signed the statement with the FAO. The organizations also found that glyphosate is not likely to be genotoxic—destructive to cell’s genetic material—in humans.
As of 2018, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Authority, and the United Nations say glyphosate does not pose a risk of cancer to humans. On the other end of the spectrum, the WHO’s very own International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) states that it could be linked to cancer.