Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, the world’s most widely used herbicide, has been linked by numerous studies to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.
Lawsuits filed on behalf of more than 18,000 plaintiffs across the United States allege that the agrochemical giant knew about the cancer link for decades but sought to influence scientists and regulators to ignore the evidence.
Monsanto began selling Roundup in 1974. In the ’90s, the company began selling genetically engineered seeds that produce plants that are tolerant to glyphosate. Farmers could now spray the chemical over these “Roundup Ready” crops without harming them but killing any weeds.
The combination revolutionized farming, making Monsanto the world’s largest seed company. According to a 2016 study by agricultural economist Charles Benbrook, glyphosate use “has risen almost 15-fold” since the 1996 introduction of “Roundup Ready” crops. “In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use,” he said.
Roundup’s links to cancer have long been speculated. Lately, scientific studies have become more emphatic about the pesticide’s carcinogenic nature.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Seventeen countries have banned or significantly restricted the use of glyphosate-based herbicides. Among them are Sri Lanka, Bermuda, Vietnam, Austria and six Middle Eastern countries.
In February, researchers from the University of Washington concluded that exposure to glyphosate posed a 41 percent increase in risk of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Meanwhile, the federal litigation against Monsanto has uncovered a trove of internal documents dubbed the “Monsanto Papers.” In 2017, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California, who is overseeing the federal multidistrict litigation MDL composed of at least 900 of the suits over Roundup, unsealed the documents, which included documentation that Monsanto ghostwrote purportedly independent scientific studies clearing Roundup of any harmful effects and bullied scientists who dared to contradict those results.
Despite the findings and other evidence, Monsanto has continued to insist that Roundup is safe. Regulators for both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the European Food Safety Authority have agreed, releasing recent studies determining that glyphosate posed not threat to public health.
Jurors overwhelmingly accept cancer link
However, juries have found otherwise. In the first three trials held over those allegations, jurors have sent a resoundingly strong signal to German pharmaceutical and life sciences company Bayer AG, which purchased Monsanto last year. Jurors in the three trials found that Monsanto should have warned consumers about the risks of Roundup, awarding a combined $2.37 billion in damages to the plaintiffs.
Judges have slashed those verdicts to a total of $189.7 million, but that sum is still significant because it shows jurors believed that not only does glyphosate cause cancer, but that Monsanto concealed that risk.
A jury in a recent case in the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California, returned a $2 billion verdict for plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who alleged that use of Roundup on their Northern California property caused both of them to suffer from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Judge Winifred Smith found the award excessive and unconstitutional, cutting the damages to $86.7 million. However, she still found significant evidence supporting a sizable verdict against Monsanto.
“The court finds that there was clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto’s actions were reprehensible, ” Judge Smith wrote. “In this case, there was clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto made efforts to impede, discourage, or distort scientific inquiry and the resulting science.”
So far, all the trials have taken place in California state and federal courts. However, upcoming trials are scheduled for Monsanto’s home turf in St. Louis, Missouri. While a case scheduled to begin this month has been postponed until January, another two are scheduled to begin this fall.
Momentum for settlement
Meanwhile, there has been some movement toward negotiating a mass settlement of the pending litigation. Bayer, which purchased Monsanto for $63 billion, may be looking to limit some of the damage done to its acquisition.
In April, Judge Chhabria ordered Bayer and the federal plaintiffs into mediation. He appointed prominent attorney Kenneth Feinberg as the mediator. Feinberg is one of the most well-known figures in field of mediation and alternative dispute resolution. He has served as the special master of the U.S. government’s September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the government-appointed administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster, among other appointments.
Rumors of a proposed $8 billion settlement of all U.S. claims swirled recently, but Feinberg told Reuters Aug. 9 that the settlement reports were “pure fiction.”
“Compensation has not even been discussed in the global mediation discussions,” Feinberg said, according to the Reuters report.
Still there appears to be some urgency to settle cases and, thus, some urgency for those affected to file their claims.
Who’s at risk?
Those most at risk for the harmful effects from glyphosate are those who were exposed to high doses of the substance. Agricultural workers, professional gardeners, groundskeepers, landscapers and farmers are among those who have used Roundup regularly.
The health condition most commonly associated with exposure to glyphosate is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the body’s lymphatic system. It occurs when the body produces tumors in a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte.
Another condition associated with Roundup exposure is chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which involves abnormal lymphocytes in the bone marrow that enter the bloodstream.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Chest pain, coughing or trouble breathing
- Persistent fatigue
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
Those who have been exposed to significant amounts of Roundup or some other glyphosate-based product and suspect they have symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma should seek treatment as soon as possible. Medical treatment and documentation are crucial to the outcome of any claim.
Timing is also of key importance. Statutes of limitations vary by state. Thus, those who may have suffered from their exposure should contact an attorney immediately to ensure their rights are protected.