July 20, 2016
A California rancher has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in federal court, accusing the country of misleading customers into believing that the blockbuster herbicide Roundup was as safe as table salt.
Plaintiff Peter Johansing says that he used Roundup for 40 years, and has now been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that has been particularly linked with Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate.
The lawsuit notes that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen.”
Johansing’s lawsuit is just one of a flurry of lawsuits Monsanto is currently defending itself against from farmers claiming that Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Evidence against Roundup builds
Roundup is one of the top-selling herbicides in the world. Its use has been heavily driven by the widespread adoption of the genetically modified (GM) crops engineered to resist it. In the United States, for example, more than 90 percent of soybeans grown are engineered for resistance to herbicides, including Roundup.
In 2014, a groundbreaking study conducted by French researchers showed that people who were exposed to glyphosate had twice the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as non-exposed people. This was one of the studies that the IARC reviewed before concluding that Roundup is probably carcinogenic. The IARC noted that the evidence for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was stronger than for other types of cancer.
Farmers are at the greatest risk of exposure, the IARC said, but also noted that traces of glyphosate have been detected in water, soil and even air following application. Other studies have detected traces of the chemical in food.
Movement to hold Monsanto accountable
Johansing’s suit was filed just weeks after a federal judge denied Monsanto’s request to dismiss a lawsuit by Christine Sheppard, a former coffee grower from Hawaii. Sheppard is accusing Monsanto of having knowingly concealed the risks of Roundup, which she says gave her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Sheppard used Roundup from 1996 to 2004, before beginning the process of converting her farm to organic production. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2003.
Monsanto claimed that the lawsuit fell outside of Hawaii’s two-year statute of limitations for tort claims. The judge rejected this argument, however, citing the IARC’s ruling on glyphosate less than two years ago.
The company also tried claiming that it cannot be sued for the content of its product labels, which are regulated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
“The complaint is not attempting to impose a different warning label,” the judge wrote in dismissing the argument.
“Rather, plaintiffs contend that Monsanto’s existing label (or the label used from 1995 to 2004) is ‘misbranded’ because it misrepresents Roundup’s safety, and is an inadequate warning. A pesticide is ‘misbranded’ under FIFRA if its label is ‘false or misleading in any particular,’ or omits necessary warnings or statements. The product is ‘defective’ under either theory.”
Other lawsuits include one filed by three Nebraska farmers and another by the widow of a California farmer who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In the latter case, the farmer’s dog also developed lymphoma. Both cases accuse Monsanto of actively concealing the truth about its product’s risks.
“Monsanto championed falsified data and has attacked legitimate studies that revealed Roundup dangers,” the Nebraska complaint reads. “Monsanto led a campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general population that Roundup is safe. Its continuing denial extends to the date of this Complaint.”
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