Critics and families involved in lawsuits against Monsanto are celebrating a tentative ruling from a California judge that would allow the state to add the main ingredient of the popular weed killer Roundup to a list of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer.
Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan of the Fresno County Superior Court issued the ruling on Jan. 27 and said the formal decision is coming soon. This would require Monsanto to include a warning on Roundup products that the main ingredient called glyphosate is known to cause cancer, thanks to regulations set forth by California’s Proposition 65.
Monsanto had filed a suit against California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the agency’s acting director to keep glyphosate off the state’s list of known carcinogens.
“The agency’s flawed and baseless proposal to list glyphosate under Proposition 65 not only contradicts California’s own scientific assessment, but it also violates the California and U.S. constitutions,” Monsanto spokesperson Samuel Murphey said. “Monsanto will continue to challenge this unfounded proposed ruling on the basis of science and the law.”
The company contends that the decision will result in financial consequences because people will see the label and no longer buy the product.
“It will absolutely be used in ways that will harm Monsanto,” Monsanto attorney Trenton Norris said in court, according to The Associated Press.
Robert Kennedy Jr., attorney and environmental activist, expressed skepticism at the claims of significant financial losses.
“This listing is not going to put them out of business,” Kennedy said at a press conference after the hearing, according to the Fresno Bee. “This is a warning, to let workers know that this chemical can harm them.”
Consumers Claim Roundup Caused Cancer Diagnosis
Monsanto currently faces lawsuits from at least 60 individuals and their families who claim that regular use of Roundup caused them to develop potentially lethal cancer.
More than a dozen families and their lawyers gathered outside the Fresno Superior Courthouse while Monsanto attorneys made oral arguments against the classification, according to LawyersandSettlements.com.
One of the consumers who filed a personal injury suit against the company spoke out against Monsanto.
“As long as I can remember we have used Roundup on our farm,” John Barton, who developed stage three non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after using the herbicide, told reporters outside the courthouse. “It is my deepest desire that no one else has to hear the word ‘cancer’ because of exposure to a known carcinogen.”
Others say that the addition of a cancer-warning label could have prevented death. Teri McCall, who is suing Monsanto on behalf of her husband, said she believes a warning would have saved her husband.
“I just don’t think my husband would have taken that risk if he had known,” she said to The Associated Press. Her husband carried a backpack of Roundup to spray their 20-acre avocado and apple farm for more than 30 years. He died of cancer in late 2015.
The cases of Barton and McCall are similar to the dozens of other lawsuits against Monsanto. Farmers across the United States have used Roundup for years, only to develop cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Despite the rising numbers of cases all making similar claims, Monsanto has defended its product.
“While we have sympathy for the plaintiffs, the science simply does not support the claims made in these lawsuits,” a Monsanto representative said to Intercept last year. “The U.S. EPA and other pesticide regulators around the world have reviewed numerous long-term carcinogenicity studies and agree that there is no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer, even at very high doses.”
Safety of Glyphosate Unclear Amid Conflicting Reports
The basis of California’s decision is a controversial update by an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) to add glyphosate to a category of substances that “probably” causes cancer. According to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), glyphosate has limited evidence of cancerous effects in humans but sufficient evidence of cancerous effects in animal studies.
Monsanto vehemently disagreed with the 2015 IARC classification of the chemical.
“Based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, regulatory agencies have concluded for more than 40 years that glyphosate can be used safely,” Phil Miller, vice president of regulatory affairs at Monsanto, said in a statement last year. “The conclusion from the IARC meeting in France was erroneous, non-transparent and based on selectively interpreted data. We are bringing this challenge forward because this intention to list is contrary to science.”
Since the decision, the United Nations and a different agency of the WHO announced in a May 2016 report that the herbicide did not pose a cancer risk in real-life situations.
In another case of mixed messages, the Environmental Protection Agency originally determined Roundup may cause cancer in 1985 before reversing the determination six years later after questioning one of the studies the decision was based on.
Despite the conflicting information, California officials say that the IARC is seen as a “gold standard” for identifying carcinogens by the state and other agencies throughout the United States.
Monsanto has said it plans to appeal the case after the formal ruling is issued.