Monsanto’s Roundup, a glyphosate-based weed killer, has attracted controversy because of its alleged link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers. The first trial of a Roundup lawsuit concluded in August 2018, when a California jury awarded $289 million to a former groundskeeper with terminal cancer.
Monsanto Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides are used to kill broadleaf weeds and other weeds that compete with crops. These products work by blocking an enzyme involved in the synthesis of certain proteins necessary to plant growth.
Monsanto began marketing Roundup in 1974, claiming that the herbicide is safe for both commercial and home garden use.
Since then, the company has launched other glyphosate-based herbicides, including:
Roundup quickly became popular with farmers, especially following Monsanto’s introduction of Roundup Ready Crops, genetically modified (GMO) seed varieties that are resistant to glyphosate. Between 1990 and 1996, sales of Roundup increased roughly 20% per year.
By 2015, Roundup was being used in more than 160 countries.
Monsanto was acquired by Bayer in 2017.
A growing number of Roundup lawsuits have been filed in the nation’s courts on behalf of individuals who were diagnosed with cancer following exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers marketed by Monsanto.
While the company denies that Roundup poses any cancer risk, a California jury has already awarded $289 million to a former San Francisco groundskeeper who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following years of exposure to Monsanto Roundup.
During the course of the lawsuit, the plaintiff’s attorneys highlighted Monsanto’s own internal documents, which indicated that the company had reason to believe that glyphosate was dangerous as early as 1983. That year, a company-funded study discovered statistically-significant increased risk of cancer in mice who were treated with the herbicide. While Monsanto dismissed the findings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was concerned enough to ask that the study be replicated. Monsanto simply refused.
Other documents presented during the trial seemed to suggest that Monsanto colluded with the EPA to refute the alleged link between Roundup and cancer. Among other things, emails unsealed prior to trial indicated that the company had even ghostwritten two scientific papers that were cited by the EPA when it deemed the herbicide safe in 2017.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” in March 2015, specifically linking the herbicide to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and related cancers.
The agency’s determination was based on:
Monsanto has since engaged in an aggressive campaign to discredit the IARC findings. However, while the agency has acknowledged that its review left out industry-funded glyphosate studies, as well as research that failed to meet certain criteria, IARC continues to stand by its conclusion that glyphosate probably poses a cancer risk to humans.
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