Forty plaintiffs recently filed a lawsuit against agribusiness giant Monsanto in California, alleging that exposure to the herbicide Roundup was the cause of their illness – specifically, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of blood cancer that attacks the lymphatic system. Furthermore, plaintiffs allege that Monsanto has been falsifying data and attempting to discredit legitimate research into the health effects of Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate.
At the same time the lawsuit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, the Honorable Judge Vincent Chhabria unsealed documents revealing that Monsanto had invented “research” that was later attributed to legitimate scientists – while an EPA official was working to suppress studies of glyphosate from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Two years ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a paper on research linking glyphosate to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, determining the chemical weed killer to be a “probable carcinogen.” According to the court documents, it was an EPA official who secretly advised Monsanto of the IARC's findings several months prior to the paper's publication. This provided Monsanto with ample opportunity to come up with a propaganda campaign to attack those findings.
The plot thickens. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made a little-publicized decision to drop plans to test food for the presence of glyphosate. That testing was to have started next week. The USDA has been working with the FDA for over a year in preparation of tests for corn syrup, a common commercial food additive. A spokesperson said the reason for the decision was “a more efficient use of resources.” The current plan is to test samples of honey, which can contain up to 100 different pesticides – but significantly, glyphosate will not be part of the equation.
One of the issues is that today's safety standards for glyphosate are based on studies from the 1980s, when use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) was a fraction of what it is today. A study recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that in light of increased usage of GBHs across the globe, along with the recent unexplained rise in cases of kidney disease among agricultural workers in equatorial regions, that it’s time to reassess glyphosate safety standards. There have studies going back years indicating that glyphosate plays a role in the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, as well as impaired reproductive development in male offspring.
However the current litigation turns out for plaintiffs, chances are good that glyphosate litigation is just getting started. Carey Gillam, director of the consumer advocacy organization U.S. Right To Know, speculates that glyphosate litigation could reach the same levels as that over asbestos and tobacco. “[Attorneys] see thousands and thousands of potential plaintiffs, not just in the U.S., but around the world.”