Agrochemical corporation Monsanto created Roundup in the 1970s to help farmers more effectively kill the weeds that harmed their crops. Today, Roundup can be found on store shelves around the world and remains one of the most commonly used herbicides among field workers, landscapers and homeowners alike.
Despite Roundup’s popularity for controlling unwanted weeds and plants, the herbicide has also faced tremendous scrutiny. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup’s formulation, was studied by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015. The researchers later released a report stating that glyphosate exposure can be linked to cancer in humans. The aftermath of this classification resulted in thousands of consumer lawsuits alleging that years of exposure to Roundup causes cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, B-cell lymphoma, and leukemia.
Courtroom battles thus far
In the past year alone, three highly publicized lawsuits have resulted in courtroom losses for Monsanto, now owned by Bayer AG. The first case involves Dewayne Johnson, a longtime landscaper who took Monsanto to trial in August 2018. Johnson ultimately received a payout of $78 million after the California jury found that prolonged Roundup use led Johnson to develop terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Monsanto went to trial a second time in March 2019 where the company faced Edwin Hardeman, a man who sprayed Roundup to treat the weeds and overgrowth on his property for a long period of time. At the end of his trial, Hardeman received more than $80 million in damages, which was recently reduced to just $25 million.
The third and most recent trial against Monsanto involves Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a couple who began using Roundup in the 1970s and both received non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnoses. In May 2019, the Pilliods were granted roughly $2 billion in damages, though it’s still possible for this award to also be reduced.
Studies supporting cancer claims
Throughout each of the three trials, specific evidence was presented that showed the respective juries a potential correlation between glyphosate exposure and the development of cancer. To support the link, one study showed how the chemical formulation in Roundup can disturb normal cell divisions in sea urchins, which alludes that the herbicide can have a similar effect on humans.
Another study revealed how the specific combination of glyphosate with the other chemicals in Roundup is more toxic than glyphosate alone. According to this study, the chemical concoction can have a negative impact on a number of human cells, including umbilical, embryonic and placental cells. A third study presented in trial compares the effects of glyphosate and its ability to disrupt the regulation of normal cell cycles, which can lead to the development of cancer.
Scientific studies will continue to be administered on the topic of glyphosate and Roundup’s toxicity. One recent study, conducted by researchers from Washington State University, found that the offspring of rats that were exposed to glyphosate experienced a number of health complications. The descendants of exposed rats experienced what is known as generational toxicity, and were seen to develop health problems such as kidney disease, obesity and birth abnormalities. This study suggests that glyphosate has the potential to affect the children and grandchildren of humans who actively use Roundup and other glyphosate-heavy weed killers.
Bayer’s unethical business practices
In addition to the scientific evidence that connects glyphosate to the development of cancer, attorneys have also alleged that Monsanto knew about the toxicity of glyphosate and attempted to hide it from consumers for decades. In an NBC News article, Brent Wisner, who represented Alva and Alberta Pilliod, said, “We’re not suing [Monsanto] for the fact that their product causes cancer. We’re suing them because they didn’t tell people that it causes cancer.”
The idea that Monsanto knew the dangers of its product to consumers was initially presented in Dewayne Johnson’s case. According to the documents presented in court, Monsanto had evidently “ghostwritten” various scientific reports about glyphosate’s impact on human health. These internal documents showed that Monsanto representatives took part in writing their own research on glyphosate, and even discussed paying outside scientists to take authorship of their articles.
According to Environmental Health News, Monsanto also attempted to pressure a journal editor who drew conclusions about the ingredient to retract the paper entirely. Additionally, there is evidence that the corporation tried to influence the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to convince another organization, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, not to go forward with assessing the toxicity of glyphosate.
Following their third courtroom loss in May 2019, Bayer revealed that it plans to look for alternatives to Roundup. The corporation said it would spend upwards of $5.6 billion over the next 10 years in search of an alternative weed killer to its glyphosate-based herbicide. While Bayer representatives claim it is their attempt at “easing concerns” about the controversies surrounding Roundup, critics may interpret this statement as an admission of guilt.
The future of Monsanto’s cancer cases
Though Bayer AG, Monsanto and even organizations like the EPA continue to claim that Roundup is safe and does not cause cancer in humans, consumers are continuing to file lawsuits against the manufacturer. Sharlean Gordon is the next plaintiff to face Monsanto and will plead her case that she developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup for 15 years. The trial is set to begin August 19 in St. Louis.
Following this case, at least six other trials are expected to take place in the coming months: four in Missouri, one in Montana and one federal case in California. Amid the wave of consumer lawsuits is also a 12-year-old boy who suffers from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and alleges that exposure to Roundup caused his illness. He plans to take Monsanto to trial in the near future.
Though controversies still surround the safety of Roundup, it is clear that the lawsuits against Monsanto will not cease anytime soon. The toxicity of glyphosate will continue being called into question, and studies are sure to continue being administered to support future plaintiffs alleging their cancer claims.