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Monsanto Roundup Lawsuit Ends in $289 Million Verdict

Image via Waywuwei / Flickr

In the first of hundreds of Monsanto Roundup lawsuits to to go trial, a jury concluded that Roundup, the controversial weedkiller, likely caused the plaintiff to develop cancer.

The jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages. The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma during his time as a groundskeeper in a California school district.

Johnson sprayed glyphosate 20-30 times per year on public school grounds and was twice “doused” with glyphosate due to malfunctioning equipment. One time, a hose came loose, and chemicals were sprayed inside his suit. It was a few months after that when he developed a rash that spread over his body. Doctors later diagnosed him with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The jury in Superior Court of California in San Francisco deliberated for three days, before deciding that Monsanto had failed to warn Mr. Johnson and other consumers of the cancer risks. It awarded $39 million in compensatory and $250 million in punitive damages (1).

Monsanto Roundup Lawsuit to be Appealed

Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) said in a statement that it would appeal the verdict. Executive vice president, Scott Partridge, said: “We all have tremendous sympathy for Mr. Johnson and his family. What they’ve gone through with this disease is terrible.”

But of the verdict, Partridge noted, “It doesn’t change the overwhelming scientific evidence and the 40 years of safe use of around the world”

Monsanto continues to claim that over 800 scientific studies and reviews (including a report from the Environmental Protection Agency), “support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer (2).”

Despite the claims, Johnson hopes this verdict will at least make it mandatory for companies like Monsanto to label their products and make the public aware of the risks involved.

“Monsanto made Roundup the oxycontin of pesticides, and now the addiction and damage they caused have come home to roost,” said Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, in a statement to LiveLoveFruit. “This won’t cure DeWayne Lee Johnson’s cancer, but it will send a strong message to a renegade company.”

Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists

According to Bloomberg, “Monsanto was its own ghostwriter for some safety reviews,” and an EPA official reportedly helped Monsanto “kill” another agency’s cancer study. Not only this, but in order to save glyphosate, Monsanto made the effort to destroy the United Nations’ cancer agency by any means possible (3).

When the expert panel from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” Monsanto backfired. A key Monsanto document released via litigation revealed their plan of attack: discredit the cancer scientists with the help of allies across the food industry (4).

“I’ve been fighting IARC forever!!! :)” one former Kraft Foods scientist wrote to a former Syngenta scientist in an email obtained through a state open records request (5). “Foods and ag are under siege since Glyphosate in March 2015. We all need to gather somehow and expose IARC, as you guys did in the paper. Next priorities are all food ingredients: aspartame, sucralose, dietary iron, B-carotene, BPA, etc. IARC is killing us!”

The industry partners that Monsanto relied on to “protect Roundup” from the cancer panel report are as follows:
– CropLife International
– BIO and the Grocery Manufacturer Association
– GMO Answers
– International Food Information Council
– Sense about Science
– Genetic Literacy Project
– Academics Review

All of these organizations used similar messaging in their reports, often referring back to each other as sources.

Monsanto Lawsuits Could Cost Them Trillions

Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) faces more than 5,000 similar lawsuits across the United States. If decided similarly, these Monsanto Roundup lawsuits could subject Monsanto / Bayer to over $1 trillion in financial liability – enough to completely bankrupt the corporation. Wouldn’t that be nice…

Now The Food Lawsuits…

Aside from spraying lawns, Roundup is also sprayed on our food. So what does this verdict mean for food companies manufacturing products containing trace levels of glyphosate?

Six days after the verdict in the Dewayne Johnson vs. Monsanto trial, plaintiff Mounira Doss argued that General mills had a duty to disclose the presence of glyphosate in Cheerios cereal products, but failed to do so (6).

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested more than a dozen brands of oat-based foods to test the levels of glyphosate. Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal came in at 490-470 parts per billion (ppb). While these levels are well below permitted EPA thresholds for glyphosate in grains, Doss argues that:

“Scientific evidence shows that even ultra-low levels of glyphosate may be harmful to human health,” and notes that glyphosate recently joined the Prop 65 list of chemicals ‘known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm’, and was found by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to be “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Doss argued that General Mills, “failed to disclose or actively concealed information reasonable consumers need to know before purchasing [Cheerios, and] knew should have known that Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios contained glyphosate but withheld this information from consumers and the general public (7).”

Should food manufacturers be worried? I think so.

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