Last week, a San Francisco jury awarded a Californian $80 million after finding Monsanto, the maker of the weedkiller Roundup, and Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company, responsible for not warning him and others that the product could cause cancer.
The judgment of $5 million in compensation and $75 million in punitive damages comes after a six-person panel agreed earlier in the month the herbicide was a “substantial factor” causing Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) in the plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman.
The commercial weed killer contains the chemical glyphosate, an herbicide, that when applied to leaves, plants and grass will kill unwanted weeds. The product can also be used to “regulate plant growth and ripen specific crops,” says the National Pesticide Information Center. Glyphosate was first registered for use in 1974. Roundup is the most popular brand of this particular pesticide and has been in use for more than 40 years.
Jennifer Moore, one of Hardeman’s attorneys, said of the verdict, “Today, the jury sent a message loud and clear that companies should no longer put products on the market for anyone to buy without being truthful, without testing their product and without warning if it causes cancer.”
Hardeman, 70, was diagnosed with the cancer in 2015 after using Roundup Weed Killer for over 20 years on his 56- acres of land. His case is one of many Bayer and Monsanto are facing in San Francisco. In August 2018, a separate jury awarded a man $289 million in a similar case. That judgment was slashed by the judge down to $78 million. Monsanto responded with an appeal.
Hundreds of Roundup lawsuits are currently awaiting judgment in U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria’s courtroom. Chhabria believes these “bellwether trials,” where verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs can be leveraged by lawyers in settlement agreements, will keep many of these cases out of court.
Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company, denies culpability in these cases and argues that the government has also rejected the claim that the glyphosate-based herbicide is linked to cancer. They argue further that the product is widely used and available in more than 160 countries. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer identified Roundup as a “probable human carcinogen.” The lawsuits followed.
Monsanto disputes this finding and points to that of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which has deemed Roundup to be safe when used properly.
As climate change and the environment take center stage in the 2020 Democratic primaries, some candidates have already weighed in on this subject. In February, Congresswoman and prsidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) says the product should be banned.
“We need to ban all products containing glyphosate, including Roundup. It’s poisoning our people, butterflies and other insects, the land and the water. Monsanto proves they’ll do anything to pad their pockets, including manufacturing ‘scientific studies’ to influence the EPA while destroying small farmers. They unleashed the scourge of Roundup on us and should be held accountable for the consequences.”
Gabbard’s comments came just days after The Guardian reported the findings of a study that found “41% increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” According to the article, there are approximately “9,000 lawsuits in the U.S. brought by people suffering from NHL who blame Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides for their diseases.”
This study could harm Monsanto in court should they continue to point to the EPA findings as a defense since three of the researchers cited in The Guardian article were tapped by the EPA board in 2016 to serve on the Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to study the safety of glyphosate. According to the SAP 2018 report, glyphosate was considered a possible carcinogen as early as 1985 as the result of animal testing. However, in 2015, the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) classified glyphosate as “Not Likely to be Carcinogenic to Humans.”
This report is what Monsanto points to in their defense against the thousands of plaintiffs who are currently engaged in lawsuits against them and parent company, Bayer. The conclusion that glyphosate has no “genotoxic potential” to human DNA and, therefore, is unlikely to cause cancer, except in high dosages and exposures, is the foundation of Monsanto’s defense.
If Monsanto and other product makers using potentially harmful chemicals in amounts that are clinically safe, consumers will have to be more diligent in asking these corporations to more transparent. This level of transparency is not only a question of health and safety, but it is also a question of morals and ethics: Do corporations have a moral obligation to inform consumers about potential dangers to their health?
Experts in businesses and ethics argue that corporations do bear a moral responsibility to inform the public as to whether or not their product poses a potential health or safety risk. Those opposed believe that consumers, as free agents, always have a choice and should do their own research beforehand. This dilemma is further complicated by recent rollbacks in regulations by the EPA, a move that tends to favor corporations over consumers.
The moral issue facing business practices is directly connected to their profit margin. Companies like Monsanto worry about the potential financial cost they bear if they are to disclose this information and then if suits like Hardeman’s continue to be won in court. As a result, the makers of products like Roundup tend to hone in on the legal responsibility.
In a new report, Corporations, Business and Social Trust, by Nikolas Kirby and Andrew Kirton, the authors find that failure to consider their moral obligations could backfire and become detrimental to many businesses. Without social trust, the report says, “communities and states [will] fracture.” If “the level of assurance that fellow citizens will not be inclined to cheat or take advantage of others” is absent, then “there is no such thing as society” and our “shared system of moral obligations” will erode.
For the most part, corporations will have to be held accountable by the laws that regulate product safety and the courts, at least until the moral obligation of protecting consumers becomes profitable.
Thoughts on the new updates in the Roundup Cancer Ruling? Don’t hesitate to discuss! Comment below, or shoot us an email. If interested, please send your thoughts to Outreach@ConsiderTheConsumer.com, find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or even connect with us directly on our website! We look forward to hearing from all of you.
About the Author: Aisha K. Staggers is a writer, lecturer, and co-host and producer of “All Our Own” radio show and podcast and co-host of “Staggers State of Things” on the Dr. Vibe Show. Her work has been featured on MTV News, HuffPost, Blavity, Atlanta Blackstar, For Harriet, New York Review of Books and a host of other first-run publications and syndicated outlets. Find her on Twitter @AishaStaggers. For more of her work, check out her page here!
Interested in posts like these? Become a subscriber below!