Monsanto, the agrochemical producer, has been ordered to pay $289 million in damages to a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient who claimed that use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was the cause of his cancer.[i]
Roundup is the most commonly used weed-killer worldwide and is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the UK.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’, instigating media interest in Roundup. In Europe, more than 1 million citizens have petitioned the European Commission for an EU-wide ban on the herbicide, in spite of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) finding that glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.
We recently reported, in edition 238 (here), that a federal judge had allowed a case to proceed to trial, and the ruling on this case was handed down on Friday of last week. This is the first instance of litigation to allege a link between glyphosate and cancer.
In the US trial, the jury found that Monsanto, the original manufacturer of the herbicide, was aware that its products were dangerous, but failed to warn consumers of the health risks. They found that the company had acted with ‘malice’ and that its weed killers had contributed ‘substantially’ to the claimant’s terminal illness. Of course, ‘substantial’, or ‘material’ increase in risk is also relevant to the determination of causative arguments in the jurisdiction of England and Wales.
As such, Monsanto was ordered to pay $250 million in punitive damages and $39 million in additional costs.
However, Monsanto still denies that glyphosate causes cancer and intends to appeal the decision.
The California Court ruling is likely to have a ‘spillover’ effect, leading to hundreds of additional claims against Monsanto. The claimant’s legal representative has stated that last week’s case was just ‘the tip of the spear’ of future legal proceedings against producers and suppliers of Roundup. This could be followed by industrial disease claims against employers, who become aware of the risks posed by glyphosate in Roundup, but continue to sanction the use of herbicide products without supplying adequate PPE and risk training to its employees.
Since judgment was handed down, it has been reported that Greenpeace have urged the Australian Government to take ‘urgent action’ by restricting glyphosate production and suspending its use until more studies have been conducted.[ii] Meanwhile, gardening retailer, Homebase, is reportedly reviewing the sale of Roundup products.[iii]
[ii] Australia urged to restrict Monsanto’s Roundup after US court rules it caused cancer. The Guardian. 13 August 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/13/australia-urged-to-restrict-monsantos-roundup-after-us-court-rules-it-caused-cancer (Accessed 13 August 2018)
[iii] Homebase to review sale of Monsanto weedkiller after US cancer verdict. 11 August 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/11/homebase-to-review-sale-of-monsanto-weedkiller-after-us-cancer-verdict-roundup (Accessed 13 August 2018).