In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto-produced Roundup and Ranger Pro herbicides, as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.
2 years later, in a draft risk assessment report, issued in December 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) examined more than 100 studies and concluded that glyphosate was ‘not likely’ to be carcinogenic to humans. The Agency also found ‘no other meaningful risks to human health’.[i]
‘... EPA continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen’.[iii]
This re-affirmation contradicts 2 jury verdicts (reported here and here), which found that Roundup was a ‘substantial factor’ in causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto had been negligent in failing to warn users that there was a cancer risk.
A spokesperson for Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant which bought Monsanto last summer, stated that it was ‘pleased that the regulators tasked with assessing this extensive body of science continue to reach favourable conclusions’.[iv]
However, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry published its Toxicological Profile for Glyphosate last month, which reached a different conclusion:
‘... a possible association between exposure to glyphosate and risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma could not be ruled out, based on conflicting results’. [v]
Some experts, such as Jennifer Sass, at the National Resources Defense Council, have questioned the credibility of the US EPA, which is under the control of the Trump administration.
Underlining a potential conflict of interest, US Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue, in the EPA press release, commented that:
‘If ... [the US] ... are going to feed 10bn people by 2050 ... [it is] going to need all the tools at ... [its] ... disposal, which includes the use ... [of] ... glyphosate’.[vi]
Is EPA criticism therefore justified?
This is still unclear. What is not unclear is that Bayer is facing 13,400 product liability claims, some of which are entering into mediation, rather than proceeding to trial.[vii]
However, on Wednesday of last week, the agrochemical merger launched its appeal of the 1st jury verdict, which resulted in groundskeeper, Dewayne ‘Lee’ Johnson, being awarded $289 million in damages (later reduced to $78 million).[viii]
In California appellate court filings, Bayer submitted that ‘the lower court judge [Judge Suzanne Bolanos] had improperly prevented jurors from hearing evidence that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and foreign regulators had deemed glyphosate not likely carcinogenic to humans’.
If the court does not overturn the August 2018 ruling, it will push for a re-trial.[ix]
In another Bayer-related development, following up on our article in last week’s edition of BC Disease News (here), Bayer’s shareholders cast a vote of disapproval at the company’s annual general meeting, as predicted.
The executive board’s approval rating was just 55%, which is a 42% drop from the vote on last year’s business conduct. Its $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto is the predominant cause of ‘investor rebuke’.
Nonetheless, Supervisory Board Chair, Werner Wenning, backed management’s actions in the immediate aftermath:
‘While we take the outcome of the vote at the annual stockholders' meeting very seriously, Bayer's supervisory board unanimously stands behind the board of management’.
What is more, Union Investment Analyst, Janne Werning, has urged investors to consider the long-term impact of hastily overthrowing Executive Board members, e.g. CEO, Werner Baumann:
‘The scale of the litigation risks won’t become clearer before next year, that’s why we think it’s fair and necessary to grant top management more time’.[x]
It is understood that the Supervisory Board has since planned an extraordinary meeting to discuss a crisis of confidence in management leadership.[xi]
The saga continues.
[i] Tom Polansek, ‘U.S. EPA says glyphosate not likely to be carcinogenic to people’ (20 December 2017 Reuters) <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pesticides-glyphosate/u-s-epa-says-glyphosate-not-likely-to-be-carcinogenic-to-people-idUSKBN1EE2XH> accessed 3 May 2019.
[ii] ‘Glyphosate’ (US EPA) <https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/glyphosate> accessed 3 May 2019.
[iii] Tom Polansek, ‘U.S. environment agency says glyphosate weed killer is not a carcinogen’ (30 April 2019 Reuters) <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-epa-glyphosate/us-environment-agency-says-glyphosate-weed-killer-is-not-a-carcinogen-idUSKCN1S62SU> accessed 3 May 2019.
[iv] Mia de Graaf, ‘US government declares Roundup weed killer is NOT dangerous to humans despite two landmark cases that found glyphosate caused cancer’ (1 May 2019 Daily Mail) <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6980621/US-government-declares-Roundup-weed-killer-NOT-dangerous-humans.html> accessed 3 May 2019.
[v] David Meyer, ‘The U.S. EPA Just Gave Bayer a Gift in Its Battle Against Weed Killer Cancer Claims’ (1 May 2019 Fortune) <http://fortune.com/2019/05/01/bayer-monsanto-weed-killer-cancer-glyphosate/> accessed 3 May 2019.
[vi] Emily Holden, ‘Trump EPA insists Monsanto's Roundup is safe, despite cancer cases’ (3 May 2019 The Guardian) <https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/apr/30/monsanto-roundup-trump-epa-cancer> accessed 3 May 2019.
[vii] ‘Bayer says to comply with court mediation order in glyphosate case’ (12 April 2019 Reuters) <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bayer-mediation/bayer-says-to-comply-with-court-mediation-order-in-glyphosate-case-idUSKCN1RO147> accessed 3 May 2019.
In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
[viii] Brendan Pierson, ‘Bayer asks California appeals court to throw out $78 million Roundup verdict’ (4 April 2019 Reuters) <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bayer-glyphosate-lawsuit/bayer-asks-california-appeals-court-to-throw-out-78-million-roundup-verdict-idUSKCN1S02DV> accessed 3 May 2019.
[ix] Bayer appeals $78.5m glyphosate cancer verdict’ (27 April 2019 Farmers Weekly) <https://www.fwi.co.uk/arable/bayer-appeals-78-5m-glyphosate-cancer-verdict> accessed 3 May 2019.
[x] Ludwig Burger, ‘Investors call for reprieve for Bayer bosses after AGM rebuke’ (29 April 2019 Reuters) <https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-bayer-management-shareholders/shareholders-say-bayer-bosses-need-more-time-after-agm-rebuke-idUKKCN1S50HQ?il=0> accessed 3 May 2019.
[xi] ‘Bayer supervisory board to meet to discuss crisis: report’ (1 May 2019 Reuters) <https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-bayer-management-shareholders/bayer-supervisory-board-to-meet-to-discuss-crisis-report-idUKKCN1S73F6> accessed 3 May 2019.