Glyphosate, the generic chemical name for Monsanto’s RoundUp, is taking fire from all angles, it seems, after courts in two different countries recently delivered significant blows to the herbicide’s reputation.
Last week, a judge in Brazil ordered a halt on all approvals of any products containing glyphosate, plus a suspension of existing registration within in 30 days, pending a toxicology review. Not surprisingly, both an industry group and even the Ministry of Agriculture quickly announced it would be appealing the decision, Reuters reports.
Then, on Friday, a California jury awarded Dewayne Johnson US$289 million in damages relating to cancer that he claims was caused by exposure to glyphosate in Roundup. The jury deliberated for three days before finding Monsanto liable — a decision that could potentially impact thousands of other cases across the U.S.
Monsanto immediately said it will appeal the California court ruling.
“Today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews — and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world — support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer,” said Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy. “We will appeal this decision and continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective, and safe tool for farmers and others.”
The Californian and Brazilian cases are just the latest strikes against the widely-used, non-selective herbicide. Several end-use markets for Canadian crops have been either tightening specs or all-out negating its use when applied pre-harvest. For example:
- Italy is using glyphosate and country of origin labeling to keep Canadian durum out
- Pulses, specifically lentils, faced a major market interruption a few years ago when glyphosate MRLs were reduced or defaulted to zero
- India’s food minister Ram Vilas Paswan, just two week ago, said the government will look into whether restrictions are needed on imports of pulse crops treated with glyphosate
- Oat customers have been pushing for tonnage grown without the chemical, too
- While not a sure-thing, Europe’s Parliament voted to ban glyphosate in 2022. The European Commission barely approved a new five-year license for glyphosate last fall thanks to Germany’s agriculture minister voting in favour without approval from his government. (He has since been replaced by a new ag minister who wants to end the use of the herbicide.)
- French President Emmanuel Macron has instructed his government to ban glyphosate within the next three years.
The ramifications for glyphosate alone are significant — but the much larger question becomes, what happens to all plant protection products if the regulatory system is trumped by the court system and the court of public opinion?
The stock market is certainly paying close attention, as shares of Bayer, which recently completed its acquisition of Monsanto, and Nufarm tumbled Monday, as concerns about court payouts and what this all means for agriculture started making its way through business channels.
Attorneys have convinced a jury that a single case of cancer was caused by periodic exposure to a herbicide over 2 years. The same herbicide that has repeatedly failed to be associated with cancer in a study of 56,000 ag workers. Unbelievable.
— Andrew Kniss (@WyoWeeds) August 11, 2018
The courts aren’t conducive to scientific methodology. Whether it’s the Court of Justice of the EU on mutagenesis or vaccines, a judge in Brazil banning glyphosate or the Monsanto Papers trumping evidence, drama and emotion are defining policy. Science and industry are ostracized
— The Risk-Monger (@zaruk) August 12, 2018
Nobody who’s railing against Roundup has told me what they want farmers to use instead.
The pesticides farmers used before Roundup were way more toxic. It’s not like they suddenly started using pesticides the day Roundup was invented. They started using a less toxic one.
— Yvette (@TheSciBabe) August 12, 2018