A recent Monsanto lawsuit outcome feels like a win for the people. Finally. More than two years after the World Health Organization labeled the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” the court system ruled the billion-dollar company is liable for its product’s potentially cancer-causing effects.
Roundup is the most popular weedkiller in the world, but what kind of threat does the herbicide pose to our health? This latest lawsuit suggests Monsanto is responsible for more damage than the corporation is willing to admit.
And that’s not all … days after the court ruling, testing from an independent lab brought more bad news for Monsanto, confirming high levels of its ingredient glyphosate in cereal, breakfast bars and oatmeal.
Monsanto Lawsuit: Case Details
On August 9, 2018, a San Francisco jury found Monsanto liable in the first of more than 800 cancer-patient cases against the agricultural giant. Dewayne Johnson, 46, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a term that’s used to describe a group of cancers that develop in the lymphocytes, or white blood cells that make up the immune system. His case was the first to go to court because of his terminal condition, which granted him an expedited trial.
Four years after developing a bad rash, Johnson, a former school groundskeeper and pest control manager, was diagnosed with this life-threatening form of cancer. Johnson said he applied Roundup to the grounds of a San Francisco school 20 to 30 times per year. He argued that the glyphosate-based herbicide in the weedkiller Roundup is what likely caused the disease. And his lawyers argued that Monsanto failed to warn consumers about the risks of its product.
The jury awarded Johnson $250 million in punitive damages and about $39 million in compensatory damages. But after the trial, Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge defended the company, stating: “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 Science Behind the Safety of Roundup
Although Monsanto continues to argue that glyphosate, the herbicide used in Roundup, is not carcinogenic, Johnson’s lawyer says that glyphosate itself may not be the problem, but it’s the interaction between the herbicide and other ingredients in the weedkiller that causes a “synergistic effect,” making Roundup cancerous.
So what exactly makes Roundup a safety concern? The WHO found that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans — meaning it’s an environmental factor that can lead to cancer by changing a cell’s DNA or causing other changes within the body that increase the chance of DNA alterations.
In 2015, 17 experts from 11 countries met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to assess the carcinogenicity of glyphosate and four other agricultural chemicals. They concluded that studies involving glyphosate, which is the most produced pesticide by volume around the world, showed evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and experimental animals. (1)
Several studies suggest that people with occupational exposure to glyphosate, like farmers or groundskeepers, face an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The IARC linked glyphosate to tumors in mice and rats, also indicating that the herbicide “induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro.”
And emerging studies show that beyond the potential threats of exposure to glyphosate alone, other ingredients in Monsanto’s Roundup increase the herbicide’s toxic effects. These ingredients separately and synergistically damage cell membranes, but at different concentrations. For example, POEA (polyethoxylated tallow amine), which constitutes 15 percent of Roundup formulations, may change human cell permeability and amplify toxicity that’s already induced by glyphosate. That’s right. We have to watch out for this “inert ingredients,” as well.
So when researchers are measuring the harmful effects of glyphosate, they must take into account the presence of adjuvant ingredients. Researchers conclude that the “proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from Roundup formulation-treated crops.” (2)
How is Roundup Used in the Food System
I’ve mentioned that glyphosate is the world’s most widely produced herbicide, and it’s used extensively by farmers and gardeners across the country. (Not to mention golf course, municipality, school and park groundskeepers, too.) But what’s even more concerning is that about 75 percent of the food that’s available in our grocery stores contain GMOs that usually contain glyphosate residue.
How is this possible? Roundup Ready crops are genetically modified to withstand glyphosate sprayings that would normally kill a crop. The problem? Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide, meaning it’s taken up inside of the plant … including the parts we ultimately eat. It’s also a crop desiccant. That means it’s used to “burn down” crops like non-organic wheat, oats, barley and beans just before harvest. So it’s not just GMO crops at risk of containing harmful levels of Roundup chemicals. (3)
Today, Roundup Ready crops account for 94 percent of soybeans and 90 percent of corn growing in the United States. And even if you don’t eat soybeans or corn, these genetically modified foods are used to make most of the processed and packaged foods that you’ll find at the grocery store, like potato chips, snack foods, candy and canned soups. (4)
And new research by the Environmental Working Group indicates that glyphosate is also present in popular cereals, granola bars and oatmeals. When 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats were tested, almost three-fourths of them contained glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health. (5)
On top of that, when animals eat crops that were treated with Roundup, like GMO corn, there will be traces of glyphosate and other adjuvant ingredients in their meat.
How to Avoid Glyphosate in Food
The more we learn about Roundup’s far-reaching and dangerous effects, the more careful we have to be to avoid it. How exactly can we avoid foods contaminated with glyphosate and other Roundup ingredients?
First and foremost, buy organic and local whole foods whenever possible. GMO foods are prohibited in organic products, so that means that organic farmers aren’t allowed to plant GMO seeds and organic cows aren’t eating GMO crops. When you do buy packaged foods, look for organic products because GMO ingredients likely to be higher in glyphosate are banned.
On top of that, if it’s an option for you, buy your produce from local farmers who practice organic methods. Stop by your local farmer’s market and ask questions about the methods that are being used to grow the food crops and the crops that feed the animals.
And finally, advocate for your family and neighbors. Spread the word about the potential dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup and genetically modified foods. Reach out to your legislators about your concerns, including the GMO labeling law. And spend your hard-earned money on food products that are safer for you and your family — companies will listen once they are no longer profiting from Roundup.
Final Thoughts on the Monsanto Lawsuit
- On August 9, 2018, a jury found agricultural giant Monsanto liable in the case against 46-year-old Dewayne Johnson, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of working with Monsanto’s Roundup as a school groundskeeper.
- Monsanto must pay Johnson $289 million in punitive and compensatory damages. This is just the first of more than 800 cases against Monsanto and the potential cancer-causing effects of its product.
- Although Monsanto continues to deny that its glyphosate-based herbicide acts as a carcinogen, there are scientific studies that link the ingredient to DNA damage in humans and animals.
- Until serious changes are made, and Monsanto is held accountable for the health risks of Roundup and Roundup Ready crops, we need to take matters into our own hands. Buy local, organic, GMO-free products and voice your concerns to your local legislator to get this ball rolling. Something tells me that after this lawsuit, the public will become more vocal and demand change.
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