Roundup: The Next Mass Tort Litigation

August 22, 2018
Marissa Steiner, Elizabeth Kelly

Is Monsanto causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? On August 10th, 2018, a San Francisco jury returned a $289 million verdict, finding Monsanto liable for failure to warn of the risks associated with the use of Roundup/Ranger Pro weed killer ($39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages). This is the second time Monsanto has been found liable for causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2016, a St. Louis jury awarded $46.5 million in damages against Monsanto and three other companies for their use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). 

Outside the courtroom, however, the global scientific community has yet to reach a consensus regarding Roundup’s carcinogenic potential. Roundup’s active ingredient is glyphosate. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic” to humans. Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Institutes of Health do not consider glyphosate a probable cause of cancer in humans. 

Five days after the San Francisco verdict, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which researches the use of chemicals in consumer products, published results of a test which found unsafe levels of glyphosate in a number of oat-based foods including, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Kashi, Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, Kind bars, and Nature Valley bars. Critics of EWG have noted that the group created its own threshold defining unsafe exposure levels to glyphosate, which is far lower than the threshold levels published by the EPA and other regulatory agencies. EWG went on to report that Roundup “weed killer is the most heavily used pesticide in the U.S.” 

The number of lawsuits filed against Monsanto are undoubtedly escalating as a result of high publicity and widespread exposures to glyphosate. Over 4,000 cases have been filed to date against Monsanto, with another 470 federal cases consolidated into multidistrict litigation in the Northern District of California. With widely conflicting science from regulatory agencies, the viability of these claims on a mass scale remains unknown, but the growth potential of related litigation is looming. While the experts may be out, glyphosate is in—children’s cereal.

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