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13 August 2018

Landmark cancer ruling as Monsanto hit with $289m in damages

Monsanto iconic Roundup product ruled to cause cancer in fast-tracked case, but Monsanto to appeal as science still undecided.

Campaigners have fought Monsanto globally Shutterstock

A California jury held that Monsanto’s Roundup and Ranger Pro herbicides contributed to a school groundskeeper’s lymphoma and hit the company with a combined $289 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Campaigners have fought Monsanto globally on the science, which was disputed at trial.

Fast-tracked case

The landmark suit against the agricultural giant, which has denied links between its herbicides and cancer for decades, lost the argument in a lawsuit filed by groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, the first lawsuit to go to trial alleging glyphosate causes cancer. Monsanto, a unit of Bayer AG, faces more than 5,000 similar lawsuits across the United States. Former pest control manager for a California county school system, Mr Johnson, aged 46, applied the weed killer up to 30 times per year. He filed his case in 2016, which was then fast-tracked for trial due to the severity of his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system, and his doctors said he is unlikely to live past 2020. The jury at San Francisco’s Superior Court of California deliberated for three days before finding that Monsanto had failed to warn Johnson and other consumers of the cancer risks posed by its weed killers. The jury awarded $39 million in compensatory and $250 million in punitive damages.

Science still undecided?

Monsanto denies that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, causes cancer and says decades of scientific studies have shown the chemical to be safe for human use. Monsanto in a statement said it would appeal the verdict, stating ‘today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews...support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer.’ Over the course of the four-week trial, jurors heard testimony by statisticians, doctors, public health researchers and epidemiologists who disagreed on whether glyphosate can cause cancer. The US Environmental Protection Agency in September 2017 concluded a decades-long assessment of glyphosate risks and found the chemical not likely carcinogenic to humans. But the World Health Organization’s cancer arm in 2015 classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’

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