Editor’s Note: This article is intended for information purposes only. Because state and municipal laws vary greatly, as do the circumstances of individual cases, readers are advised to contact an attorney for specific legal advice. © Scott C. Tips 2019
You have never seen a live dire wolf. And yet dire wolves traveling and hunting alone or in packs were formidable adversaries. Five feet long, two feet high, and weighing 150 pounds of solid muscle, these predators were much larger than today’s grey wolves and very ferocious, with sharp claws and a bite that could not only rip through flesh but crush the bones beneath the flesh—that is, until about 11,000 years ago when they were utterly and completely hunted to extinction. By humans. Puny, clawless humans. They—no, we—did this.
Now, we are driving ourselves to extinction as multiple diseases afflict humans at younger and younger ages and in ever-widening circles. One cause in particular may be laid at the feet of numerous chemical pesticides and herbicides, the most notorious of which is glyphosate (sold as the active ingredient in Roundup® by Monsanto, now Bayer AG).
Related: A ‘Roundup’ on Glyphosate
The Devil in Disguise
Over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States each and every year, while approximately 5.6 billion pounds are used worldwide (1). On January 24, 2017, the United Nations (UN) published a report in which it stated that although pesticide use has correlated with a rise in food production, it has had catastrophic impacts upon human health and the environment. The report went on to say that “increased food production has not succeeded in eliminating hunger worldwide. Reliance on hazardous pesticides is a short-term solution that undermines the rights to adequate food and health for present and future generations.” In fact, the UN blames pesticides for poisoning 200,000 people each year (2). I think that figure is very conservative (3).
Touted as an all-purpose weed killer, glyphosate tops the list of poisons applied every day to plants and soil that in turn destroy humans, animals, and our environment. Some 9.4 million tons of glyphosate have been spread on our fields. It is in our water table, our soil, crops, the food industry, and over 90% of Westerners have it in their bodies and even breastmilk. In fact, 33% of our bread contains glyphosate, the World’s biggest selling weed killer (4). Despite industry assurances that glyphosate is “safe” and “environmentally friendly,” there is increasing awareness that glyphosate is nothing more than a replay of DDT with its similar pronouncements of “certified safe” and “completely harmless” (5). Some experts attribute tens of thousands of deaths to glyphosate usage (6).
Worse, as Sayer Ji, Founder of GreenMedInfo and NHF advisor, has said, glyphosate is poisoning our soil, destroying our gut biome, and laying the foundation for destroying our ability to produce healthy foods for future generations (7). The industry and regulatory explanation for glyphosate safety is that glyphosate kills weeds through a mechanism (the shikimate pathway) that is not present in humans and animals (8). However, conveniently forgotten is the fact that the shikimate pathway is present in beneficial bacteria that dominate human and animal gut biomes. The glyphosate preferentially destroys these beneficial gut bacteria, thereby allowing disease and inflammation to take hold in mammals, including of course humans (9).
The science against glyphosate is compelling. In 2008, a study by eminent oncologists Dr. Leonard Hardell and Dr. Mikael Eriksson of Sweden revealed clear links between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer (10). This study supported the earlier findings of a Danish team that showed Roundup® caused chromosome aberrations; and of course the principal active component in Roundup® is glyphosate (11).
A few years later a study in Argentina of 65,000 people in farming communities found their cancer rates to be two-to-four times higher than the national average, especially in breast-, prostate-, and lung-cancer rates. Roundup® was sprayed in those farming communities. In comparing two distinct farming communities (one that had sprayed Roundup® and another that had not), researchers discovered that 31% of the residents in the Roundup®-sprayed community had had a family member with cancer while in the unsprayed community only 3% had had a family member with cancer (12).
Still later, in March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) finished and published its evaluation of published, peer-reviewed data on glyphosate (13). Based on its review of the data, the Agency reasonably concluded that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen” and that glyphosate-based herbicides can induce oxidative damage. Oxidative damage has in turn been shown to cause cancer (14).
Significant damage from glyphosate to umbilical cord cells from human infants in test-tube studies has been discovered by a team of French scientists at the University of Caen (15). This team included the famous research doctor Gilles-Eric Séralini. Glyphosate can cause infertility, killing both the sperm and the egg at .5 parts per million (ppm) level and caused endocrine disruption to the cells at .2 ppm. Roundup®, too, was found to be 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate alone. With Roundup®’s ubiquitous presence, it is no wonder that fertility rates are plunging (16). Yet, an advertising campaign for Roundup® once labeled the product as “safer than table salt.”
Notwithstanding the mounting evidence against glyphosate, Monsanto was able to “persuade” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to increase the tolerance levels for glyphosate residue in all food and feed crops for which it had established limits, which it did on May 1, 2013. Curiously enough, the EPA increased these limits based upon a simple request in writing. No scientific safety data justifying such an increase had been submitted.
The Inevitable Happens
Without the shelter from liability that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 affords vaccine manufacturers, big agricultural corporations like Monsanto who literally spread glyphosate poisons far and wide across the Globe had to continually look over their shoulders in fear of litigation. The large litigation reserves on company balance sheets, which have increased with every year from 2014-2017, attest to this (17). So, given the extremely toxic nature of glyphosate, it was inevitable, then, that lawsuits would be filed against Monsanto and others for the serious harm wreaked by Roundup®.
Related: Germany to Ban Glyphosate
The Johnson Case
The first Roundup® case that went to trial was filed in San Francisco, California in 2016 by a public-school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma two years’ earlier after his extensive and continual use of Roundup®. Tragically, Johnson himself had contacted Monsanto when he first experienced skin irritation and asked the company if his use of Roundup® might be the cause. Monsanto discussed Johnson’s inquiry but never responded other than by email saying that they would respond.
Johnson’s attorneys alleged that Monsanto was aware of scientific research showing an association between its herbicides and cancer but rather than warn consumers Monsanto suppressed the research and even manipulated scientific literature. In fact, Johnson is one of more than 18,000 plaintiffs making similar claims. He was, however, the first cancer patient to take Monsanto to trial because California provides for expedited trials for dying plaintiffs.
After a three-week-long trial that ended in August 2018, the Johnson jury unanimously found that Monsanto was liable for failing to warn Johnson that exposure to Roundup® weed killer causes cancer and therefore should pay $289.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages, of which $250 million were punitive damages. Judge Suzanne R. Bolanos denied Monsanto’s Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, but Monsanto attorneys persuaded the trial judge to cut the punitive damage amount significantly, bringing the total award down to $78.5 million.
Monsanto had asked the judge to overrule the jury’s entire award of punitive damages and the judge had equivocated, finally deciding to leave $39.5 million on the table if Johnson would accept the reduced punitive damages. Reluctantly, and given his failing health, he did; but Monsanto (now Bayer AG, after its acquisition of Monsanto) then filed its appeal in late April 2019. Johnson, in turn, responded and cross-appealed the punitive-damages reduction.
Farm, medical, and biotechnology interests have filed amicus curiae briefs with the California Court of Appeal, joining with Monsanto in asking the court to overturn the Johnson jury verdict that found Monsanto’s glyphosate-herbicides cause cancer and that the risks were covered up. The case is still up for consideration in California Appellate Court with a possible decision by the appeals court by the end of this year.
The Hardeman Case
The second California case was filed by Edwin Hardeman. From 1986 to 2012, Hardeman had used Roundup® to eliminate weeds and other noxious plants on his 56-acre property. In February 2015, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; and a year later to the month he filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In his complaint, Hardeman alleged that his long exposure to Roundup® resulted in his cancerous condition.
Although Hardeman’s case was one of hundreds filed and consolidated in what is known as Federal Multidistrict Litigation (MDL), Hardeman hit the jackpot when District Court Judge Vince Chhabria selected Hardeman’s case to be the first of those to proceed to trial. The trial started in February 2019 and ran for 19 days.
On the 19th day, the jury returned with a verdict that attributed Hardeman’s Roundup exposure as a substantial factor in having caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The jury awarded Hardeman $80 million in total damages, of which $5 million was for compensatory damages and $75 million for punitive damages.
But, once again, Monsanto (now Bayer) sought to overturn the verdict and award of damages. The Judge denied Monsanto’s motion for judgment and a new trial but soon thereafter reduced Hardeman’s verdict to $25.2 million.
The Pilliod Case
The third Roundup® trial to go before a jury was filed by Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a couple in their 70s from Livermore, California, who had started using Roundup® as early as the 1970s. The couple alleged that their exposure to Roundup® resulted in both of them developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 while his wife Alberta was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015.
The Pilliod case was one of hundreds of cases in the California Roundup® Judicial Council Coordinated Proceedings (JCCP). Hundreds of California Roundup® lawsuits are consolidated in the Roundup® JCCP presided over by Judge Winifred Smith of the Alameda County Superior Court. But, as with the Hardeman case, the Pilliod case was the first of the JCCP cases to go before a jury.
On May 13, 2019, after 23 days of trial proceedings, the jury returned with a $2.055 billion verdict in favor of the Pilliods, ordering Monsanto to pay $55 million in compensatory damages and $1 billion each for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod for Monsanto’s failure to warn them that exposure to Roundup® could cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Both Johnson and Hardeman attended closing arguments in the Pilliod trial.
In mid-July 2019, after considering and denying Monsanto’s Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, Judge Smith conditionally granted Monsanto’s motion for a new trial unless the Pilliods consented to the reduced judgment of $86.74 million. The Pilliods consented and the damages award was reduced.
The Immense Scope of the Roundup Lawsuits
In the wake of the successful Johnson verdict, lawsuits against Monsanto/Bayer have been proliferating like mushrooms overnight. Thousands of filed cases throughout the United States are on the court dockets. We do not have either the time or the space to discuss them all here, even in the barest of detail; but we can touch on the highlights.
On June 20, 2017, six persons from Wisconsin, Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida filed a class action lawsuit in Wisconsin against Monsanto, alleging that Monsanto deceptively promoted Roundup® as affecting only plant enzymes and bacteria and not those bacteria found in people and pets.
In order to force top Monsanto executives onto the witness stand, lawsuits were also filed against the company in St. Louis, Missouri, where Monsanto has its headquarters. One of those, the Walter Winston class-action lawsuit, was filed in March 2018, as the first trial to take place in the St. Louis metro region. It, too, alleges that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that Monsanto hid the risks associated with their use. Per independent reporter Carey Gillam, plaintiff’s counsel plans to call former Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant and company scientists William Heydens, Donna Farmer, and William Reeves as witnesses (18).
This case was the victim of complicated venue arguments that lasted a year and made it all the way up to the Missouri Supreme Court and back, simply over where the trial could be held. Two trials that had been set to start in St. Louis in August and September 2019 have been delayed until next year (2020). After this delay, Bayer’s stock prices have climbed.
And this year, a lawsuit filed by two families in Maui, Hawaii alleges that Monsanto caused birth defects stemming from decades of Monsanto pesticide use only yards away from their homes. Nearby pesticide-laden cornfields, the plaintiffs allege, were the source of the reported birth defects (19). Similarly, and spilling across the international border, a farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada has also sued Monsanto/Bayer for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (20).
Although Monsanto/Bayer have made it clear in media statements that they are appealing the verdicts and will keep defending Roundup® and glyphosate in all of the pending court cases (21), it is possible that the Roundup® litigation could be globally settled, given the jury verdicts worth billions, the sharp decrease in Bayer’s stock price, and the possibility of huge future losses in courtrooms across America. Trial continuances at this late stage also support this possibility of settlement.
To that end, in May 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria appointed prominent attorney Kenneth Feinberg as mediator following his order that the parties mediate
Monsanto Roundup® settlement discussions in the Federal MDL. Feinberg is a well-known mediator who facilitated dispute resolutions in previous high-profile cases such as the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, and the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill. Nothing has emerged from this mediation effort so far.
Amazing Trial Revelations
Thanks to the Baum Hedlund law firm and other plaintiffs’ trial lawyers, as well as journalist Carey Gillam, these important revelations have emerged from the Roundup trials (22):
- Monsanto never conducted any epidemiology cancer studies for Roundup and its other glyphosate-based herbicides to evaluate the health risks for users (23).
- Monsanto was aware that the surfactants in Roundup® were much more toxic than glyphosate alone.
- Monsanto spent millions of dollars on covert public-relations campaigns to finance ghostwritten studies and articles aimed at discrediting independent scientists whose work found dangers with Monsanto’s herbicides (24).
- The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry wanted to evaluate glyphosate toxicity in 2015, but Monsanto got EPA officials to delay the review.
- Monsanto has a close relationship with certain EPA officials, who have repeatedly backed Monsanto’s claims that its glyphosate-based products are safe.
- Monsanto had written worker safety recommendations that called for wearing a full range of protective gear when using Roundup® but did not bother to warn the public to do the same.
The documents obtained by discovery during litigation have led to these revelations and more and are often generically labeled as “The Monsanto Papers.”
The Monsanto Papers
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman is the excellent California law firm that represented the plaintiffs either as lead counsel or co-counsel in the first three Monsanto trials. Very importantly, they were also, as they accurately put it, “instrumental in releasing a trove of documents that are now a part of the Monsanto Papers. The documents, which include internal Monsanto emails, text messages company studies, reports and other memoranda, tell an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation, collusion with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and previously undisclosed information about how the human body absorbs glyphosate” (25). Those papers can be viewed on the Baum Hedlund website.
In his closing argument in the Pilliod case, ace attorney R. Brent Wisner told the jury “Roundup® has been on the market for 45 years. It’s being sold at hardware stores everywhere. And you’ve seen mountains of evidence that has been accumulating during this time showing that it causes tumors in animals, that it’s genotoxic, that it resides in the human bone. And yet today they’ve never warned anybody about any of that. How does that happen?”
Wisner then proceeded to take the jury through a detailed 45-year history of fraud and deliberate disregard for consumer safety and informed choice. It was truly masterful. And it paid off in the end for not only his clients but for all of the rest of us as well.
Still, we are faced with an EPA that actually prohibits companies from placing warnings on these herbicides warning consumers of adverse health effects (26). How much more obvious can it be that the regulatory agencies are nothing more than regional field offices for the pesticide companies?
The numerous glyphosate cases that have been tried and that are still on the court dockets are symptomatic of the utter corruption in our so-called scientific communities, the industries that use and support them, and the horribly conflicted regulatory agencies that have been naively charged with keeping us safe. Thank God that we still have some courts that dispense justice in the face of all of this and thank God we have attorneys like Brent Wisner and others to fight for those who have been harmed. But will they be enough and in time to prevent the catastrophic harm being done to all living things? WF
Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.
1) Michael C.R. Alavanja, “Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide,” Rev Environ Health, 2009 Oct–Dec; 24(4): 303-309.
2) Ryan Rifai, “UN: 200,000 die each year from pesticide poisoning,” Al-Jazeera, March 8, 2017.
3) Even the Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) stated that “pesticides and harmful chemicals cause more than 900,000 deaths annually.” See WECF, “Pesticides and harmful chemicals cause more than 900,000 deaths annually,” WECF website, Oct. 10, 2012, at http://www.wecf.eu/english/articles/2012/10/pesticides-africa.php.
4) David Noakes, “The Glyphosate Killer,” Health Freedom News, Summer 2016, Vol. 34, No. 2, at p. 30.
5) Dr. Joseph Mercola, “Toxic Combo of Roundup and Fertilizers Blamed for Tens of Thousands of Deaths,” Mercola.com, April 8, 2014, at http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/04/08/roundup-fertilizer.aspx.
7) Sayer Ji, “Roundup Herbicide Linked to Overgrowth of Deadly Bacteria,” Health Freedom News, Spring 2013, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 12-13.
8) More specifically, glyphosate binds to and blocks the activity of an enzyme called enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS). This enzyme is an essential part of the shikimic-acid pathway; and by blocking this pathway, the plant is unable to make proteins that are necessary for growth.
9) Dr. Joseph Mercola, “Roundup and Glyphosate Toxicity Have Been Grossly Underestimated,” Mercola.com, July 30, 2013, at http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/30/glyphosate-toxicity.aspx.
10) Eriksson M, Hardell L, Carlberg M, Akerman M, “Pesticide exposure as risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma including histopathological subgroup analysis,” Int J Cancer, 2008 Oct 1;123(7):1657-63. doi: 10.1002/ijc.23589, at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18623080.
11) Rank J, Jensen A-G, Skov B, et al., “Genotoxicity testing of the herbicide Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate isopropylamine using the mouse bone marrow micronucleus test, Salmonella mutagenicity test, and Allium anaphase-telophase test,” Mutation Research, 300 (1993) 29-36, at https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/pdf/monsanto-documents/johnson-trial/PTX-0852-Genotoxicity-Roundup-Study-1992.pdf.
12) Jeff Ritterman, “Monsanto’s Roundup Linked to Cancer – Again,” Truthout, Oct 6, 2014, at https://truthout.org/articles/monsanto-s-roundup-linked-to-cancer/.
13) Baum Hedlund Law Firm blog, “Glyphosate Herbicide,” BaumHedlundlaw.com, 2019, at https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/toxic-tort-law/monsanto-roundup-lawsuit/what-is-glyphosate-herbicide/.
14) See, e.g., Oberley TD, “Oxidative Damage and Cancer,” Am J Pathol, 2002 Feb; 160(2): 403-408, at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1850635/.
15) Mesnage R, Defarge N, Spiroux de Vendô-mois J, Séralini G-E, “Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles,” BioMed Research International, Vol 2014, Article ID 179691, 8 pages, 2014, at http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/179691/.
16) Capel P, Capelli K, “Widely Used Herbicide Commonly Found in Rain and Streams in the Mississippi River Basin,” U.S. Geological Survey, 8-2011, at http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2909#.VCH1tvldVFE. See also Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Osterman MJK, et al., “Births: Provisional Data for 2018,” CDC, Report No. 007, May 2019, at https://www.npr.org/2019/05/15/723518379/u-s-births-fell-to-a-32-year-low-in-2018-cdc-says-birthrate-is-at-record-level.
17) See, e.g., Monsanto Company Balance Sheet: Liabilities and Stockholders’ Equities, Stock Analysis on Net, 2019, at https://www.stock-analysis-on.net/NYSE/Company/Monsanto-Co/Financial-Statement/Liabilities-and-Stockholders-Equity.
18) See usrtk.org/carey-gillam. For more updates follow Carey Gillam on Twitter @careygillam.
19) Tom George, “Lawsuit claims Monsanto caused birth defects in Maui neighborhood,” KITV Island News, Oct 24, 2019, at https://www.kitv.com/story/41230825/lawsuit-claims-monsanto-caused-birth-defects-in-maui-neighborhood.
20) Robert Arnason, “Sask. farmer leads class action glyphosate lawsuit,” The Western Producer, May 15, 2019, at https://www.producer.com/2019/05/sask-farmer-leads-class-action-glyphosate-lawsuit/.
21) Scott Partridge, “The Verdict Was Wrong on Glyphosate,” Monsanto News Release, August 13, 2018, at https://monsanto.com/news-stories/statements/roundup-glyphosate-dewayne-johnson-trial/.
22) Nathan Donley & Carey Gillam, “The EPA is meant to protect us. The Monsanto trials suggest it isn’t doing that,” The Guardian, May 7, 2019, at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/07/epa-monsanto-round-up-trial.
23) Law360 staff, “Ex-Monsanto CEO Defends Roundup, Concedes Study Limits,” Law360, March 25, 2019, at https://www.law360.com/articles/1142398/ex-monsanto-ceo-defends-roundup-concedes-study-limits.
24) Sean Rossman, “Emails show Monsanto tried to ‘ghostwrite’ research,” USA Today, March 16, 2017, at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/03/16/emails-show-monsanto-tried-ghostwrite-research/99248950/.
25) Baum, Hedlund website, “Monsanto Roundup Verdicts and Settlements,” accessed November 4, 2019, at https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/toxic-tort-law/monsanto-roundup-lawsuit/monsanto-roundup-settlement/.
26) EPA, “EPA Takes Action to Provide Accurate Risk Information to Consumers, Stop False Labeling on Products,” EPA News Release, Aug 8, 2019, at https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-takes-action-provide-accurate-risk-information-consumers-stop-false-labeling.