Dying man awarded $289 million as Monsanto faces more lawsuits
Friday, August 17, 2018
Over the years, more and more people have come to know the name "Monsanto" as synonymous with new industrial agriculture and genetically modified food. As a company, it is responsible for many products perceived as dangerous, including Roundup, the notorious weedkiller.
Lawsuits have always grown around Monsanto like untreated weeds, but the courtroom tide is turning in favor of the public.
Recently, a 46-year-old California school pest control manager with non-Hodgkin lymphoma won a $289 million — $39 million in compensatory and $250 million in punitive damages — settlement against the company. The jury agreed with evidence linking Monsanto’s herbicides — Roundup and Ranger Pro — to cancer.
Roundup is a glyphosate herbicide. Glyphosate was discovered by a Monsanto chemist in 1970 and introduced in 1974 as the answer to all your lawn care, garden, and farming needs.
Effective on the foliage of the plants, not the roots, Roundup also inspired the production of glyphosate-resistant crops, like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean. This crop produces soybeans that grow well even when Roundup is used all around it to kill weeds.
This combination package of weedkillers and resistant seeds has made Monsanto extremely popular. In 2015 alone, Monsanto recorded $4.76 billion in sales and $1.9 billion in gross profits from herbicide products, mostly Roundup.
But popularity comes at a price, as more people suffer exposure to Roundup’s toxicity — which the company flatly denies. The politics of Roundup health research even involves charges of a cover-up as falsified results and documents by company employees are reported.
Roundup is commonly used all over the world, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) classification of it as "probably carcinogenic." In the U.S., a 2015 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review found Roundup to be noncarcinogenic, and the debate continues.
The California jury concurred with the WHO that the weedkiller is cancer-causing, opening up a new legal precedent. More than 1,000 federal and state lawsuits have already been launched by "plaintiffs who claim they contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure" in the wake of the classification of Roundup as a possible carcinogen.
Monsanto is no stranger to the courtroom. For example, another Monsanto product, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which is also manufactured by Solutia, Pharmacia, and Pfizer, was found to be carcinogenic enough to warrant a $46.5 million settlement.
Monsanto was the only manufacturer of PCBs, which are used to insulate electronics, from 1935 to 1977. In 1979, the EPA banned PCBs because they were linked to birth defects, cancer and adverse skin and liver effects. Since PCB toxicity lingers for decades after its application, citizen-initiated lawsuits are ongoing.
Some of these lawsuits are initiated by citizen organizations and nonprofits involved in a long-term fight against genetically modified food.
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) launched Millions Against Monsanto in the mid-1990s because of the threat Monsanto poses to nutritional food. Additional to its Roundup products, it also manufactures the patented suicidal seed.
This genetically modified seed does not produce a plant with germinating seeds. Therefore, unlike nature’s bounty that allows seed to be saved for next year’s crops, the modified seed expires after one use. How’s that for building a large profit margin?
The OCA, along with Beyond Pesticides (BP) is also behind a May 2018 ruling on behalf of the general public. This ruling acknowledges that nonprofits have presented enough evidence linking Roundup to cancer and other health problems — including cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive and endocrine system problems — they can sue Monsanto for falsified glyphosate information.
The OCA’s international director, Ronnie Cummins, summarized Monsanto’s liability as follows: "For decades, Monsanto has used false labeling claims to dupe consumers into believing that they can spray Roundup on their yards and in their gardens, without risk to themselves, their children or their pets. It’s time for the courts to step in."
This nonprofit case against Monsanto seeks "equitable relief on behalf of the general public, with all profits earned by Monsanto for sales of Roundup in D.C. to be deposited into a charitable fund for the raising of consumer awareness of the effects of glyphosate."
We have to wonder what exactly "equitable relief" will look like when it comes to glyphosate’s extremely harmful health effects. If the recent California case is any predictor, the relief may look like millions of dollars flowing to public information campaigns.
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