Monsanto sues California for saying Roundup causes cancer

From ToxicLeaks

Monsanto keeps using its sizable resources to make sure no regulation impedes its massive profits. The latest example, a lawsuit filed by the chemical corporation against the State of California to attack the state's new rule according to which Monsanto should inform customers that Roundup can give them cancer and advise them to use it safely. This bullying strategy is yet another proof that Monsanto will stop at nothing to defend its interests, even if that means misinforming their customers on the health hazards of their products.

California wants to make Monsanto warn customers about the dangers of Roundup[edit | edit source]

What is Monsanto so mad about ? It's the decision made by the State of California to list glyphosate, the main chemical in Roundup, as one of the dangerous chemicals that fall under the rules of Proposition 65, a ballot initiative voted in 1986. What it does is force the companies that sell products that contain the chemicals on this list to inform their customers of the health risks involved.

So California didn't even ban glyphosate, it just required Monsanto to label Roundup as a potentially dangerous products so that its customers use it safely. Moreover, listing glyphosate as a Proposition 65 chemical also forbids companies from pouring it into the water supply. So all in all, the decisions of the State of California seem quite sensible and actually not as strong as they could have been, given the recent discoveries about this chemical and the adverse effects it can have on human health.

A chemical recognized as dangerous for human health[edit | edit source]

Major public health organisations have finally exposed glyphosate's dangerousness to the public. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has established in 2015 that glyphosate, the key chemical in Roundup, is “probably carcinogenic”. This decision was taken unanimously, a strong indication of the risks of the chemical. Indeed the IARC uses 4 levels to assess the cancer risks of chemicals. The first one is “not carcinogenic”, the second is “possibly carcinogenic”, the third is “probably carcinogenic” and the fourth is “carcinogenic”. The choice of the third level of cancer risk is a clear sign that the likelihood that glyphosate causes cancer is very high indeed.

This IARC decision is what drove California to include glyphosate in the Proposition 65 list. But other health institutions have questioned the safety of glyphosate in the past and still do. Monsanto claims that the EPA does not assess glyphosate as carcinogenic. It may be true today, but it wasn't always the case. In 1985, the EPA led experiments that showed that rodents exposed to glyphosate tended to develop cancerous tumors. This prompted the EPA to categorize glyphosate as “possibly carcinogenic” but heavy lobbying from Monsanto got the EPA to change that category in 1991. And other health organisation are coming out against glyphosate. For instance France’s Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) has recently concluded that the chemical “arguably could be (...) suspected of being carcinogenic to humans”. However, Monsanto is currently fighting this growing consensus tooth and nail and this story proves just how far Monsanto is ready to go to make sure this rule is never implemented.

Monsanto's lawsuit[edit | edit source]

Monsanto is taking the State of California to court over this decision to make the chemical company inform its customers that glyphosate is dangerous and should be used with caution. Monsanto's claim is very clear, it contends that it's unconstitutional for the State of California to base its decision on the assessment of the IARC instead of the point of view of the EPA. This is incredibly dishonest because the IARC is an honourable institution and is actually funded in part by the EPA ! It gives us a clear understanding of Monsanto's relationship to science : the only studies it recognizes are the ones that can have a positive effect on their sales.

All the other ones are considered illegitimate and the scientists that have conducted them are criticized for not having done their research seriously. However, non-profit groups are joining the fray to support the State of California in this very important lawsuit. For instance, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) has intervened in the trial to stress that what is at stake is the customer's' right to know : “All California consumers have the right to know that glyphosate is considered a probable carcinogen, and Proposition 65 ensures that the public obtains that knowledge,” claimed Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director at Center for Food Safety. “With its lawsuit against the State, Monsanto is trying to keep the public in the dark about potential hazards from their products.” And this right to know is critical as Roundup is widely used in the Golden State, on residential lawns, in parks or in farms.

Monsanto's larger strategy to put its profits before public health[edit | edit source]

Monsanto has consistently fought regulations and recent debates in Congress reflect its nefarious influence over lawmakers. Monsanto has joined all the major American chemical companies like DuPont and Dow to heavily lobby Congress to rewrite the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 and neutralize regulations they don't agree with. Over the last four years these chemical corporations have spent about $221 million in lobbying, since June, Monsanto spent $2 million just on the TSCA.

And that money is bearing some appalling fruit. For instance Monsanto got the legislators to include a new provision that will relieve the chemical company of its legal responsibility for the massive PCB pollution it caused up to 1979 when these chemicals were banned. Monsanto has also been quite successful in pushing a law that would make it illegal for states to require labelling for GMOs. This law was called by environmentalist groups the “Denying the Americans the Right to Know Act (DARK)”, and it's a truly adequate name, because what could justify hiding the fact that food and drinks have GMOs if they are as safe as Monsanto contends they are ? This is almost a confession that GMOs are unsafe, because if there was nothing to fear, then Monsanto would not have to deny the information to customers.

All in all, this lawsuit in California is incredibly important. California is one of the states that has tried to create environmental friendly policies, even if there's a long way to go. And this lawsuit will determine whether big corporations like Monsanto can trump democratic decisions to stop pollution or not.