In a historic ruling in the San Francisco Superior Court earlier this month, a jury found the Monsanto corporation (recently merged with Bayer) fully liable for health damages caused by its herbicide, Roundup. The plaintiff, DeWayne Johnson, was awarded $289 million in damages.
This victory is a landmark moment. It signals the beginning of real change — a loosening of the grip that corporations have held over food and farming for far too long.
In 2015, the World Health Organization determined that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup, is a "probable human carcinogen." But upon the announcement, Monsanto immediately waged an all-out war to discredit and undermine science, researchers and their findings.
This wasn’t a new strategy, as Monsanto has been working to control what scientists say about glyphosate for decades. They’ve promised funds to universities when studies confirmed safety of their products, arranged trips and speaking tours for supportive scientists, cultivated relationships within EPA and convinced scientists to ignore findings, and even ghostwrote “independent” studies verifying the chemical’s safety.
However, all the money and influence Monsanto has been pushing was for naught when the jury made a connection between the corporation and DeWayne Johnson’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This ruling sets a powerful precedent for the 4,000+ other legal cases against Monsanto that are set to move forward in the coming months.
As Linda Wells, Midwest organizing director for PAN, noted,
“Monsanto has deliberately deceived the public about the safety of its flagship herbicide Roundup for decades. Monsanto's business model assumes that any cancer caused by pesticides will be someone else's problem. Changing that equation is crucial to moving toward a healthy, just food system.”
The ripple effect
The effect the news of this victory had around the world was immediate. Since the jury’s ruling, several countries have taken action against glyphosate and Roundup — Brazil is suspending use of the herbicide, Germany is aiming to end the use of glyphosate in this legislative period, Australia is looking into suspending sales of the weedkiller and British retailers are discussing pulling the product from shelves.
Pushback against Roundup was also seen on a state level when, last Friday, the California Supreme Court declined to hear Monsanto’s appeal to remove glyphosate from the state’s list of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects.
Naturally, the Monsanto name is suffering from negative press in the wake of the verdict. However, the agrichemical giant was recently given the green light by the Department of Justice to merge with another seed and pesticide giant — Bayer. And Bayer announced they intend to drop the Monsanto name when the merger is complete.
However, Monsanto’s wrong-doings will follow Bayer too, as the public has caught on. Bayer shares plunged the most they have in nearly seven years after Monsanto was sacked with the almost $300 million in damages.
Though we’re celebrating this case and the thousands moving forward in coming months, there is work to be done. DeWayne Johnson is still suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and communities around the world continue to experience the impacts of toxic pesticides.
Our work continues.