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Monsanto gets a break in a lawsuit over whether weed-killer causes cancer



Roundup Monsanto lawsuit cancer chemical glyphosate
woman uses a Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller spray without
glyphosate in a garden in Ercuis near Paris,


  • A jury recently ordered
    pay $289 million
    in damages to a plaintiff who alleged that
    his cancer was the result of using Roundup, the company’s
    popular herbicide.
  • On Wednesday, a California judge cut that amount to $49
  • Neither the original trial nor the latest finding mean
    — the active ingredient in Roundup — causes
  • Instead, the jury’s ruling is based on their assertion
    intentionally kept information about Roundup’s
    potential risks hidden from the public.
  • The science linking glyphosate and cancer is
    limited at best
    , and experts say it’s safe.

A jury in San Francisco this summer ordered
to pay $289 million in damages to a school
groundskeeper who developed cancer after years of using Roundup,
the company’s popular herbicide. But on Wednesday, a California
judge dealt a major blow to that decision, reducing the penalty
to $49 million or about a fifth of the original amount.

Importantly, neither the trial’s original outcome — nor the
latest decision — reveal anything about the science behind
Roundup and cancer. 

Instead, the decisions simply shed light on how a judge and
members of a jury felt about whether Monsanto (which
recently merged with chemical giant Bayer
and announced

plans to dissolve its name
) intentionally kept information
about Roundup’s potential harms from the public.

While the jury clearly felt Monsanto hid information, the judge
in the latest ruling appeared to believe they were less at fault
than originally decided. The lawsuit is just the first part
of what could be a decades-long legal fight over Roundup’s chief
ingredient, a chemical called

When it comes to the science, the evidence tying glyphosate to
cancer is
limited at best
. Most scientists say that it is safe to use.

Could Roundup have caused someone’s cancer? Probably not.

FILE PHOTO: Monsanto Co’s ‘Roundup For Lawns’ is shown for sale in Encinitas, California, U.S., June 26, 2017. The product photographed does not contain glyphosate. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Co’s Roundup shown for sale in California

Thomson Reuters

Before developing a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma,
the plaintiff in the recent trial, Dewayne Johnson, had used
Roundup regularly in his job as a groundskeeper at a California
public school. For neglecting to alert Johnson (and the rest of
the public) about the potential links between Roundup and cancer,
the jury ordered Monsanto to pay Johnson $39 million to cover his
medical bills, pain, and suffering, plus an additional $250
million for punitive damages (or punishment).

But as for whether Roundup could actually have been the sole or
even primary cause of an individual’s cancer, the research leans
heavily toward “no.”

The scare over a potential link between Roundup and cancer
appears to have begun with a now widely-criticized statement put
out by a World Health Organization group known as the
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015.

That year, the IARC put glyphosate — Roundup’s active ingredient
— in a cancer-risk category one level below widely-recognized
harmful activities like smoking. But several researchers have
said the IARC’s
determination was bogus
because there is
no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer
. In fact, a

lengthy review found
that the IARC had edited out portions of
the documents they used to review glyphosate to
make the chemical look far more harmful than its own research

had concluded.

During the latest court case, Monsanto attempted to counter
plaintiff Johnson’s claims that Roundup caused his cancer using
extensive testimony from expert witnesses. They pointed out that
evidence definitively linking the glyphosate in Roundup to cancer
is scant
. More broadly, figuring out what caused one
individual’s cancer is a tricky business for any scientist — a
point several experts have made since the most recent Monsanto
verdict came out last week.

“This verdict is just the first in what could be a long legal
battle over Roundup, and proving causality in such cases is not
easy,” Richard Stevens, a professor at the University of
Connecticut School of Medicine who specializes in cancer and its
wrote in a recent post for The Conversation

New research could change the controversial classification of

The IARC’s 2015 statement is not final.

“The agency has often changed its classification of an agent
based on new evidence after initial evaluation,” Stevens wrote.
“Sometimes it has become more certain that the agent poses a
hazard, but in other cases it has downgraded the hazard.”

Based on new studies (typically in mice), glyphosate could go
from its current status — where some people see it as a potential
cancer risk — to being recognized as having a very low risk for

Several studies of glyphosate and cancer are ongoing, and more
are coming out each year. Just last year, a review of
studies looking at the ties between glyphosate and cancer

concluded that in the low amounts of that people are actually
exposed to, glyphosate “do[es] not represent a public concern.”

Conversely, the new evidence could come out strongly against
glyphosate and suggest that it’s incredibly harmful. As Stevens
points out, new evidence dramatically changed the public
perception of another popular product which was initially labeled
cancerous — a
zero-calorie sweetener called saccharin, which is sold under the
brand name Sweet’ N Low

In the 1980s, any
product containing the sweetener
was required to carry a
warning label saying that it was “determined to cause cancer.”
But the science was flawed: the rats that had been used in the
studies were especially prone to bladder cancer, and the findings
did not apply to people. So in 2016, the sweetener was removed
from a list of cancer-causing ingredients

But glyphosate’s status remains to be seen. For now, the court
cases merely reflect the determinations of juries and judges —
not the conclusions of the majority of scientific experts.

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