A jury in the Superior Court of California [official website] found Monsanto [corporate website] liable on Friday in a lawsuit filed by a former groundskeeper who alleges the company failed to warn him of cancerous side effects from a possible carcinogen, glyphosate, in their weedkiller, RoundUp [product website]. The jury ordered the major corporation to pay $289.2 million in damages, $250 of which was punitive.
Dwayne Johnson, a former pest control manager for the California public school system, brought the first of nearly 5,000 cases against Monsanto that alleges gyphosate causes cancer. The 46-year-old plaintiff applied the weedkiller around 30 times a year [Reuters report]. At 42, he developed a rash that led to a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a terminal cancer of the lymphatic system. Johnson’s case was fast-tracked due to the severity of his illness.
The jury deliberated for three days before determining that Monsanto is liable for Johnson’s deteriorating health. During the four-week trial, jurors heard from doctors, statisticians, epidemiologists and public health researchers who all disagreed on whether glyphosate is a cancer-causing agent in human beings. Attorneys for Johnson also brought forward internal emails [Guardian report] that they contend demonstrate how the company ignored warnings and funded favorable studies and research that downplayed the dangers of glyphosate. Monsanto rebutted the claim, saying the emails were “taken completely out of context.”
Critics of the verdict feel that Johnson’s story appealed to emotional, not logical, sensibilities, and that because juries do not consist of scientific experts they therefore do not determine scientific consensus. In November 2017 the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a long-term cohort study [Oxford Journal] with over 50,000 participants that wasn’t funded by Monsanto failed which failed to find an association between glyphosate use and cancer among farmers. Additionally, in Septemeber 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] concluded a decade-long study that found the chemical glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer. Monsanto, pointing to nearly 800 other studies that reach the same conclusion, plans to appeal the verdict.