In the wake of a California jury’s decision resulting in over $2 billion in damages to the plaintiffs, Costco has announced it will no longer sell Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. The lawsuit brought by Alva and Alberta Pilliod claimed that long-term use of Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The ruling is the third major cancer case against Monsanto; two others found for the plaintiffs with damages in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars each. Over thirteen thousand other lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto.
Bayer (the German chemical company that’s known best for its Aspirin) purchased Monsanto a short time ago, making it the largest manufacturer of chemicals and engineered agricultural products in the world. In its press release, Bayer had this to say about the jury’s ruling:
“Bayer is disappointed with the jury’s decision and will appeal the verdict in this case, which conflicts directly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s interim registration review decision released just last month, the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the 40 years of extensive scientific research on which their favorable conclusions are based.” (1)
The release goes on to say that hundreds of scientific studies have proven Roundup to be safe when used as directed.
What Bayer didn’t say…
Every new chemical developed must undergo rigorous testing to ensure its safety. In 2017, declassified information showed that Monsanto’s early research was tainted, biased, and perhaps falsified. The results of those studies found glyphosate to cause cancer in laboratory mammals, in addition to other harmful effects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) originally established that Roundup might cause cancer in 1985 but reversed its decision in 1991 based on a re-interpretation of previous studies. (2)
Studies as far back as 1978 found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, to be toxic to humans and other animals. Further, in two reports by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, glyphosate demonstrated “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity” leading it to classify this chemical as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Lymphoma was specifically called out as a potential outcome of repeated exposure. (3, 4) On top of that, the constituents of Roundup combine to make the herbicide exponentially more toxic than glyphosate alone.
Findings of the Most Recent Trials
It is common for manufacturers to tout studies that support their products and dismiss those that don’t. Some of what’s come out as evidence in the trials as they go through the court system, with input from objective experts:
- Monsanto’s former Chief Executive Officer admitted that the company never conducted epidemiological cancer studies on Roundup. (5)
- Monsanto knew that combined ingredients in Roundup makes it much more toxic than glyphosate alone.
- Monsanto falsified research and reports in a public relations campaign to assuage fear of using its products. (6)
- In light of mounting evidence, public concern, and the explosion of litigation around the world, the EPA said in 2018 that it would re-evaluate glyphosate’s safety designation. (7) Email communications released under the Freedom of Information Act expose discussions between Monsanto and EPA officials to delay the toxicology review of glyphosate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This demonstrates the repeatedly suspect relationship between the EPA and the chemical giant. (8)
- Safety precautions on industrial use of Roundup that include skin protection are not included in its retail customer labelling.
- Monsanto hired a public relations firm in 2018 “to take the temperature on regulatory attitudes to glyphosate” and other Monsanto pesticides. Through interviews and research, it determined a favorable environment for Monsanto and its products sold in the U.S.
“A domestic policy adviser at the White House said, for instance: ‘We have Monsanto’s back on pesticides regulation. We are prepared to go toe-to-toe on any disputes they may have with, for example, the EU [European Union]. Monsanto need not fear any additional regulation from this administration.’”
The report to Bayer/Monsanto from the firm goes on to say that the political climate favors deregulation of Monsanto’s pesticides and dismisses negative expert analyses, especially from studies sponsored by other countries, health organizations, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization. EPA leadership stands firm in its safety conclusion regarding glyphosate. (9) Bayer/Monsanto therefore feels confident that its position in the market is secure and has no plans to make any changes to its products.
Due to the increasingly visible controversy surrounding Monsanto, the report predicted, “In the longer term, retailers, among others, feel that glyphosate will have to be phased out – though without saying precisely why.”
Federal court documents of past and pending lawsuits can be found on the U.S. Right to Know site.
Dangers of Glyphosate
Regardless of what Bayer/Monsanto may say, there is a significant and growing body of research that has determined glyphosate is far less than safe, contributing not only to the development of cancer but with links to autism spectrum disorders, allergies, respiratory illness, fertility problems, birth defects, and gastrointestinal dysfunction. From the Global Glyphosate Study published in 2018:
“By its very nature and purpose, the pilot study does not resolve the uncertainties puzzling the various Agencies…as to whether glyphosate and Glyphosate Based Herbicides (GBHs) are carcinogenic or not, but it does highlight health effects that are equally as serious, that might manifest as long-term oncological pathology, and that might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the GBHs.” (10)
Disturbingly, glyphosate can be found in almost all commercial crops and the products produced from them. In fact, everything from food basics like corn, soy (the two most genetically-modified plants on Earth), wine, honey, all non-organic vegetables and fruits, and factory-farmed meat to feminine hygiene products have been found to contain glyphosate. It works by being absorbed by plants as they grow, thereby becoming an intrinsic part of them.
Why did Costco drop Roundup?
Neither retailers of Roundup nor the EPA have been indicted in previous lawsuits. Surely stores that sell Bayer/Monsanto products are reliant upon governmental agencies to do their due diligence when it comes to determining the safety of chemicals going to market and can be held harmless if those agencies fail. As Monsanto’s public relations firm predicted, however, Costco is the first major retail chain to distance itself from glyphosate’s potential harm. Its decision to discontinue carrying this obvious money-maker may be due in part to its public stance on the safety of chemicals in its Kirkland brand non-food products:
“Costco’s goal is to be in compliance with global chemical regulations—and to go beyond them where possible. This means working with suppliers to identify chemicals of concern, find greener alternatives and research ways to improve their manufacturing processes.” (11)
Here’s hoping other retail giants will follow its lead.