(Beyond Pesticides, January 25, 2016) Monsanto filed a lawsuit in California last week seeking to prevent glyphosate, the main ingredient in its Roundup herbicide, from being added to California’s list of known carcinogens under the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65). Glyphosate is classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for the Research of Cancer (IARC) based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. This is the highest level carcinogen based on laboratory animal studies under IARC’s rating system.
California law requires the state to keep a list of cancer-causing chemicals to inform residents of their risks. California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said in September that it planned to add glyphosate to the list after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified it as a probable human carcinogen last March. Monsanto has disputed the assessment, citing decades of studies deeming glyphosate safe, including a 2007 study by OEHHA that concluded the chemical was unlikely to cause cancer.
The agrochemical company said it filed the suit against the state’s OEHHA, citing the agency’s acting director, Lauren Zeise, in California state court, according to the filing seen by Reuters. Monsanto’s lawsuit argues that listing glyphosate under Proposition 65 based on IARC’s classification cedes regulatory authority to an “unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable, and foreign body” that is not subject to oversight by any state or federal entity.
Monsanto argues that the lack of oversight violates the company’s right to procedural due process under California and U.S. law. A listing would also require Monsanto and others offering products containing glyphosate to provide a “clear and reasonable warning” to consumers that the chemical is known to cause cancer, damaging Monsanto’s reputation and violating its First Amendment rights, the company said.
Since IARC’s classification last year, Monsanto has been named in numerous lawsuits accusing the company of knowing of the dangers of glyphosate for decades. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), joined by dozens of global food, farming and environmental justice groups, announced last month that they will put the U.S.-based transnational corporation on trial next year on World Food Day, October 16, 2016, for crimes against nature, humanity, and ecocide in The Hague, Netherlands, home to the United Nation’s International Court of Justice. Monsanto is also facing numerous personal injury lawsuits over the link between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Personal injury law firms around the U.S. have found a multitude of plaintiffs and are preparing for what could be a “mass tort” action against Monsanto for knowingly misinforming the public and farmworkers about the dangers of the chemical.
Glyphosate, touted as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry, is widely used in food production, especially with herbicide-tolerant genetically engineered (GE) crops, and on lawns, gardens, parks, and children’s playing fields.
Following the carcinogenic classification by the IARC, a research study published in the journal Environmental Health links long-term, ultra-low dose exposure to glyphosate in drinking water to adverse impacts on the health of liver and kidneys. The study focuses on glyphosate-based herbicides (GHBs), rather than pure glyphosate, unlike many of the studies that preceded it. Pediatrician Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., and researcher Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., recently released a prospective article on the effects of glyphosate and GE crops. In this article, they highlight the flaws of past glyphosate studies and conclude that they only considered pure glyphosate “despite studies showing that formulated glyphosate that contains surfactants and adjuvants is more toxic than the pure compound.” Their article also pointed to the ecological impacts of widespread glyphosate use, like the damage it has had on the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. Last year, the Center for Biological Study and Center for Food Safety filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the monarch butterfly. All of these findings support the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) efforts to list glyphosate as a cancer-causing chemical under Proposition 65.
As evidence of the hazardous effects of glyphosate continue to mount, environmental groups like Beyond Pesticides are urging localities to ban or restrict the use of the chemical. These groups maintain that California’s glyphosate listing is certainly a step in the right direction; however, further steps toward a restriction or ban will be needed to protect the public’s health. Being the number one agricultural producing state, California’s action may help to move glyphosate off the market, which would serve as a victory for the low-income communities in the southern part of the Central Valley that are exposed to glyphosate at higher levels than the general population.
For those who would be unaffected by California’s listing, the best way to avoid glyphosate and other harmful pesticides is to support organic agriculture and eat organic food. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for organic management practices as a means to foster biodiversity, and research shows that organic farmers do a better job of protecting biodiversity than their chemically-intensive counterparts. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and biotechnology, responsible organic farms focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and other beneficial insects, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides