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International Scrutiny of Monsanto's Herbicide Roundup Intensifies as More Lawsuits are Filed


On March 8, 2016, in the wake of mounting litigation over the health effect of exposure to Monsanto Co.’s best-selling herbicide product, Roundup, the European Union postponed a scheduled vote to approve the sale of the chemical, glyphosate, within Europe. The European Union was set to decide whether to extend its approval of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, for another fifteen years. However, the agency was unable to reach a decisive majority, despite previously publishing a report in November 2015 which stated that the chemical was unlikely to cause cancer. The agency’s recent failure to make a decision, despite meeting for over two days to decide the issue, demonstrates the divisive nature of the product and its main chemical ingredient.

The decision to postpone the vote comes just weeks after two new lawsuits were filed against Monsanto in the United States. In February 2016, a macadamia nut farmer in Hawaii filed a personal injury lawsuit against Monsanto in federal court, alleging that his use of Roundup for over twenty years led to his development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In the suit, the plaintiff cites to the World Health Organization’s findings that Glyphosate is a probable cause of cancer. The complaint further alleges that Monsanto has “championed false data and attached legitimate studies that revealed its dangers, [leading] a prolonged campaign of misinformation.”

In addition, just last month, in March 2016, a widow in California brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Monsanto alleging that the company had known for years that exposure to Glyphosate could cause cancer and other serious illnesses or injuries. Significantly, the widow is seeking punitive damages for the death of her husband, a fruit and vegetable farmer in Central California for nearly thirty years, from complications due to anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive version of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The plaintiff’s complaint alleges that Monsanto failed to adequately warn farmers that Roundup causes cancer, that the company designed a dangerous and defective product, that the company committed gross negligence in the creation and promotion of Roundup, and that it defrauded millions of farmers about the safety of the herbicide. The complaint further links exposure to Roundup with the death of the plaintiff’s dog three years earlier from lymphoma. According to the plaintiff, the dog frequently roamed the farm and ate what he could.

Therefore, in light of the pending litigation over the safety of Glyphosate, the European Union is holding off on voting to reapprove the product. If the European Union does not approve the chemical, it will not be permitted for sale throughout Europe. At present, the agency has three months to determine its position. However, the committee is expected to make its decision at the next meeting on May 18, 2016.

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