11 August 2018 | Firm news | Article by Simon Ellis
There has been ongoing controversy for a number of years over the suspected link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Roundup is the most widely used commercial herbicide in the world. A recent court decision in the US suggests concerns over this link may have been well founded.
The chemical used in Roundup thought to be responsible for increasing the risk of cancer is glyphosate. The manufacturers of Roundup, Monsanto, have used glyphosate since the 1970s. However, concern later arose that glyphosate may be capable of causing cancer.
In 2015 the World Health Organisation determined that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans". Other scientific studies have reached a similar conclusion. However, this was not a universally accepted view. Monsanto were very critical of the conclusions reached by the WHO and have consistently pointed to alternative research suggesting no such link.
This difference of scientific opinion has been reflected in the different approaches taken to the licensing of Roundup in different parts of the world. In the US the Environmental Protection Agency remains of the view Roundup does not increase the risk of cancer, if used appropriately. The EU renewed the licence for Roundup in 2017, but only following lengthy arguments as to whether they should do so. The licence was only given for five years and a number of individual member states have indicated an intention to ban the use of Roundup in the future.
The ongoing dispute over the dangers of using glyphosate and Roundup has now been considered in a Californian court. In the first of a number of claims proceeding in the US, the plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, claimed he developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after regularly using Roundup during the course of his work. Mr Johnson is terminally ill with cancer and as a result, his claim was expedited by the court. Having listened to all the evidence, the jury rejected arguments put forward on behalf of Monsanto that there was insufficient evidence to conclude Roundup causes cancer. Strikingly, they said Monsanto should have warned users about the risks of using Roundup and furthermore, that Monsanto had acted with “malice”. The court awarded Mr Johnson $289m, the equivalent of £226m, a large part of which was punitive damages.
Monsanto has already rejected the verdict of the court and said they intend to appeal. The parent company of Monsanto, Bayer, issued a statement maintaining that glyphosate is safe to use and does not cause cancer when used in accordance with the label. The Vice President of Monsanto was more direct after the case had concluded, commenting that the jury "got it wrong". However, the decision of the court gives hope for those suffering with cancer after using Roundup during the course of their work. In the case of Mr Johnson, his lawyer confirmed the damages will help make him comfortable for the remainder of his life.
With many more claims proceeding in the US, it is likely Monsanto will need to answer further questions in the future.
The problems associated with the use of Roundup are, however, unlikely to be restricted to the US. Roundup is sold around the world and is commonly used in the UK. Many people in this country are likely to have been exposed to Roundup whilst working in agriculture, landscaping or gardening. Those who have subsequently developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are entitled to question whether this condition may have been caused by their work.
The legal issues surrounding cases such as this can be complex. Anyone concerned that there may be a link between Roundup and their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma should seek urgent legal advice from a solicitor specialising in industrial disease claims.