In 2014, California school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Alleging his prolonged use of glyphosate-based Monsanto products Roundup Pro and Ranger Pro in his daily work as the cause, Johnson filed a complaint against Monsanto, the company that makes the glyphosate-based product he used regularly. In June 2018, the trial began in the Superior Court of California County of San Francisco. By August 2018, not much long after, the verdict is ruled in favor of Johnson and the jury grants him over $250 million, which has since been drastically reduced. This case was the first-ever of its kind to go to trial, setting a precedent and leaving many to question: who decides what chemicals are safe and who defines what “safe” really means?
What Is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate has become a basic necessity for agriculture all over the world since its introduction to American farmers just a few decades ago. Since the 1990s, glyphosate exposure has increased as much as 500% in some areas – with agricultural workers and groundskeepers just like Johnson being at the highest risk for exposure. Even mild exposure to this chemical can be expected among homeowners and recreational gardeners. As a powerful herbicide, its application to plants blocks their essential growing properties, effectively killing them by simply not allowing them to grow. Unfortunately, this chemical can’t tell the difference between an unwanted weed and necessary crops, so genetically modified crops have become the norm. Of all the plants in the U.S., 94% of cotton and soybeans are genetically engineered as well as 92% of corn. The Roundup Ready seeds are exactly what they sound like – seeds that are resistant to the effects of glyphosate-based Monsanto brand Roundup Weedkiller.
Why Is It Believed To Be Safe?
Regardless of the results of the Johnson v Monsanto case, not everyone agrees that there is sufficient evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic. In July 2017, the state of California added glyphosate to Prop 65 as a “chemical known to cause cancer” citing an IARC report. There are several other studies that showed quite different results, however. The EPA, NIH, and even the World Health Organization all concluded that glyphosate on its own is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.
Glyphosate alone may not be the culprit, according to some recent studies. In an ongoing study from the National Toxicology Program, first-phase study results showed signs of glyphosate formulations, i.e. the herbicides, resulted in 25-50x more cell death than the glyphosate alone. In response to the Prop 65 addition, however, Monsanto and other agricultural groups sued the state of California over plans to add warnings to glyphosate products in November 2017. Following this lawsuit, the court ruled against the explicit cancer warnings but still allows California to continue listing glyphosate as a cancer-causing agent.
Glyphosate is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides in farming. Getting to the bottom of its real long-term effects on humans will require further unbiased research. Take a look at this infographic for more detail on glyphosate use, GMOs, and the effects on human health.
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