PENSACOLA, Fla. — Monsanto faces a
batch of lawsuits alleging its Roundup fertilizer product can lead to
developing a non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and two experts weighed in on the
developments for The Florida Record.
At least two
have been filed against the agriculture supply and chemical company.
In December, James
Mitchell v. Monsanto was
filed in the Northern District of Florida for the 11th
Circuit. The other lawsuit was brought forth by a Nebraskan also
diagnosed with the disease. That case, Daniel
Kowal v. Monsanto, was
filed in November in Delaware Superior Court.
In both cases, the plaintiffs were users of Roundup.
Steve Gardner, consumer attorney at
Stanley Law Group, said to The Florida Record in an email: “These
are serious illnesses. Are these developments rather similar to cases
against tobacco companies? Will there be similar outcomes to those
that developed after the tobacco-company cases (e.g. awareness
campaigns, financial damages, etc.)?”
"The tobacco cases were something
of a one-off," he added. "A consumer product that, when
used as directed, can kill you — nothing to touch that when it
comes to food. The merits/risks of [genetically modified organisms]
are still debatable, as to safety. As to the adverse effect on the
environment (overspray, killing butterflies, etc.), it’s pretty
much clear that GMOs are bad. The third consideration as to GMOs is
socioeconomic — whether we want companies like Monsanto and Bayer
conspiring to own supplies of rice or other staples."
Maria Glover, associate professor of
law at Georgetown University, said the cancer link is the only real
"I'm not a medical expert,"
Glover told The Florida Record. "But the ways in which it is
similar to tobacco is cancer being common between them. Lung cancer
is associated with smoking. They are not signature diseases the way
asbestos is tied to mesothelioma. Lots of people who smoked, they
also faced other risks associated with it, like coal mining for
Monsanto has remained
its position that Roundup is “safer than table salt” and assert
that the product does not cause cancer in humans. On the other hand,
Roundup was classified as a “probable human carcinogen” by the
International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Gardner said information like this
could play a significant role in the cases.
"Probably — but, as I noted
(previously), it’s far from clear," he said. "I would err
on the side of caution. Traditionally, (the Food and Drug
Administration) required proof that a food ingredient was generally
recognized as safe (GRAS) before it could be used in foods. On GMOs,
FDA has effectively adopted the very short-sighted (literally)
position that, as of now, there is no clear proof that it’s
dangerous — a new standard of 'it’s not definitely unsafe.'"
The Florida case appears to be split
into two phases: one for determining if Roundup causes cancer, then
jury or settlement/resolution.
"That splitting is not the norm,
but it’s done in the right cases," Gardner said. "And it
certainly is a great way to proceed."
Glover said the process of "splitting”
has been used in the past to resolve other cases.
"It is not atypical at all,"
Glover said. "When you're dealing with these types of damages,
you will have to have individual follow on damages. Certain medical
criteria entitle you to x, y and z. The BP oil spill had similar
procedures. It is not atypical to carve out what's called an issue
Glover predicted Monsanto's next moves
"Roundup is going to fight
causation," she said. "The difficulty for the plaintiff
will be whether this element causes the disease at all. With Roundup,
there seems to be a significant dispute to whether it causes cancer.
This dispute is about whether this chemical actually causes
non-Hodgkin lymphoma. There does not seem to be agreement among
About 50 separate lawsuits alleging
Roundup caused lymphoma have been centralized in multi-district
litigation in the Northern District of California for the purpose of
coordinated pre-trial proceedings.