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 recent cases 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 commonality.
"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 example."
Monsanto has remained firm in 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 class."
Glover predicted Monsanto's next moves in court.
"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 professionals."
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.