60 Minutes Australia took on glyphosate in a recent segment, calling it a “toxic villain … likely to be sitting on a shelf in the backyard shed of most Australian families.” In the video above, you can see their interview with DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who was awarded $289 million in damages after a jury ruled Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup caused his terminal cancer.1
The award was later slashed to $78 million,2 but it signaled the beginning of a running trend in Roundup cancer lawsuits. As of July 2019 there are now 18,400 U.S. lawsuits from individuals alleging that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, caused them to develop cancer.3
Johnson told 60 Minutes about the time the hose broke while he was spraying, causing the poison to leak into his protective suit, soaking his clothing and reaching his skin. Yet, he explained that every time he would spray, he would end up with some Roundup on his face or elsewhere, as the protective clothing didn’t cover everything.
The lesions on his skin, seen in the segment, are one outward sign of the cancer that has infiltrated his body as a result. In the U.S., the next two Roundup lawsuit verdicts also sided with the plaintiffs, including a $2 billion payout in the third case, which was later slashed to $20 million.4
Australia’s First Roundup Lawsuit Filed
In Australia, controversy over glyphosate is growing and the first lawsuit against Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in June 2018, has been filed. Like Johnson, Michael Ogalirolo, a former landscaper, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup, in Ogalirolo’s case regularly for more than two decades.5 The suit, filed by Carbone Lawyers, alleges:6
"The defendant knew or ought to have known that the use of Roundup products were dangerous for the plaintiff ... in particular causing DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, cancer, kidney disease, infertility and nerve damage among other devastating illnesses …
As such, Roundup products are dangerous to human health and unfit to be marketed and sold in commerce, particularly without proper warnings and directions.”
In the U.S., two proposed class-action lawsuits have even been filed against Home Depot and Lowe’s, alleging that the retail outlets did not do their duty to warn consumers about cancer and exposure risks when using glyphosate-based products.
Retailers are given a safety data sheet (SDS) regarding glyphosate, which states that exposure can occur via inhalation or skin contact. According to Sustainable Pulse, consumer and plaintiff James Weeks’ complaint states:7
“Despite its knowledge of the SDS, defendant does not warn consumers they may be exposed to glyphosate through inhalation and skin contact. Defendant further omits proper use instructions, e.g. advising consumers to use a gas mask respirator when using Roundup.”
The complaint also alleges that, due to glyphosate’s “probable carcinogenic nature,” Home Depot was in violation of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act by not disclosing the cancer risk on the label.8 The warning label on Roundup is also deemed inadequate because it only warns of “moderate eye irritation.”
This, the complaint notes, gives a false impression that eye irritation is the only risk when using Roundup, when in fact it could potentially cause cancer and other health risks.9,10
As discussed by 60 Minutes, the packaging for Roundup does not warn users to wear protective clothing or respirators when using the product, and in order to get such safety data, it must be downloaded from the internet, something most users are probably not going to do.
Germany Bans Roundup Pesticide
Germany, meanwhile, isn’t waiting for the dust to settle from lawsuits overseas before taking action to protect residents from this ubiquitous poison. When the EU’s approval period for glyphosate ends in 2023, Germany announced it would be banning the chemical, with the phase-out starting even sooner.11
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is a "probable carcinogen" in 2015. Germany’s decision to ban the chemical, however, is based on its effects on insect populations, including pollinators that support the food supply.
Worldwide, more than 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction in the next few decades.12 Overall, the total mass of insects is said to be falling by a “shocking” 2.5% a year. If this rate continues unchecked, insects could disappear within 100 years.13
“It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none,” researcher Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, told The Guardian.14 The study, published in Biological Conservation,15 is but one to suggest that chemicals like glyphosate could be harming insects.
Researchers cited compelling evidence that agricultural intensification is the main driver of population declines in birds, small mammals and insects. In order of importance, habitat loss due to land converted to intensive agriculture, as well as urbanization, are major problems.
The next most significant contributor named is pollution, primarily that from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. As usage of glyphosate has skyrocketed, for instance, milkweed, which is the only plant on which the adult monarch will lay its eggs, has plummeted.
In 2013, it was estimated that just 1% of the common milkweed present in 1999 remained in corn and soybean fields and, tragically, while milkweed is not harmed by many herbicides, it is easily killed by glyphosate.16 A 2017 study published in the journal Ecography further noted a strong connection between large-scale Monarch deaths and glyphosate application.17,18
According to Germany’s environment minister Svenja Schulze, “a world without insects is not worth living in,” adding, “What harms insects also harms people. What we need is more humming and buzzing.”19
In the first phase of the ban, starting in 2020, glyphosate will be prohibited in city parks and private gardens. Use of glyphosate will also be banned in areas with rich biodiversity, such as grasslands, orchard meadows and some river and lake shores.20
Where Else Is Glyphosate Banned?
An increasing number of other countries are also concerned about glyphosate’s toxicity and have imposed bans, restricted usage or made plans to do so. Among them:21
Austria plans to ban glyphosate on January 1, 2020.
Bahrain has banned glyphosate.
Brussels, Belgium prohibits the use of glyphosate and Belgium banned individual glyphosate usage.
Vancouver, Canada, banned public and private glyphosate usage, except for treating invasive weeds.
The Czech Republic banned glyphosate as a weed killer and drying agent.
Denmark banned the use of glyphosate on post-emergent crops to avoid food residues of the chemical.
Malta banned the use of glyphosate in public spaces, including on roadsides or near schools.
Netherlands banned all noncommercial glyphosate usage.
In the U.S., California's Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced in 2015 that they intended to list glyphosate as a chemical known to cause cancer under Proposition 65, which requires consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels.
Glyphosate was officially added to the Proposition 65 list of carcinogens in July 2017, and warning labels stating that glyphosate may cause cancer were supposed to be added to products beginning in the summer of 2018. The labels, however, were halted when Monsanto challenged the California rule in court.
Monsanto filed formal comments with OEHHA saying the plan to list glyphosate as a carcinogen should be withdrawn. When they didn’t give in, Monsanto filed a lawsuit against OEHHA in January 2016 to stop the glyphosate/cancer classification. OEHHA filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and a Fresno, California, superior court judge ruled on their behalf in January 2017.22
As mentioned, in February 2018, a federal judge then temporarily banned California’s plans to add cancer warning labels on glyphosate-based products,23 a move the EPA has since backed up.
In August 2019, the EPA stated they will “no longer approve product labels claiming glyphosate is known to cause cancer,” adding that that is “a false claim that does not meet the labeling requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).”24
They then took direct aim at California’s Proposition 65, stating, “The State of California’s much criticized Proposition 65 has led to misleading labeling requirements for products, like glyphosate, because it misinforms the public about the risks they are facing.”25 So while other countries are moving to get this poison off store shelves, in the U.S., the EPA continues to support its use.
Monsanto Intimidated Cancer Researchers
Ever since the IARC determined Monsanto’s cash cow glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen, the company has been engaged in attempts to discredit their science and the researchers along with it.
Monsanto allocated about $17 million in one year in order to discredit IARC scientists that spoke out against glyphosate. The information came from a deposition of Monsanto executive Sam Murphey, who now works for Bayer. U.S. Right to Know revealed:26
“… [I]mmediately after the IARC classification of glyphosate – and continuing to this day – the cancer scientists became the subject of sweeping condemnation from an assortment of organizations, individuals and even some U.S. lawmakers.”
Further, internal emails and deposition transcripts released by plaintiff’s attorneys in the Roundup lawsuits revealed Monsanto’s strategy for discrediting IARC, which included sending their team of lobbyists to speak with staff at the EPA, USTR, USDA and State Department and placing advertisements in Capital Hill newspapers.27
“But the documents also suggest that the firm has used its influence with lawmakers to antagonize regulators, applying pressure and investigative threats to shape the science used to research glyphosate and other controversial chemical compounds, as part of a larger campaign to silence critics and discredit the IARC,” The Intercept reported.28
Former Monsanto attorney Todd Rands, working with consulting group FTI Government Affairs, even sent a draft letter that was supposed to have been written by U.S. Rep. Rob Aderholt, R-Ala.
The letter was addressed to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes for Health, and claimed glyphosate does not cause cancer, IARC was engaged in “bunk science,” and even threatened to reassess the NIH budget.
According to The Intercept, “During his deposition, Rands said that he believed it appropriate for Monsanto to draft a letter on behalf of a lawmaker to NIH, calling such ghostwriting a “common practice in Washington.”29
Eat Organic or Biodynamic to Avoid Glyphosate Residues
Glyphosate residues are found in many foods, including genetically engineered crops and non-GE grains, such as oats. One of the best ways to avoid exposure is to eat organic or biodynamically grown food, and invest in a good water filtration system for your home to lower exposure that may occur via drinking water. You’ll also want to avoid using glyphosate-based products around your home, garden or workplace.
If you’re interested, the Health Research Institute (HRI) in Iowa developed the glyphosate urine test kit, which will allow you to determine your own exposure to this toxic herbicide. They’re also in the process of doing hair testing for glyphosate, which is a better test for long-term exposure.
If it turns out that you have measurable levels of glyphosate in your body, Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shared some tips for detoxing glyphosate here.