In a dramatic verdict, a California jury found Monsanto to be liable in a lawsuit where a man alleged that it’s glyphosate-based weed-killers, including Roundup, caused him cancer, and has ordered it to pay him $289 million as compensation.
School groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson’s case is the first one going to trial alleging glyphosate causes cancer. There are more than 5000 such cases filed in the United States waiting to start trial.
Roundup is a weed killer used in agriculture and places like roadsides, public spaces, railway tracks and gardens. Monsanto says it is effective over 300 variants of weeds across over 125 countries.
International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is the WHO’s cancer agency, in 2015 concluded that glyphosate-based weedkiller was ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. But US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still maintains that glyphosate is safe when used ‘carefully’.
Even in Europe, the battle to ban it is growing fierce, with French President Emmanuel Macron trying to ban it in France, but is facing tough resistance from French lawmakers.
The European Commission recently granted the weedkiller another five-year licence.
The California jury’s verdict has implications for India because glyphosate-based weed killers like Roundup are used extensively in farming here.
According to Monsanto’s India annual sales report, Roundup is the market leader with sales of around Rs 185.66 crore, which is 28% of its net sales of Rs 667.44 crore in FY18.
Use of Roundup and other glyphosate chemicals are becoming popular among Indian farmers as they are using herbicide-tolerant (HT) Bt cottonseeds, and glyphosate kills the weeds on HT Bt cottonseeds and encourages resistant plants to grow which saves the time and money of farmers who would have had to employ labourers to manually pluck the weeds from the farms.
The rising cost of farm labour in India accounts for 50% of total cost of cultivation and is rising year on year, whereas agriculture income still remains stagnated.
Reports from the Indian government say, glyphosate is registered to be used for tea and non-crop area.
Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Minister of State for Agriculture, informed Parliament in May, that the central government constituted Anupam Verma Committee has not reviewed glyphosate-based herbicides for its continued use, since it is not banned in any other country.
This committee was formed to review the continued use of 66 pesticides that are either banned or restricted for farming in other countries.
Food safety watchdog, FSSAI says the maximum permissible residue levels of glyphosate as of December last year are: 1 mg/kg in tea, 0.01 mg/kg in rice and 0.05 mg/kg in meat.
We believe the California verdict is the starting point for many more court battles to come, between consumers who believe that their disease is caused by Roundup and the powerful Bayer-Monsanto combine.
It is time influential government regulatory authorities both in India and abroad constitute truly independent studies to confirm if this herbicide is truly carcinogenic and if so, to ban it and save many more Dwayne Johnsons. Maybe it is best to restrict its use anyway until there is clarity on Roundups role in causing cancer.