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Monsanto Loses Labelling Battle in California – Tentatively

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Fresno, CAOpponents and families involved in lawsuits against the makers of the chemical herbicide known as Roundup are hailing a “tentative decision” by a California judge based on written arguments to allow glyphosate to be added to the “list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer” under California’s Proposition 65  (Prop 65). Prop 65 makes it mandatory for the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), a division of the California Environment Protection Agency, to list all known cancer causing chemicals.  

Roundup has been manufactured and sold by Monsanto for decades and is registered for use in 130 countries. Gylphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup.

Monsanto vigorously opposes the Prop 65 listing. In a press release on its website Monsanto’s vice president of regulatory affairs, Phil Miller said, “Based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, regulatory agencies have concluded for more than 40 years that glyphosate can be used safely.”

In March 2015, Roundup was identified as “a possible human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, based in Lyon, France. IARC reported that “there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma”. It reported its research showed “glyphosate also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells”.

It was that study that prompted the OEHHA in California to propose glyphosate be added to its list of Prop 65 chemicals.

At least sixty individuals or surviving relatives have launched lawsuits against Monsanto claiming that Roundup caused them to develop cancer.

More than a dozen families, and lawyers who represent them, gathered outside the Fresno Superior Courthouse on January 27, 2017 while the Monsanto lawyers were inside making oral arguments against the Prop 65 glyphosate listing.   

Among them was 69-year-old John Barton, a third generation farmer from Bakersfield, California with stage three Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma who has launched a personal injury suit against Monsanto.

“As long as I can remember we have used Roundup on our farm,” Barton told a crowd of reporters. “It is my deepest desire that no one else has to hear the word ‘cancer’ because of exposure to a known carcinogen.”

Attorney Robert Kennedy Jr, from the firm of Kennedy & Madonna based in New York, who has a 30 year history of litigating against polluters and corporate wrongdoers currently represents some of the Monsanto litigants.

Speaking about Monsanto’s objection to the Prop 65 listing in California Kennedy said, “Monsanto does not want farmers, landscapers and other applicators to know about that risk (of cancer).”

During the Fresno court proceedings Monsanto told the court that warning labels would likely turn away consumers and that the company would suffer financially. Monsanto’s issued a press release prior to the hearing saying, “The conclusion from the IARC meeting in France was erroneous, non-transparent and based on selectively interpreted data. We are bringing this challenge forward because this intention to list is contrary to science.”

The tentative decision to add glyphosate on the state’s list of cancer causing chemicals is echoing across the country. The Organic Consumers Association, a non-profit advocacy group focused on health and justice issues and a long-time opponent of the use of Roundup and glyphosate sees the Prop 65 as a significant event.

“This is important. It may influence Environmental Protection Agencies in other states to do similar. It is also important to those individuals involved in lawsuits against Monsanto,” says Alexis Bader Mayer, the political director with the Organic Consumers Association.

The judge’s ruling is still only tentative. She is now considering the oral arguments and will issue a final ruling sometime in the near future. Monsanto has issued a statement saying it will appeal any final decision to add glyphosate to the Prop 65 list.

In the meantime, an OEHHA media relations person, Sam Delson, told LAS the department would be awaiting the judge’s final ruling in Fresno and will consider all the options before formally adding glyphosate to the Prop 65 list.

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