Monsanto is a bad word around these parts. As much as we’d like to forget the seed-mongering, pesticide-spreading, GMO-pushing company exists at all, we can’t. That’s because Monsanto’s devastating impact on the Earth and its people continues to ripple outward at an alarming rate. Now, two brave individuals are taking the giant company to court. In separate lawsuits, a U.S. farm worker and a horticultural assistant are claiming exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides caused their cancers. What’s worse, the lawsuits allege that Monsanto knowingly misled the public about the dangers of the herbicide, and even influenced regulatory agencies to change official positions based on misinformation.
Glyphosate is the chemical herbicide at the heart of it all. It’s a powerful agent used for controlling weeds in large agricultural settings as well as in backyards around the world. Monsanto packages and sells the toxic chemical as RoundUp, which can be purchased at almost any home improvement store in the United States. The World Health Organization, earlier this year, admitted the glyphosate “probably” causes cancer, prompting governments around the world to take up serious discussions about how to protect people from its effects. In France, the government has already banned the public sale of Roundup as a result of the WHO decision, although it can still be obtained through wholesale channels. Roundup has also been banned in the Netherlands, Russia, and Mexico.
Monsanto spokespeople have repeatedly said that Roundup is safe and that the links to cancer and other health conditions are false. However, the WHO position is enough to spur initial legal action. The Environmental Protection Agency had previously come to a similar conclusion, stating that glyphosate was “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” but that decision was changed to “evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans.” Plaintiffs in each of the two new lawsuits claim that change occurred after pressure from Monsanto.
The first of the two new lawsuits against Monsanto was filed in Los Angeles on September 22 by 58-year-old Enrique Rubio, who is a former farm worker in California, Texas, and Oregon. Over several years, Rubio worked in fields where cucumbers, onions, and other vegetable crops were cultivated, and where it was his job to spray the crops with Roundup. Rubio was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1995 and believes his exposure to glyphosate is responsible.
The other court case, filed the same day as Rubio’s, will be heard in federal court in New York. Judi Fitzgerald, 64, worked at a horticultural products company in the 1990s when she was exposed to Roundup. She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012.
Because the WHO position on glyphosate gives credence to the link between the chemical and cancer, it’s realistic to think we will hear about more lawsuits like this in the future. Some lawyers are even attempting to amass plaintiffs to file a class action suit against Monsanto, in an effort to raise the conversation to a larger scale.
Images via Roundup and Shutterstock