Lawsuits claim popular weed killer used on crops causes cancer
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A growing number of people allege exposure to the main ingredient in the popular weed and grass killer Roundup caused their cancer.
Thousands of cancer victims and their families across the country have filed lawsuits against the maker of Roundup, Monsanto, who strongly denies their claims. And those lawsuits could have an impact on how we grow our food.
Most have Roundup at home--for a good reason. It kills weeds and grass. Same is true on the country's fields where Roundup and genetically-modified plants have revolutionized the way we grow crops.
Now, based on a report that says the main ingredient in Roundup is "probably carcinogenic," lawsuits are challenging its safety while an environmental group claims Roundup has put us all on a "chemical treadmill."
To the untrained eye, a field of soybeans near Lebanon, Ohio appears to be the same as what farmers like Amy Sigg-Davis have planted for generations.
But for the past two decades, there has been a revolution in these fields centered on one product: Roundup. Davis, like most farmers across the country, shifted from expensive and time-consuming plowing and cultivation.
"Instead of planting our beans in rows this wide, we're able to drill the beans into the soil," Davis said.
Davis now uses only Roundup, but that's only part of this picture.
"We have used Roundup since the mid-'90s when Roundup-Ready Soybeans first became available," she said.
Monsanto states these Roundup-Ready beans are genetically-modified to survive Roundup's main ingredient: glyphosate. The plants thrive, the weeds die and yields increase--by around 30 percent, according to Davis.
That's an extra 100 acres worth of food from a 300-acre field.
"It has been a godsend," Davis said.
But lawsuits across the country are now questioning the safety of Roundup.
The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, published a 92-page document, concluding glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic to humans" and it found "a positive association in cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which triggered a growing number of lawsuits.
John Vicory, a former Hamilton city worker, is one of thousands now suing Monsanto, claiming Roundup caused his cancer. He says the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma he has is incurable. At a now-closed power plant, John says he sprayed Roundup every spring and summer for 11 years.
"I am so sorry he's ill," Scott Partridge, vice president of Monsanto, said. "Cancer is a horrible, horrible disease. I regret that he's been led to believe that it's been caused by his use of Roundup, because there is no scientific or medical evidence to support that."
Partridge insists Roundup is safe, pointing to more than 700 studies that prove that--including one the EPA published in 2016, affirming Roundup is safe. It states glyphosate is "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans."
While questions about the science and safety of glyphosate will likely be decided in court, Partridge says he's concerned about what would happen if Roundup is removed from the fields.
"We have 2 million children dying every year in this world from malnutrition. This is not the time to take out of their hands an incredibly safe and effective tool that has proven to increase yields. That's simply wrong," he said.
Scott Faber, on the other hand, says that's completely false and irresponsible. Faber is a vice president of the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C.
"It's a desperate ploy by Monsanto to defend a technology that, while initially promising for farmers who were looking for ways to avoid using different herbicides to tackle weeds, has turned out to instead have caught farmers on a chemical treadmill," Faber said.
That "chemical treadmill," Faber says, now includes super-weeds that are resistant to Roundup.
"They have no choice but to use more and more glyphosate as the weeds grow more and more resistant," he said.
According to a 2016 study by Environmental Sciences Europe, since 1996, 18.9 billion pounds of glyphosate have been sprayed onto the world's fields. That's a half-pound of glyphosate for every cultivated acre in the world.
While Monsanto says it's safe, Faber and other environmentalists say science has yet to answer whether that much use represents a threat.
"This is the most heavily-used herbicide in the world. We don't know how much is in our water. We don't know how much is on our food. We don't know how much is in our bodies," Faber said.
Back at the farm, Davis says she has no reason to worry about Roundup.
"I have no problem whatsoever using Roundup on my crops," she said. "I have no moral problem with it. I have no physiological problem with it. I know of no scientific reason to have a concern."
Partridge is quick to point out IARC has a history of connecting a lot of things to cancer, like red meat.
We have reached out to IARC for a comment and are waiting to hear back.