Dewayne Johnson during the Monsanto trial in San Francisco, California. Photograph:
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Dewayne Johnson said that if he had known what he knew now about Roundup weedkiller, “I would’ve never
sprayed that product on school grounds … if I knew it would cause harm … It’s unethical.”
Johnson, a former school groundskeeper in northern California who is terminally ill, was testifying on Monday in his landmark suit against Monsanto about the cancer risks of the company’s popular weedkiller. He is the first person to take the agrochemical company to trial over allegations that the chemical
sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer.
He spoke for the first time during the trial in San Francisco, detailing his use of Monsanto’s products, his extensive exposure to herbicides, and his belief that the
chemicals caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cell cancer. He also described the suffering he endured as skin lesions took over his body.
“I’ve been going through a lot of pain,” said Johnson, a father of three who goes by the
name Lee. “It really takes everything out of you … I’m not getting any better.”
His doctors have said he may have just months to live.
Johnson’s lawyers have argued in court that Monsanto has “fought science” over the years and worked to “bully” researchers who have raised concerns about potential health risks of its herbicide product. At the start
of the trial, the attorneys presented internal Monsanto emails that they said revealed the corporation’s repeated efforts to ignore expert’s warnings while seeking favorable scientific analyses and helping to “ghostwrite” positive papers.
Thousands have brought similar legal claims across the US, and a federal judge in California ruled this month that hundreds of cancer survivors or
those who lost loved ones can also proceed to trial. Johnson’s case has attracted international attention, with the judge allowing his team to present scientific arguments about glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.
continued to assert that Roundup, which is registered in 130 countries and approved for use on more than 100 crops, is safe and not linked to cancer, despite studies suggesting the contrary. Notably, the World Health Organization’s international agency
for research on cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015, a decision that has been central at the trial.
Johnson, 46, took the stand in a crowded courtroom and said he was excited when he first got
a job as a groundskeeper and pest manager for the school district in Benicia, a suburb north of San Francisco. Part of the work, which began in 2012, involved spraying herbicide to control weeds on school grounds – sometimes for several hours a day.
Although he wore extensive protective gear while spraying, he was often exposed to the Roundup and Ranger Pro chemicals, both glyphosate-based Monsanto products, due to “drift”, he testified.
“You were getting it on your face everyday,”
he said. “It was kind of unavoidable.”
Monsanto has continued to assert that Roundup is safe. Photograph: Josh
Johnson described two incidents in which he said he was badly exposed to the chemicals due to mishaps and leaking while spraying, including a hose breaking.
“It got on my clothes, got on everything,” he said of
one incident, noting that before his cancer, he had “perfect skin”, but after he started spraying and suffered exposures, he got sick and began seeing rashes, lesions and sores all over his body. “I’ve had it bad everywhere.”
He was diagnosed with cancer in 2014.
“It was a very scary, confusing time, and I didn’t know what was happening,” said Johnson, who also recounted his calls to Monsanto seeking information about possible risks, and the lack of
responses or cancer warnings from the company.
“It’s so tough when you can’t work, you can’t provide for your family,” added Johnson, who said he would be doing another round of chemotherapy in less than a month.
Araceli Johnson, Dewayne’s wife, also offered emotional testimony in court on Monday, saying she now has two jobs at a local school district and a nursing home, sometimes
working 14-hour days.
“It’s very stressful. It’s just too much for me to explain how I really feel,” she said, recounting the cancer diagnosis and aftermath. “My world just shut down. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t
clean. I couldn’t do anything.”
His wife recalled the worst moments of chemotherapy when her husband struggled to get out of bed and make it to his uncle’s funeral: “He just starts crying … and saying, ‘I just wanna
die.’ And that broke my heart.”
Araceli also talked about their two sons, ages 10 and 13, and said she has had a hard time explaining their father’s cancer. Her message to them, she said, has been: “He’s just very sick
… Spend time with him. Get to know your dad.”
In a statement to the Guardian, Monsanto noted studies that have found Roundup is safe, adding: “We have empathy for anyone suffering from cancer, but the scientific evidence clearly shows
that glyphosate was not the cause.”
Nearly three in four of the products
exceeded what the EWG classes safe for children to consume. Products with some of the highest levels of glyphosate include granola, oats and snack bars made by leading industry namesQuaker, Kellogg’s and General Mills, which makes Cheerios.
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One sample of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats measured at more than one part per million of glyphosate. This is still within safe levels deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency, although it it currently working on an updated assessment.
The EWG said the federal limits are outdated and that most of the products it tested exceed
a more stringent definition of safe glyphosate levels.
“I grew up eating Cheerios and Quaker Oats long before they were tainted with glyphosate,” said EWG’s president, Ken Cook. “No one wants to eat a weedkiller for breakfast,
and no one should have to do so.” Cook said the EWG will urge the EPA to limit the use of glyphosate on food crops but said companies should “step up” because of the “lawless” nature of the regulator under the Trump administration.
“It is very troubling that cereals children like to eat contain glyphosate,” said Alexis Temkin, an EWG toxicologist and author of the report. “Parents shouldn’t worry about whether feeding their children heathy oat foods will also
expose them to a chemical linked to cancer. The government must take steps to protect our most vulnerable populations.”
The findings follow a landmark decision in a San Francisco court last week to order that Monsanto pay $289m in damages to Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper. A jury deemed that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused Johnson’s
cancer and that it had failed to warn him about the health risks of exposure.
Monsanto, which said it will appeal against the verdict, has said glyphosate has been used safely for decades. In 2015, the EPA said that glyphosate has a low toxicity for
people but could cause problems for some pets if they consume the chemical.
However, the World Health Organization has called glyphosate a “probable carcinogen” and authorities in California list it as a chemical “known to the state
to cause cancer”.
In April, internal emails obtained from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showed that scientists have found glyphosate on a wide range of commonly consumed food, to the point that they were finding it difficult to identify a food without the chemical on it. The FDA has yet to release any official results from
There was no indication that the claims related to products sold outside the US.
US farmers spray about 200m pounds of Roundup each year on their crops, including corn, soybeans, wheat and oats. It can also be used on produce such
as spinach and almonds.
A General Mills spokeswoman said: “Our products are safe and without question they meet regulatory safety levels. The EPA has researched this issue and has set rules that we follow, as do farmers who grow crops including
wheat and oats.”
A Kellogg’s spokesman said: “Our food is safe. Providing safe, high-quality foods is one of the ways we earn the trust of millions of people around the world. The EPA sets strict standards for safe levels of these
agricultural residues and the ingredients we purchase from suppliers for our foods fall under these limits.”
Quaker Oats continues to “proudly stand by the safety and quality of our Quaker products”, a spokesman said.
said that General Mills and Quaker Oats are “relying on outdated safety standards”.
“Our view is that the government standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency pose real health risks to Americans – particularly
children, who are more sensitive to the effects of toxic chemicals than adults,” he said.
Wed 16 May 2018 09.30 BSTLast modified on Fri 18 May 2018 12.36 BST
This article is over 2 months old
A French farmer sprays glyphosate herbicide
produced by US agrochemical giant Monsanto on a field of corn. Photograph: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP/Getty Images
A chemical found in the world’s
most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteriaat doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.
The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened
five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.
One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute
in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.
“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and
Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.”
He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”
Controversy has raged around glyphosate
since a World Health Organisation agency – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – judged it to be a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.
The US firm, which recently merged with Bayer in a deal worth more than $60bn, argues that it is being unfairly targeted by activist scientists with ulterior motives.
Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for global strategy told the Guardian: “The Ramazzini Institute is an activist organisation with an agenda that they have not disclosed as part of their crowdfunding efforts. They wish to support a ban on glyphosate and
they have a long history of rendering opinions not supported by regulatory testing agencies.”
“This is not about genuine research,” he added. “All the research to date has demonstrated that there is no link between glyphosate
The new crowdfunded pilot study which the Ramazzini Institute compiled with Bologna University, the
Italian National Health Institute, George Washington State University and the Icahn School
of Medicine observed the health effects of glyphosate on Sprague Dawley rats, which had been dosed with the US EPA-determined safe limit of 1.75 micrograms per kilo of body weight.
Two-thirds of known carcinogens had been discovered using the Sprague
Dawley rat species, Mandrioli said, although further investigation would be needed to establish long-term risks to human health.
The pilot research did not focus on cancer but it did find evidence of glyphosate bioaccumulation in rats– and changes
to reproductive health.
“We saw an increase in ano-genital distance in the formulation that is of specific importance for reproductive health,” Mandrioli said. “It might indicate a disruption of the normal level of sexual hormones.”
The study’s three peer-reviewed papers will be published in Environmental Health later in May, ahead of a €5m follow-up study that will compare the safe level against multiple other doses.
The jury ruled that Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper, developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to regularly using Roundup. It also found that the manufacturer, Monsanto, knew of the product’s potential health risks, and acted “with malice or oppression” by failing to warn users.
The active chemical in Roundup – glyphosate – has been classified as “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organisation but is still
approved for use in Australia and the US.
On Tuesday, the NFF said the US court decision was “in blatant ignorance” of science.
“No other herbicide has been tested to the lengths that glyphosate
has,” the NFF president, Fiona Simson, said. “After four decades of evaluations, no regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate to be carcinogenic.”
She said glyphosate – the world’s most common herbicide –
had an environmental benefit.
“Through the use of glyphosate, farmers are able to practise minimum tillage – protecting soil structure and nutrients and ultimately increasing the storage of soil carbon,” she said.
Australia’s chemical regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, classifies Roundup as safe.
“The APVMA is aware of the decision in the Californian superior court,”
a spokesman said on Monday. “APVMA approved products containing glyphosate can continue to be used safely according to label directions.”
Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said the court’s
finding did not mean that glyphosate necessarily caused cancer.
“These medico-legal cases are always difficult to make because the concepts of risk and cause in a scientific sense are different to those concepts in a legal sense,” he said.
“The epidemiological evidence that glycophosphates are associated with an increased risk of lymphoma is very weak ... From a purely scientific point of view I do not think that the judgement makes sense.”
Ian Rae, a professor
of chemistry at the University of Melbourne, said the risk of developing cancer from Roundup was “very, very low”.
He said the categorisation of glyphosate as a carcinogen was based on very high exposure levels in workplaces.
basic measure is that if the exposure is low, there is very little risk ... I don’t think there is a case for stopping using it at all.”
Monsanto’s vice-president, Scott Partridge, has also insisted that Roundup is safe, and the company
intends to appeal against the decision.
But Friday’s ruling in the US was scathing of Monsanto’s behaviour.
Johnson’s lawyers produced internal Monsanto emails that they said proved the corporation knew of the risks, ignored
expert warnings, “ghostwrote” research that was favourable and targeted academics who spoke up against Roundup.
They alleged that Monsanto “fought science” for decades to have the product’s health risks downplayed.
Patridge said the internal emails had been taken out of context.
Johnson, a 46-year-old father of three, was awarded US$289m in damages and compensation. He worked for a school district near San Francisco, spraying herbicides on weeds for several
hours a day. Doctors say he has months left to live.
Another trial against Monsanto is scheduled to begin in Missouri in the coming months.
27 Nov 2017 17.42 GMTLast modified on Tue 28 Nov 2017 09.43 GMT
Protestors wearing masks depicting EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis (L) and European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker (R) demonstrate against a five-year
extension of the license for glyphosate in Brussels on Monday. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
Glyphosate, the key ingredient in the world’s
bestselling weedkiller, has won a new five-year lease in Europe, closing the most bitterly fought pesticide
relicensing battle of recent times.
The herbicide’s licence had been due to run out in less than three weeks, raising the prospect of Monsanto’s Roundup disappearing from store shelves and, potentially, a farmers’ revolt.
In 2015, the World Health Organisation’s
cancer agency, the IARC, famously declared glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans,” although several international agencies, including Efsa, subsequently came to opposite conclusions. Monsanto insists glyphosate is safe.
The EU health commissioner
Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “Today’s vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making.”
However, the approval falls far short of the 15-year licence the commission
had originally sought and Conservative MEPs lashed out at what they called “an emotional, irrational but politically convenient fudge”.
Ashley Fox, the Conservative party’s delegation leader in the European parliament, said that the
vote “simply prolongs the uncertainty for our farmers, who are being badly let down. They cannot plan for the future without long term assurances about the availability of substances they rely on.”
A re-run of the struggle to reauthorise
glyphosate will now begin again in two years’ time, with a new safety assessment by the European Food Safety
Greenpeace EU food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, commented: “The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them.”
The Green party called it “a dark day for consumers, farmers and the environment”.
Chris Portier, an advisor to IARC in its glyphosate decision, told the Guardian that, in his view, the EU decision was scientifically unsound.
“The guidelines maintained by ECHA [the European chemical agency] would easily classify this compound as a group 1B carcinogen and, as such, it should be banned for use in Europe,” he said.
Traces of glyphosate are routinely found in tests of foodstuffs, water, topsoil, and human urine in amounts way above safe limits set by regulators. Ben & Jerry’s recently introduced a new line of organic ice cream, in a bid to sate public concern.
Campaigners say Monsanto ghostwrote research papers for regulators, enlisted EPA officials to block a US government review of glyphosate and formed front groups to discredit critical scientists and journalists, citing
documents revealed in a US lawsuit by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sufferers.
But the enzyme-blocking chemical has also become a mainstay of modern agricultural techniques that farmers’ unions see as environmentally friendly, even as critics condemn
it as a “pesticide treadmill” of danger to plants, animals and people.
Monsanto argues that, as a no-till system, glyphosate lowers carbon emissions and protects soil quality. The company declined to comment on today’s result, deferring to farmers’
Guy Smith, vice-president of the National Farmers Union, said: “Today’s decision will be welcomed by farmers who have watched with growing concern as what should have been a straightforward decision has become increasingly political.”
“Glyphosate reduces the need to use other herbicides, it helps to protect soil and cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need for ploughing, and it enables farmers in this country to grow crops that help produce safe, affordable, high-quality
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), facing criticism over its classification of carcinogens,
has reportedly been advising its scientific experts not to publish internal research data on its 2015 report on “probably carcinogenic” glyphosate.
The IARC urged its scientists not to publish research
documents on its 2015 weedkiller glyphosate review, according to Reuters. The agency told Reuters on Tuesday that it tried to protect the study from “external interference,” as well as protect its intellectual rights, since it was “the sole
owner of such materials.”
The scientists had been asked earlier to release all the documentation on the 2015 report under US freedom of information laws.
The groundbreaking review, published in March 2015 by the IARC – a semi-autonomous agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) – labeled the glyphosate herbicide as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is a key ingredient
of Monsanto’s flagship weedkiller well-known under the trade name ‘Roundup.’ It is one of the most heavily used herbicides in the world and is designed to go along with genetically-modified “Roundup Ready” crops, also produced
The IARC’s report caused problems for both the notorious agrochemical giant and the agency itself.
The report sparked a heated debate around the use of Roundup, and caused several EU countries – including France, Sweden,
and the Netherlands – to object to the renewal of the glyphosate’s EU license. The vote on prolonging the glyphosate license for 15 years failed several times in June 2016, but the license was temporarily extended for 18 months during last hours
before its expiration.
The controversial report has seemingly made the IARC a target for attacks from multiple directions, and raised scientific, legal, and financial questions.
Various critics, including those in the chemical industry, said
the IARC’s evaluations are fuel for “unnecessary health scares,” since the IARC allegedly studies the potentially harmful substance itself, and not a “typical human” exposure to it. It remained unclear whether the critics urged
a WHO body to test the potentially carcinogenic chemical on humans.
The critics also brought up other controversial statements from the IARC, over whether such things as mobile phones, coffee, red meat, and processed meat could cause cancer.
agency defended its methods as scientifically sound and “widely respected for their scientific rigor, standardized and transparent process and…freedom from conflicts of interest.” Numerous freedom of information requests by the Energy &
Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), a US conservative advocacy group, have since been turned down with this reasoning.
E&E Legal told Reuters that it is pushing a legal challenge over whether the documents in question belong to the IARC
or to the US federal and state institutions where some of the experts work. Basically, it’s being decided whether the IARC, as part of the WHO, is truly independent and free from “conflicts of interest.”
According to Reuters, officials
from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be questioned by a congressional committee about why American taxpayers fund the cancer agency, which faces much criticism over its allegedly faulty classification of carcinogens.
standards and determinations for classifying substances as carcinogenic, and therefore cancer-causing, appear inconsistent with other scientific research, and have generated much controversy and alarm,” a letter from US Oversight Committee Chairman Jason
Chaffetz to NIH director Francis Collins states, as quoted by Reuters.
The Oversight Committee demanded a full disclosure of NIH funding of the IARC, and even money spent in relation to the cancer agency’s activities.
IARC opponents from
scientific circles vowed to provide their data on the matter. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which believes glyphosate is “unlikely pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans,” promised to release its raw data on the subject as part of its
“commitment to open risk assessment.” The food safety watchdog made this statement in late September, and still has to deliver the promised information.
Better safe than sorry on chemicals used in agriculture
How can you
guarantee that every member of a food production supply chain has used these chemicals ‘according to the label’, asks Craig Sams
Tue 14 Aug 2018 18.03 BST
Demonstrators march for agroecology and civil
resistance against pesticide maker Monsanto in Bordeaux, France, last year. Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images
Your article (One man’s suffering exposed Monsanto’s secrets to the world, 11 August) is the tip
of the iceberg. Glyphosate is considered a “probable carcinogen” by the WHO. The Netherlands banned its use in 2014. This isn’t the first time a “safe” agrichemical has been exposed as potentially dangerous.
Food Safety Authority has launched a review into the safety of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, as so many have been permitted without proper testing. In February iprodione, a fungicide used in professional sports turf, was banned by the EU. Golfers
have been unwittingly exposed for decades.
We cannot trust science that was paid for by the manufacturers. Bayer’s statement in glyphosate’s defence illustrates the risk to which we have been exposed: “Bayer is confident … that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer when used according
to the label.”
How can you guarantee that every member of a food production supply chain has used these chemicals “according to the label”? How can you guarantee that, even though you wore gloves as you sprayed fungicides on your turf,
a child won’t do a cartwheel on the grass later, or a golfer won’t pick up a ball with their bare hands and unknowingly violate the label’s conditions?
When people buy cigarettes, they know the risks. But when people eat food
or sit on grass treated with probable carcinogens, they don’t. That’s why the industry is turning to bio-stimulants, like enriched biochar, which are as effective as chemicals but are natural and pose no risk of being outed as harmful down the
When it comes to consumer choice, health and welfare, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Craig Sams Executive chairman, Carbon Gold; former chairman, Soil Association